I have just finished reading this moving and absorbing book.
My immediate impressions were that of loneliness, alienation, confinement and oppression. Kate Chopin reflects women’s oppression and alienation in their roles as mothers and wives at the end of the 19th Century.
But sadly it is far too familiar for women in the 21st Century. It is a battle that women still struggle against.
Interestingly, Kate Chopin’s original title was A Solitary Soul, which highlights the loneliness of women recognising that the role they are confined to, not only does not fit but is oppressive.
The book is about Edna Pontellier‘s awakening to her authenticity as a woman and her inability to continue in her restrictive and false life as a mother and wife.
“As the critic Per Seyersted phrases it, Kate Chopin “broke new ground in American literature. She was the first woman writer in her country to accept passion as a legitimate subject for serious, outspoken fiction. Revolting against tradition and authority; with a daring which we can hardy fathom today; with an uncompromising honesty and no trace of sensationalism, she undertook to give the unsparing truth about woman’s submerged life. She was something of a pioneer in the amoral treatment of sexuality, of divorce, and of woman’s urge for an existential authenticity. She is in many respects a modern writer, particularly in her awareness of the complexities of truth and the complications of freedom.” Rosemary F. Franklin
It is interesting to compare this with the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
Both address the issue of women’s oppression and alienation within patriarchy. Both of the women central characters find that their only option is to rail against this oppression.
I was discussing “The Yellow Wallpaper” with two other women who had different interpretations of the ending. One thought that Jane finally went crazy; the other saw her as committing suicide. I saw Jane as finally being able to liberate herself.
Edna Pontellier finds her only solution is to commit suicide – to swim into the ocean, naked. This is her liberation.
“She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before.”