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Sunday, 29 January 2017

Random thoughts on The Awakening

1/ Unlike Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina and Effi Briest, falling in love with another man, for Edna Pontellier, is linked with an awakening.
2/ The realisation that Edna's a human being, an individual, that she wants independence.
3/ The realisation that she now no longer cares about social conventions, and wants to live for herself.
4/ It sets her free, makes her feel more alive.
5/ To live, to go for a walk, to look, to listen, to feel, to smell, to taste, to absorb everything that life can offer, to paint, to love, to give, to yearn for more.
6/ Except that it doesn't set her free. Only Edna's mind is free. Her being is tied and trapped by conventions and duties and social expectations.
7/ Arobin can't make her happy. Edna may be, in a sense, physical, but doesn't have the vanity of Emma Bovary to be content with his flattery and caresses.
8/ Robert Lebrun might not make her happy either. He doesn't have the courage to stand up for love and defy society. I'm afraid he doesn't even understand her.
9/ But even if he did, Edna would still be trapped.
10/ She's doomed, defeated. Or is her death a rebirth?





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Kate Chopin's work is full of symbolism: sleep, the sea, swimming, image of children, the lady in black, the lovers, birds, serpents... 
I wonder if there's any meaning behind the bonbons. The word appears 9 times.


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From chapter 6, when Edna has her awakening:
"The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation.
The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace."
From the last chapter, some time before the final moment:
"The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in abysses of solitude. All along the white beach, up and down, there was no living thing in sight. A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water.
[...] 
The foamy wavelets curled up to her white feet, and coiled like serpents about her ankles. She walked out. The water was chill, but she walked on. The water was deep, but she lifted her white body and reached out with a long, sweeping stroke. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace."
(my emphasis) 


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Who is the man standing naked "beside a desolate rock on the seashore" in chapter 9? 


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Does anyone wonder about the colour white in The Awakening? 
"[Madame Lebrun] was a fresh, pretty woman, clad always in white with elbow sleeves." 
"[Mr Pontellier] fixed his gaze upon a white sunshade that was advancing at snail’s pace from the beach." 
"One would not have wanted [Adele's] white neck a mite less full or her beautiful arms more slender. Never were hands more exquisite than hers, and it was a joy to look at them when she threaded her needle or adjusted her gold thimble to her taper middle finger as she sewed away on the little night-drawers or fashioned a bodice or a bib." 
"[Edna] stood watching the fair woman walk down the long line of galleries with the grace and majesty which queens are sometimes supposed to possess. Her little ones ran to meet her. Two of them clung about her white skirts, the third she took from its nurse and with a thousand endearments bore it along in her own fond, encircling arms. Though, as everybody well knew, the doctor had forbidden her to lift so much as a pin!" 
"The two women went away one morning to the beach together, arm in arm, under the huge white sunshade." 
"She wore a cool muslin that morning—white, with a waving vertical line of brown running through it; also a white linen collar and the big straw hat which she had taken from the peg outside the door. The hat rested any way on her yellow-brown hair, that waved a little, was heavy, and clung close to her head.
Madame Ratignolle, more careful of her complexion, had twined a gauze veil about her head. She wore dogskin gloves, with gauntlets that protected her wrists. She was dressed in pure white, with a fluffiness of ruffles that became her. The draperies and fluttering things which she wore suited her rich, luxuriant beauty as a greater severity of line could not have done." 
"Edna Pontellier, casting her eyes about, had finally kept them at rest upon the sea. The day was clear and carried the gaze out as far as the blue sky went; there were a few white clouds suspended idly over the horizon. A lateen sail was visible in the direction of Cat Island, and others to the south seemed almost motionless in the far distance." 
"She thrust a bare, white arm from the curtain which shielded her open door, and received the cup from his hands." 
"Some one had gathered orange and lemon branches, and with these fashioned graceful festoons between. The dark green of the branches stood out and glistened against the white muslin curtains which draped the windows, and which puffed, floated, and flapped at the capricious will of a stiff breeze that swept up from the Gulf." 
"At an early hour in the evening the Farival twins were prevailed upon to play the piano. They were girls of fourteen, always clad in the Virgin’s colors, blue and white, having been dedicated to the Blessed Virgin at their baptism." 
"The people walked in little groups toward the beach. They talked and laughed; some of them sang. There was a band playing down at Klein’s hotel, and the strains reached them faintly, tempered by the distance. There were strange, rare odors abroad—a tangle of the sea smell and of weeds and damp, new-plowed earth, mingled with the heavy perfume of a field of white blossoms somewhere near. But the night sat lightly upon the sea and the land. There was no weight of darkness; there were no shadows. The white light of the moon had fallen upon the world like the mystery and the softness of sleep.
Most of them walked into the water as though into a native element. The sea was quiet now, and swelled lazily in broad billows that melted into one another and did not break except upon the beach in little foamy crests that coiled back like slow, white serpents." 
"She had been walking alone with her arms hanging limp, letting her white skirts trail along the dewy path." 
"Will you get my white shawl which I left on the window-sill over at the house?" 
"The whole place was immaculately clean, and the big, four-posted bed, snow-white, invited one to repose. It stood in a small side room which looked out across a narrow grass plot toward the shed, where there was a disabled boat lying keel upward.
[...]
Edna, left alone in the little side room, loosened her clothes, removing the greater part of them. She bathed her face, her neck and arms in the basin that stood between the windows. She took off her shoes and stockings and stretched herself in the very center of the high, white bed..." 
"Edna bit a piece from the brown loaf, tearing it with her strong, white teeth." 
"The youngster was in his long white nightgown, that kept tripping him up as Madame Ratignolle led him along by the hand." 
"Edna had returned late from her bath, had dressed in some haste, and her face was flushed. Her head, set off by her dainty white gown, suggested a rich, rare blossom." 
"The house was painted a dazzling white; the outside shutters, or jalousies, were green." 
"A maid, in white fluted cap, offered the callers liqueur, coffee, or chocolate, as they might desire." 
"She stood on the front veranda as he quitted the house, and absently picked a few sprays of jessamine that grew upon a trellis near by. She inhaled the odor of the blossoms and thrust them into the bosom of her white morning gown." 
"The tan of the seashore had left her face, and her forehead was smooth, white, and polished beneath her heavy, yellow-brown hair."
"Madame Ratignolle looked more beautiful than ever there at home, in a neglige which left her arms almost wholly bare and exposed the rich, melting curves of her white throat." 
"[Madame Lebrun] was still clad in white, according to her custom of the summer." 
"[The Colonel's] hair and mustache were white and silky, emphasizing the rugged bronze of his face." 
"She touched his hand as she scanned the red cicatrice on the inside of his white wrist." 
"But Mrs. Highcamp had one more touch to add to the picture. She took from the back of her chair a white silken scarf, with which she had covered her shoulders in the early part of the evening. She draped it across the boy in graceful folds, and in a way to conceal his black, conventional evening dress. He did not seem to mind what she did to him, only smiled, showing a faint gleam of white teeth, while he continued to gaze with narrowing eyes at the light through his glass of champagne." 
"'I’ve been seeing the waves and the white beach of Grand Isle; the quiet, grassy street of the Cheniere; the old fort at Grande Terre...'" 
(that is spoken by Robert, then Edna says something similar) 
"Edna ate her breakfast only half dressed. The maid brought her a delicious printed scrawl from Raoul, expressing his love, asking her to send him some bonbons, and telling her they had found that morning ten tiny white pigs all lying in a row beside Lidie’s big white pig."  
"His face grew a little white." 
"Madame Ratignolle was in the salon, whither she had strayed in her suffering impatience. She sat on the sofa, clad in an ample white peignoir, holding a handkerchief tight in her hand with a nervous clutch. Her face was drawn and pinched, her sweet blue eyes haggard and unnatural. All her beautiful hair had been drawn back and plaited. It lay in a long braid on the sofa pillow, coiled like a golden serpent. The nurse, a comfortable looking Griffe woman in white apron and cap, was urging her to return to her bedroom.
[...]  The woman was possessed of a cheerful nature, and refused to take any situation too seriously, especially a situation with which she was so familiar. She urged Madame to have courage and patience. But Madame only set her teeth hard into her under lip, and Edna saw the sweat gather in beads on her white forehead..." 
"All along the white beach, up and down, there was no living thing in sight. A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water." 
"The foamy wavelets curled up to her white feet, and coiled like serpents about her ankles. She walked out. The water was chill, but she walked on. The water was deep, but she lifted her white body and reached out with a long, sweeping stroke." 
The word "white" appears 43 times (my emphasis). 

3 comments:

  1. Maybe the naked man is the Spirit of Grand Isle that Robert describes in the next chapter.

    Like Emma Bovary, Edna builds her imaginative life out of conventional Romantic imagery that she has come across in magazines and so on. I was hoping someone had identified this particular image, but I couldn't find anything.

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    Replies
    1. Oh. Okay.
      What think you of the colour white then? And the serpents?

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  2. If we are in Flaubert-world, "white" and "serpents" have no so-called symbolic meaning but are motifs, not just descriptive but structural elements.

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