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What features make The Awakening a "local color" story?

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The term local color is typically used to describe American literature works published toward the end of the Civil War (circa 1860). These works feature a focus on the unique features of people living in a specific place, and a focus on the peculiar features of the place (locality) itself. The Awakening is a work that embraces regionalism and local color. It tells the story from the perspective of the French Creole people of Louisiana. In all, this is the key evidence of local color.

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The term "local color" is typically used to describe American literature works published toward the end of the Civil War, circa 1860. These works feature a focus on the unique features of people living in a specific place, and a focus on the peculiar features of the place (locality) itself.

Reading about a specific region, state, city, or community and getting to understand how such settings influence the traits of characters may elicit feelings of nostalgia in some readers and interest in others.

The details that readers will be able to learn from a "local color story" will include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • dialects
  • accents
  • manners
  • social expectations
  • regional folklore
  • regionalism

All of the details listed above are evident in The Awakening.

In terms of dialect, we find that the characters shift from French to English easily, as they are from Louisiana (formerly a French territory).

The manners and social expectations of the group are evident when we see how women go by their "Madame" and "Mademoiselle" titles, instead of "Mrs." or "Miss." They are also evident in the fact that they preserve the French traditions expected of women—namely, the Victorian paradigm of the "angel in the household" that views women as the spirits of the homes that they run, always expecting women to be nurturing and loving rather than seeing them for who they really are independently.

Likewise, the dynamics between men and women are indicative of the time and place of the novel's setting. We have Edna's husband, shocked at what seems to be his wife's rebellion against all social expectations placed upon married women. We have Edna breaking with all the rules of faithfulness and decorum—the result of her "awakening." All of these particulars are problems that occur in the specific circle where Edna and her family coexist. They are also issues that reflect the daily life of people from that region during that specific time.

The Awakening, as well as nearly every other work by Kate Chopin, embraces regionalism and local color. It tells the story from the perspective of the French Creole people of Louisiana. In all, this is the key evidence of local color.

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Some of the features of The Awakening that make it a "local color" story include the setting, the diction, and the characters.

The setting is the time and place in which a story occurs. Regarding the time period, The Awakening was written in 1899, thus it was written in a time when women raised children, and ran households. Women had no sexual feelings of their own, they did not need to be free, women were supposed to be content with staying home. It demonstrates this time period of society as the oppressive antagonist. As a result, this was a book that opened the door to the feminine revolution.

Also part of the setting is the location. Edna Pontellier is an upper-middle class white woman who has married a man from the upper-crust Creoles of New Orleans. She, her husband, and her children vacation on the Grand Isle, which is off of the coast of Louisiana. Here Edna is amused by the Creole lifestyle, how it is so different from her own Kentucky bluegrass upbringing. The Creoles are French speaking since Louisiana was owned by France until 1803. They follow the traditional views of Southern hospitality and diplomacy.

Along with the French societal structure, much of the language in The Awakening is written in French, thus emphasizing the diction, or author's word choice. More often than not, Chopin utilizes French words or French statements to describe situations and behaviors that would otherwise be "foreign" to non-Creole Americans. These European ideas are usually pertaining to stronger feminism, art, or music, thus implying that Europe was more advanced in the feminine revolution.

Regarding "local color" and character, Leonce Pontellier is a strict Creole man, and even is described as so by the Doctor, explaining that he must be the "man" of his household and his wife must follow his orders. Edna meets Robert on the Grande Isle, away from the city, and he runs off to Mexico to avoid his feelings -- his character demonstrates what a decent Southern man would do if put into a compromising situation. Madame Reisz speaks her mind and understands the taboos of her society, thus making her a social outcast and viewed at as a pariah by the other women. Madame Ratignolle is the perfect Southern wife -- one who "stands by her man" and adoringly coos over her children.

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What features make The Awakening a "local color" story?

The Awakening is a great example of a story of a particular time and place.  A primary conflict of the story is Edna's feeling like an outsider in Creole New Orleans and what she does to resolve that feeling.  This society is different and unique, and Edna either needs to find a way to fit in or she needs to leave.  The descriptions of clothing, homes, social obligations, attitudes about mothering and marriage, relationships between people are all shaped by this particular society.  Edna has both small and large rebellions -- she is tan, she is aloof from her children, she doesn't open her home for visitors on Tuesdays, and she spends time with and appreciates Mde. Reisz.  The local color atmosphere of New Orleans is created through descriptions of people, places, language, actions, and attitudes.  The novel would be very different if the setting where different.

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What features make The Awakening a "local color" story?

Three main related factors make Chopin's great short novel a local color story: the amount of time she spent describing things, the setting, and the language used. Regarding the time spent describing things, there is far more time spent on description than was needed for either plot or character development. This slows the action down—but it gives readers in a time before television a glimpse of another world. The setting is exotic—we have parrots, cottages, and "bridges" to them, all in the first page or so. And the language used includes everything from local references (the palmleaf fan) to literally different languages, such as the French the parrot speaks on the first page.

Greg

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