Introduction

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Last Updated on September 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 678

So you’re going to teach Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, this classic text has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. While it has its challenging spots, teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. It will give them unique insight into conflict, symbolism, and realism in an influential work of fiction, as well as important themes surrounding free will, sexism, and the search for self. This guide highlights the text's most salient aspects to keep in mind before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Publication Date: 1899 
  • Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level:
  • Approximate Word Count: 46,000 
  • Author: Kate Chopin 
  • Country of Origin: United States of America 
  • Genre: Literary Fiction 
  • Literary Period: Realism, American Regionalism 
  • Conflict: Person vs. Society, Person vs. Self 
  • Narration: Third-Person Objective 
  • Setting: Grand Isle and New Orleans, Louisiana; late 1800s 
  • Structure: Prose Novel 
  • Mood: Emotional, Meditative, Weighty


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Texts That Go Well With The Awakening

A Doll’s House, by Henrik Ibsen. In Ibsen’s 1879 play, Nora Helmer is married to Torvald and they have three children. Her husband expects her to be happy for him at all times, as well as keep house and manage the children. Nora finds this existence to be insufferable and longs to find personal fulfillment. The only way she can find out of her situation is to leave her husband and children behind. 

The Stranger, by Albert Camus. Camus’s 1942 novel tells the story of a man who, like Edna Pontellier, defies societal rules and pays the ultimate price. The protagonist, Mersault, is an outsider who longs to live his life the way he wants to live it. He succeeds, for the most part, until he murders an Arab man on a beach and is called to account for every action he has taken in his life. 

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The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath. Plath’s 1963 novel centers on Esther Greenwood, a young woman from the suburbs of Boston who, upon completing her degree, moves to New York City to write for the magazine Ladies’ Day. As one who has always been a scholar and thus knows what is expected of her, Esther finds the working world incomprehensible. Roles for women are limited: it’s wife and mother or the steno-pool. Esther slips into a depression that puts her under psychological care. She eventually pulls through the debilitating depression and lives her life on her own terms. 

Lady Chatterly’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence. In Lawrence’s 1928 novel, Lady Constance Chatterly is married to an emotionally distant man who is paralyzed from the waist down due to a war injury. She has hours to herself during which she ponders her own happiness. She longs for a physical, as well as mental, attachment to a man—her ideal love. Constance enters into an affair with the gamekeeper, a man of lower social standing. The book was banned in many countries for obscenity and use of “unprintable” words. 

Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert. In Flaubert’s 1856 novel, Emma Bovary is suffering through a marriage to a man with whom she has little in common. She is dissatisfied as a mother and wife but is concerned with an outward appearance of propriety, so she denies herself the passion and love that she wants, for a time. Emma ultimately gives in to her desires with tragic results. 

Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf. Woolf’s 1925 novel traces a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a London homemaker. The narrative follows Clarissa’s stream of consciousness, offering readers access to her sensations, reflections, and memories as she spends her day preparing for the party she will be hosting in the evening. Like Edna Pontellier, Clarissa frequently feels doubtful about the life she has chosen to live and the husband with whom she has chosen to share it. Like Chopin’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway investigates the inner and outer lives of women at the turn of the 20th century.

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Key Plot Points