This book was written in 1899, over one hundred years ago. What was life like back then? How does it compare to the life I am living now?
These are the questions I asked myself upon my second reading of The Awakening. My actions today, seemingly innocent and plain, would be shocking if recreated when this novel was written. As a privileged, 28 year old, unmarried, Caucasian woman, I have to also ask myself: What differences in my life, in my current socio-economic situation, are there to the life of the protagonist of the Awakening? The familiar actions I take for granted were considered shocking and even rude to the society of 1899.
What am I talking about? Here are some examples:
- leaving the home without informing someone of the exact details of where, when, why I was going
- being away from home without worry of some higher status individual coming to see me and being turned away due to me not being home
- Partaking in hobbies for the sake of having fun, for nonsensical reasons and feeling no remorse
- being an agent of my own agenda, without relying on a husband to inform me of what it is I should be doing every waking moment of my life
- Doing things because I feel like it, not because I should be expected to partake in what society expects me to do.
Does that sound a little bit ridiculous? Today we take for granted all the freedoms and sociological expectations that we have so much wiggle room we don’t even notice it.
This book is about feminism in the definition that I prefer, the first wave, in which women sought for equality in regards to gaining political power (the ability to vote, which came much later) to make changes on an economic, sociological, psychological, and reproductive levels. It is about basic human respects, embracing independence, and challenging what has been ingrained in our minds.
To me, this book is about feminism and the individual seeking freedom and independence. It is told through a summer vacation, with mini scenes that show the challenges of the time in very subtle ways. We really need to analyze each scene, to dig deeper into actually seeing what has been written. A scene is a scene, but it can also be as dramatic or as plain as the reader decides.
For example, there is a scene where our protagonist goes to the beach and visits with another woman. This other woman does not enjoy swimming. Regardless, our protagonist decides to go swimming alone anyways. She lingers out in the sea but eventually returns to the house with the other woman whom had waited for her.
On the surface, this looks like a scene of two friends in which one decides to take a dip, then they retreat back to the house. But if you dig a little bit deeper, you will find the following:
- Our protagonist ditched the woman to go swimming. Instead of respecting what the other woman’s wishes were, she was selfish and decided to go do what she wanted, not what she was expected to do (stay and chat with the other woman)
- She lingered in the sea, hoping that the other woman would get fed up and leave. This did not happen. This contrast shows that the woman on the beach was much more familiar with sociological expectations than our protagonist. Even though our protagonist was selfish and went into the sea, the woman stayed on the beach even though she probably wanted to be elsewhere.
- These two women don’t seem to like each other. Yet one of them is firm in sticking to societal norms whereas our protagonist does not seem to care about the consequences of her actions.
All in all, I would recommend this book if you are looking for a classic, something to challenge your beliefs and what you take for granted, a literary exploration of themes, and an introduction to the beginning of feminism in 1899.