What is Chopin trying to say about the cultural values in The Awakening, and how does that relate to present day cultural values?

Quick answer:

Chopin is criticizing upper-class materialism and conformity while supporting the value of artistic creativity and individual expression. The conflicts between these two sets of values are still present today.

Expert Answers

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Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening is largely concerned with gender relations, especially as they are regulated by social conventions through the institution of marriage. Within that context, however, she points out specific reasons that Edna is dissatisfied with her marriage, her husband Léonce, and the hollow life she is living with him. Edna rejects not just marriage and high-class lifestyles but the materialism to which Léonce is mindlessly devoted.

Edna becomes involved with another man, Robert. While sexual attraction is one reason she wants to be with him, she is also drawn to his rebellious streak. Even while still in her marriage, Edna begins to seek a life devoted to artistic self-expression. She takes her paintings seriously for the first time, and finally leaves her husband and moves into her own house.

In contemporary American society, materialism can be seen to dominate people’s lives in ways that were unthinkable more than a hundred years ago when Chopin was writing. Not only has there been a tremendous expansion of commercial products available, but since the advent of television, the amount of marketing through a vast array of media has mushroomed. Nevertheless, individual efforts to pursue creative artistry as a way of life have also increased. Female artists have carved out roles for themselves, and some have achieved financial independence and renown.

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