Gender Awareness and Feminism in Kate Chopin's The Awakening: An Annotated Bibliography

by Quinton Johnson
English 1102
The University of Georgia

           Kate Chopin's The Awakening illustrates women's roles in the late nineteenth century through the character Edna Pontellier.  The novel takes  place at a time when women are supposed to represent their husbands and not have a mind of their own. Edna actually tries to develop her own identity in order to show her beliefs about the way that America treats women unequally, despite the fact that women are capable of thinking for themselves.  Through The Awakening, Kate Chopin confronts the inequality that a woman faces during the nineteenth century, but through the process, she delivers a theme of feminism in the novel.

            While there are several critical writings on The Awakening, not all of them deal solely with the feminist themes in the novel. There is a great amount of resources that mention the themes but do not elaborate on the subject. Most sources discuss Edna' s sexual development throughout the novel, which is associated with Edna's awareness of her role as a woman.  Deborah E. Barker examines the themes through Edna's painting.  Anna S. Elfenbein  focuses on the theme by analyzing the racial content presented in the novel. Both Erin E. MacDonald and Jane L. Marquand address the feminist theme by analyzing Chopin's use of androgyny. Karen Simons analyzes the way that Edna arrives at her "awakening" and how it changes her. Each writer brings forth a slightly different take on the novel, but all seem to bring about and address new ideas.
 
 

  Barker, Deborah E.  "The Awakening of Female Artistry."  Kate Chopin Reconsidered.  Ed. Lynda S. Boren
            and Sara deSaussure Davis. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992. 61-79.

           Barker analyzes the way that Edna's  painting brings about her  " growing  sensuality and...dissatisfaction the social an religious restrictions placed on women" (63).  While the essay focuses more on Edna as an artist, Barker does bring about the fact that Edna is aware of her gender's struggle.  Barker also discusses Edna's sexual growth in the novel.  The author identifies the Impressionist art movement as an influence in The Awakening. Barker goes to a great length to show how Edna 's painting reflects her sexual development and self-awareness in the novel.
 

  Elfenbein, Anna Shannon. "Kate Chopin's The Awakening: An Assault on American Racial And Sexual
            Mythology." Southern Studies 4 (1987): 304-312.

           Elfenbein deals with Edna's femininity by dealing with the races presented in the novel.  Not only does this article present the fact that Edna is aware of her gender, but it shows that she is aware of her racial standing in Creole Louisiana.  Elfenbein also exposes the racial impurity that lies in Edna's community.  The article does not elaborate on feminism, but it does speak of  Edna's increasing sexuality and awareness of her social restrictions as a woman.  The article justifies Edna's actions as her "inability to escape patriarchal imperatives regarding sex and woman's place that...leads her to violate" (308).  Elfenbein explains how Edna's sexual awakening causes her to notice racial and social standing; an issue that only the men in her life have addressed.
 

MacDonald, Erin E. "Necessarily Vague: Kate Chopin's Gender-Awakening." Domestic Goddesses. 5 Dec 2001.
           < http://www.womenwriters.net/domesticgoddess/macdonald.html>

           MacDonald's essay discusses the causes and effects of Edna's awakening.  She explains how Edna becomes aware of her femininity through other female characters, especially Madame Ratignolle.  MacDonald also mentions that "Chopin hints that Edna  is one of those who will perish in the tangled fin-de-siecle struggle for equality."  Through her statement, MacDonald explains that Edna strives for gender equality and she assesses the feminist theme that lies in the novel.  MacDonald goes on to express the idea that Edna unwillingly contradicts her wish for autonomy by presenting a sexual need for a man.  Edna's sexual need is described as a "teaching of her upbringing." The writer presents the idea that Edna gets her sense of romanticism from fantasies, which gives her false expectations of love and life. MacDonald feels that Edna confuses her awareness with a "new-found liberation."  The essay presents sufficient  insight on the feminist themes in The Awakening.
 

Marquand, Jane L. "Kate Chopin as Feminist: Subverting the French Androcentric Influence." Deep South. 5 Dec
          2001.
           < http://www.otago.ac.nz/DeepSouth/vol2no3/chopin.html>

            Marquand's essay deals mostly with Kate Chopin being a feminist author, which aids in establishing the fact that feminism is a theme in The Awakening.  The essay only mentions The Awakening briefly, but the novel is described as "an overtly feminist text."  Marquand discusses the influence that the French had on Kate Chopin's writing, with Guy de Maupassant being the most influential.  This essay serves more as a background to the reasons why Chopin's works usually have a feminist theme than an actual evaluation of the theme in her works.
 

Simons, Karen. "Kate Chopin on the Nature of Things." Mississippi Quarterly 2 (1998): 243-252.

           While the essay does not focus on feminism in The Awakening, it does examine Edna's awareness of her gender and her longing for autonomy.  Simons gives the idea that Edna accepts her place as a woman.  As with most of the critics, Simons evaluates Edna's awakening from the causes to the results.  Much of the presented information is redundant, since it is common among people that critique The Awakening.  How Simons essay differs is that she introduces ancient mythology, stating that " The Awakening may indeed be a modern myth about the goddess of love" (251). Simons compares Edna to Lucretius's Venus, which causes Edna to appear as a powerful woman.  The essay expresses the feminist theme through the way that Edna  experiences her awakening and develops as a woman.
 

Toth, Emily.  "Kate Chopin's The Awakening as Feminist Criticism." Southern Studies 4 (1987): 304-312.

           Toth's essay examines how feminist critics observe The Awakening. Toth states that "In The Awakening, Kate Chopin transforms the insights of feminst critics into fiction," which supports the fact that the novel embodies a feminst theme (232). Toth summarizes the novel for a large portion of the essay in order to validate her statement that Chopin made the  critics' insights into fiction.  In the essay, Toth draws parallels between a few popular feminist critics' writings and Chopin's novel.  The essay makes the idea apparent that feminist criticism is "the criticism of women's limited roles" (304).  Toth's evaluation is helpful with identifying and understanding the feminist ideas in The Awakening.
 
 


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Last Revised: December 6,2001