Teaching Kate Chopin’s ‘The Awakening’

A book as perfectly shaped and elegantly written, as immediately accessible and as full of thought-provoking ideas and contextual red meat as the ubiquitously taught ‘Gatsby’ or the too-much maligned ‘Of Mice and Men’? But still an unknown to many people? Simply because written by a woman and too easily categorised as ‘women’s issues’?

We’ve been teaching Chopin’s ‘The Awakening’ for several years for the OCR A2 Coursework extended essay – combining it with Plath’s poems and Rhys’ ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’. In fact, we are moving on to other texts this year, but I’d recommend Chopin’s novel if you don’t know it. It’s well-discussed in this article, suggesting its continuing relevance: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/aug/15/the-awakening-kate-chopin-barbara-kingsolver

I’d add that one of the things Chopin manages to do so successfully is to create male characters around her heroine, Edna Pontellier, who possess life and complexity; they are not mere ciphers of turn of the century patriarchal power. They are also interestingly linked to the Louisiana Creole world that Chopin married into herself. So the degrees of autobiographical content are another fascinating area to explore. Get hold of the edition with its excellent contextual and critical material:

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