The Awakening Review ⭐

‘The Awakening’ is a must-read 19th-century novel for anyone at all interested in the development of fiction, particularly feminist literature, in the United States. 

The Awakening

Kate Chopin

Published in 1899, ‘The Awakening’ is one of only two books that Kate Chopin published during her lifetime. Famously, after it was published, the public (particularly the literary community) reacted poorly to its content and intentions. 

19th Century and 21st Century Perspectives

Chopin spends much of the novel following her protagonist’s attempts to find happiness, including affairs with other men while still married to her husband. This depiction of infidelity is one that the literary world was not ready to accept when the novel was published. Sadly, Chopin was deeply disappointed by the public’s reaction to what is now considered a masterpiece of the 19th century and wrote little after ‘The Awakening.’ 

I find it interesting to take this perspective into consideration when reading and analyzing The Awakening. It’s easy to imagine how shocking Edna Pontellier’s actions were, especially leaving her husband and children to live on her own. This selfish act is hard to understand from the perspective of a 19th-century reader but is far easier to comprehend from a contemporary perspective. 

Today’s readers have a far better understanding of the oppressive ideals that women of the 19th century (and the many centuries before it) were forced to contend with in their marriages. To 19th-century readers, Edna’s actions symbolized a type of moral corruption that should not have been depicted in a literary work, especially one written by a woman.

Today, her actions are interpreted in a far different light. Her bravery and efforts to achieve freedom are liberating and deeply sad as they come to a sorrowful conclusion in the novel’s final pages. They’re also representative of a reality that countless women contended with during their lives as they strove to remain members of society but also achieve some degree of independence from the role of mother and wife.

A famous quote from Chopin’s short story, ‘The Story of an Hour,’ sums up this experience perfectly. When thinking about a husbandless future, the main character of ‘The Story of an Hour,’ Louise, thinks: 

There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked on it in that brief moment of illumination. 

The brief paragraphs of ‘The Story of an Hour depict an experience very similar to that which Edna experienced in ‘The Awakening.’ Both moments of liberation are just as brief and just as emotional. Edna and Louise suffer from “kind intentions” and “cruel intentions,” bending their choices. To be free of influence and free of expectations is something they both felt was deeply desirable. 

That being said, the story of ‘The Awakening’ is not for everyone. It’s been described as a “sleepy” and eventless novel by some and is often scorned by classrooms of students who find Chopin’s writing and Edna’s struggles to find happiness tedious and unnecessary. 

The Novel’s Conclusion 

Kate Chopin ends the novel on a powerful note, one that is almost always interpreted in a single way —as Edna committing suicide. Whether her death was truly intentional or not is up for interpretation. In the final lines, Chopin depicts Edna swimming out into the ocean, far from the shores of Grand Isle, where the novel began. 

She swims away from her life, her husband, her children, and Robert (the man she loves). She hits a breaking point and exhibits a degree of determination that’s rarely seen throughout the rest of the book. Chopin wrote (as quoted from The Awakening):

The foamy wavelets curled up to her white feet, and coiled like serpents about her ankles. She walked out. The water was chill, but she walked on. The water was deep, but she lifted her white body and reached out with a long, sweeping stroke. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace. 

This description is meant to bring the reader back to the few moments of passion Edna has experienced throughout the novel and alludes to the sensory deprivation (seen through a lack of passion, love, and excitement) she experienced in her marriage. 

She swims on and on, Chopin writes, and does not look back. She only thought about  “the blue-grass meadow that she had traversed when a little child, believing that it had no beginning and no end.” Her mind was elsewhere, preoccupied din thoughts of home, childish dreams, and the beauty of the world (something that has become hard to appreciate during her adulthood). 

She thinks of her children, her husband, her friend Madame Reisz and more. She notes that “they,” meaning her family, loved her, but they “need not have thought that they could possess her, body and soul.” 

The novel ends with a depiction of scenes from Edna’s life, as though her experiences are flashing before her eyes. Chopin never writes that Edna died or that she actually meant to kill herself. But, the novel ends with Edna far from shore and with no strength to return to land. 

This deeply sad and memorable ending represents Edna’s pointless struggle to achieve a degree of freedom in a world that offered women little to none. It also connects to the lives of women throughout time, from various countries and backgrounds, who struggled, unsuccessfully, to free themselves from society’s restrictions and expectations. 

The Awakening Review: A Groundbreaking Feminist Novel by Kate Chopin
  • Story
  • Characters
  • Setting
  • Writing Style
  • Dialogue
  • Conclusion
  • Lasting Effect on Reader

The Awakening Review

The Awakening is one of the most important novels of the 19th century and is generally regarded as one of, if not the first feminist novel published in the United States. The book follows Edna Pontellier, who struggles to free herself from the constraints of her marriage and motherhood and pursue a career independent from society’s restrictions on women during her lifetime.


  • Beautifully written
  • Highly relevant to the time it was published
  • Presents the reader with challenging and worthwhile themes


  • Somewhat of a cliffhanger ending
  • It can be slow at times
  • There are few characters and major events
Emma Baldwin
About Emma Baldwin
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues on Book Analysis.
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