Imagine you were married to a man (or woman) who treated you like a piece of property, like you were a house that had to be maintained–not even like a dog that could be adored. Edna Pontellier doesn’t have to imagine. At age 28, she is married to Leonce Pontellier and has two children. She is on autopilot, never coloring outside of his clearly marked lines.
Let me give you an example of how insufferable Leonce is: So, Edna wants some time alone and is relaxing in a hammock outside, when her husband walks up and says are you coming in to bed. And she’s all no thanks I’m gonna chill here. And he’s like ok and sits by her drinking and smoking a cigar. He gets another drink, lights another cigar. After a few hours she’s like I guess I’ll go to bed because this joker won’t leave me alone. She goes in the house and asks for formality’s sake are you coming to bed. And he’s all when I finish this cigar.
He always has to win. A.l.w.a.y.s. It’s infuriating, and not in a charming-Rhett-Butler-way.
Anyway, the family spends the summer on the Grand Isle off the gulf coast of Louisiana, where Edna befriends Adele and where she meets Robert, both contribute to the snow-ball effect of her “awakening.”
Adele is a chaste married woman who is very much in love with her husband and devoted to her children. She is what Leonce Pontellier considers to be “the ideal woman.” Despite her purity, Adele is a Creole woman and very outspoken. She says things that Edna’s more reserved manner deems unrefined, yet Edna soon learns to appreciate Adele’s idiosyncrasies and adopts some of her outspokenness.
Robert and Edna spend ample time together on the Isle, bathing, talking, just laying about in the sun. Their adoration for each other grows quickly; however, it takes Edna a while to figure out what she’s feeling (of course!). And the awakening begins! But her husband’s presence really dulls the whole romance. When Robert realizes that he is in love with a married woman, he packs up and abruptly moves to Mexico.
After he is gone, Edna’s awakening is still developing. She learns that she doesn’t ever want to sacrifice herself for anyone, including her husband and children. Edna would give her life for her children, but herself is a sacred thing that she seeks to protect. She begins to shed her old nature and embodies the New Woman. Edna moves out of her husband’s house, has an purely physical affair (while Robert is in Mexico), and takes up painting, which she used to do before she got married.
This novel was revolutionary for its time. Chopin overturned Victorian era novels by really focusing on a woman’s inner life, her sexuality, her rationale, and her yearning for independence. A woman sleeps with a man she doesn’t love! *Gasp* A woman wants five minutes to herself! Well, I never.
A lot of folks think Edna is selfish and I would agree to some extent; but, who isn’t selfish? For Edna, the only way out, the only way to fight is to make herself the top priority. Anyone with an ounce of intelligence would try to escape a loveless marriage and an unproductive life like Edna’s. Plus, I refuse to buy into the idea that when a woman has children her life must be forfeited. And I’m stepping off the soap box…
As much as I liked this book and recommend it to everyone, all I could think at the end was, thank God that was over 110 years ago.