Which two chapters in Foster's How to Read Literature Like a Professor relate to Chopin's The Awakening?

Quick answer:

"Flights of Fancy" and "Geography Matters..." are the chapters that allow readers to engage most with symbolism and character evolution.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are many chapters in Foster's How to Read Literature Like a Professor that could apply to Chopin's The Awakening. If I had to choose only two that are the most significant, I would choose "Flights of Fancy" and "Geography Matters..." (paired with "...So Does Season"). 

"Flights of Fancy" notes...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

that "flight is freedom" (128) but also that "irony trumps everything" (129). In The Awakening, symbolism related to birds is crucial to the novel's meaning. The opening image of the book is a bird in a cage speaking French. The bird comes to symbolize Edna herself, as she feels oppressed and trapped in her marriage, by the institution of marriage itself. Later in the novel, Edna begins to test her freedom and develops a friendship with the musician Mademoiselle Reisz. At one point, Mademoiselle touches Edna's shoulders and tells her she is testing her wings, as "the bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings." Clearly, Mme. Reisz sees that Edna is rebelling against the late-nineteenth-century norms and gender roles. It is unclear, however, whether she thinks Edna is, indeed, strong enough. When Edna walks into the Gulf of Mexico at the end of the novel, the narrator tells us that a bird is flying above with a broken wing, circling down to its death. This bird could comment on Edna's suicide as a failure or weakness, though other readers see it as her final rebellion. The bird symbolism in the novel gives readers plenty to think about, so "Flights of Fancy" would be a great chapter to pair with the novel. 

Another relevant chapter, or pair of chapters, is "Geography Matters..." and "...So Does Season." The Awakening opens in the summer on Grand Isle. The summer season gives way to more lax behavior, and it's when Edna begins to "awaken," to realize that she is not satisfied or free in her current circumstances. The sea (Gulf of Mexico) at Grand Isle also plays a key role in Edna's awakening, as she feels the sea speaks to the sensuous nature of her soul. When the Pontelliers and their friends return to New Orleans in the fall, stricter social norms and expectations return. Edna, however, is forever changed and refuses to be restricted by her society's rules. She becomes subject to increasingly harsh judgment, especially from her husband and the local doctor. Eventually, she returns to Grand Isle to commit suicide. The setting, both location and season (as well as time period), figure heavily in Edna's character development. Therefore, the "Geography" and "Season" chapters could provide a nice context in which to analyze The Awakening.

Some other possibilities include "It's All Political" and the "Communion" chapter. However, "Flights of Fancy" and "Geography Matters..." are the chapters that allow readers to engage most with symbolism and character evolution. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I think that Foster would point to the idea of "It's More Than Just Rain or Snow" as being a large part of Chopin's work.  In this case, the use of water becomes significant. Edna's sense of happiness in the water at Grand Isle is more than merely a part of her character.  It is something that drives her, animates her, and gives her a sense of peace in a world that is shown to give her little else.  Foster would also suggest that this significance is evident in Edna's drowning, relating to "one of our deepest fears."  In that, there is significance in that her love is what ends up causing her death.  Along with this chapter, I would examine Foster's analysis of "Nice to Eat With You."  Foster points out that the idea of a dinner or a meal represents communion, a sense of harmony with other characters and self.  Conversely, Foster suggests that a failed meal "carries negative connotations."  This is seen in Chopin's work when Edna's dinner party fails when she is unable to deal with Victor's singing of the song that reminds her of Robert.  Her hopes of being the perfect hostess in order to conceal the pain and hurt inside her is denied in the failed dinner.  This helps to evoke her condition as one that cannot be supplanted, an emptiness that defines her sense of being in the world.  In both of these instances, concepts out of Foster's work are illuminated.

Approved by eNotes Editorial