Good Example Of Essay On Kate Chopin’s Timeless Literary Value
After more than a century, Kate Chopin’s literary works are still relevant especially to the spectrum of feminist and women’s movements across the globe. She is well known for defying the status quo of writing in the 20th century and she bravely faced the ire of many critics particularly in her novel “The Awakening.” Countless knives were thrown to her once the novel was published in 1899 as critics during that time consider the literary as unholy and immoral for presenting freedom through indulging sexual desires forbidden by the law and the society. This novel however declared her as the first feminist novelist during the 20th century. Up until today, the relevance of Chopin’s “The Awakening” is still relevant as patriarchy and gender roles are still present. Chopin’s novel symbolizes a free woman.
According to The American Literature, Kate Chopin is one of the most acclaimed short story writers in the late 19th century with an exemplary style of writing. Using her creativity with words, she can show the story rather than tell the story to the readers. She was able to published two short story collections entitled Bayou Folk in 1894 and A Night Acadie in 1897. In those stories, she received positive reviews especially in her style of writing. However, when she published The Awakening in 1899, her literary career nearly collapsed with the countless strong negative critics. Sprinkle (1998) cited some of the critics in her article entitled Kate Chopin’s The Awakening: The Critical Reception that said Chopin’s talent has been wasted in writing The Awakening. Other reviewers criticized Chopin not only because of the novel but because she is already a popular writer during that time. Her name in the literary arena moved many people to read her novel that include young people. Other reviewers from the Church and the academia mentioned that in a civilized world, desires should be controlled and are not to be indulged like the character in the novel named Edna Pontellier.
Sprinkle (1998) explained that in Chopin’s novel, Edna Pontellier is a married woman with children who gave in to her desire to find herself. Despite her married status, she committed adultery and in the end drowned herself into the sea. Sprinkle added that the negative criticisms against the novel are the fact that Chopin did not condemn Edna’s adultery. Sprinkle further mentioned that the novel could have been acceptable in the late 19th century if there was remorse and condemnation towards that character of Edna.
The critics however focused their attention to the morality the novel and not the underlying meaning of Edna’s character. The underlying themes in Edna’s character make Chopin still one of the most acclaimed feminist writers of all time. Kaplon (2012) in her article entiled Kate Chopin’s The Awakening: Struggle Against Society and Nature mentioned that Edna’s controversial image of neglecting motherhood and being a wife is a symbolic action in assertion of women’s sense of self-worth other being a wife and a mother. Kaplon writes,
“Edna is fighting against the societal and natural structures of motherhood that force her to be defined by her title as wife of Leonce Pontellier and mother of Raoul and Etienne Pontellier, instead of being her own, self-defined individual” (Kaplon, “Kate Chopin’s The Awakening: Struggle against Society and Nature”).
In the early 20th century Chopin was the first who dared to question the societal norms of gender roles that women’s place is at home. Edna is the epitome of a modern woman born during the height conservatism and patriarchy. Her character mirrors the situation of all women during that time when all the aspects of society were defined by the male. Chopin through Edna’s character made the aspirations of women to be free from male domination to be visualized in the novel. Edna characterizes the desire of the women to break out from the male defined society and to build their names which are not only confined with wife and mother.
With the persisting patriarchal situation not only in the United States but all over the world, Chopin’s The Awakening is still alive and relevant. Edna like many women of the 21st century despises financial dependence on her husband. As she abandoned her wife-mother name, she pursued to practice her skills in painting and eventually sold her paintings for a living. It reflects that women are fed up in the patriarchal situation where men are the providers and women stay at home, cook, clean the house, care for the children and wait for the husband’s return. These characters in the novel’s protagonist merit Chopin to be included in the current literary tenet. Moving on, one of Edna’s characters of confessing love to another man while married to another defies the social standard that there is only one love throughout a person’s lifetime and once a person is married he/she will keep the commitment for a lifetime. It is one of the basic teachings of the Church that is being practiced up until today. As said in the scriptures, “What God unites, man cannot separate.” Edna’s character asserts that a person can love several times in a lifetime.
As good writer as Kate Chopin, she wrote a tragic ending with Edna drowning herself into the sea without any remorse of her wrongdoings based on the society’s norms. Edna’s defiance did not prosper in making herself free because the society is not free. The society is bound by moral and religious norms hindering Edna to enjoy her chosen freedom. She then freed herself finally by suicide. This ending has been very controversial in the late 19th century and the early 20th century because of puritans and conservative Christians who assert that Chopin should have condemned the amorality of Edna and make a judgment that she died due to conscience. Today however, among the feminist movements, the controversial character of Edna is considered as the characteristics of a new woman who dares to seek independence against all odds. As Kaplon puts it:
“Edna will not allow herself to be chained to its natural and societal titles, and she commits suicide to free it from these definitions” (Kaplon, “Kate Chopin’s The Awakening: Struggle against Society and Nature”).
Moreover, when Chopin wrote her controversial novel, it was the time when the American society was having a rapid change in terms of women’s role in the society. According to Ostman (2008), the Women workers movement was at its height in assertion of the right to vote. Her novel helped in creating a new woman of the 20th century who resists to be confined in the conventional gender roles.
Aside from The Awakening, Chopin in 1890 wrote a self-published novel entitled At Fault. It portrays women and men of Louisiana who are struggling with the issues of divorce, alcoholism and religion. Ostman (2008) mentioned that it did not get a broader readership. It is however understandable that those issues like divorce and religion during the late 19th century are still unusual to tackle thus, explains the few readership. The issues on the other hand are very interesting today among researchers, students and professionals. Divorce and the issue of religion in the United States is not as bad as before but still is intolerant to minority religions. The literature entitled At Fault is still relevant up until today.
There are a number of themes that are presented in the literary works of Chopin. The most common however is her presentation of the women’s issues during her time which were elevated in the issues of race, class and gender. She might have used her skill in steamy writing in the case of The Awakening but the theme revolve around the desire of the new woman to painstakingly emerge from the quagmire of patriarchy and gender stereotypes. Reading the works of Kate Chopin today enlightens the readers on the persisting issue of patriarchy and the traditional gender roles. The characters in her novel and short stories mostly embody women that are not conventional like Edna in The Awakening.
Again, Chopin’s works might have been despised by the conservatives in the late 19th century and early 20th century but they are influential in the forging the character of a new woman. Chopin’s works serve as inspiration to the spectrum of feminist activists all over the world for her analysis of gender, race and class. Her literary works are still included in the 21st century literary canon as the issue of gender roles and stereotypes are endless discussion and debate among the academicians and among the civil society. As a case in point, the character of Edna in The Awakening asserts her autonomy over her body. Today, this is mirrored by many feminist organizations with their campaign of women’s autonomy over their bodies. Chopin also has literary works which are anti-Christian entitled At Fault which is relevant in today as the world is aspiring for the freedom of religion.
Overall, Kate Chopin is still an acclaimed good writer today because her works’ value did not fade. The issues she tackled that were feared by the conservatives during her times are the pressing issues as of the moment.
American Literature. “Kate Chopin.” American Literature. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.
Sprinkle, Russ. “Kate Chopin’s The Awakening: A Critical Reception.” Bowling Green State University, 1998. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.
Kaplon, Megan P. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening: Struggle Against Society and Nature. Student Pulse, 2012. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.
Ostman, Heather. “Kate Chopin in the 21st Century: New Critical Essays.” Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.
Rabun, Kristin. “Unsinkable Edna: Critical Evolution and Cultural Revolution.” The Oswald Review, vol. 5(1). Web. 5 Apr. 2015.
Perry, Caroline & Weaks-Baxter, Mary. “The History of Southern Women’s Literature. Google Books. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.