Justification for Teaching

Arguably one of the first feminist novels, The Awakening allows students to explore the psychological complexities of the human mind as well as the structural complexities of gender as related to society.

The Awakening’s protagonist, Edna, introduces readers to the trials and tribulations of women at the end of the 19th century. At the time, women, especially, fell victim to rigid roles and stereotypes; they were expected to be passive, domestic, and pure. These trends, present in the novel, provide for a lesson about the progression of women and gender as portrayed in literature.

The desire to break free from expectations and restrictions is a concept just about anyone can relate to, which is why The Awakening is such a pertinent read. Edna’s struggle is present, real, and certainly worthy of an in-depth analysis in the classroom. Especially with its haunting conclusion, the novel is sure to provoke perceptive reflection and stay with students long after they leave the classroom.

Summary

The Awakening follows Edna Pontellier on a vacation with her husband and children in Grand Isle, New Orleans. While on the trip, she embarks on several affairs that both awaken her sexuality and act as a catalyst to her desire for independence.

Key Literary Elements & Techniques

  • Imagery
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Symbolism
  • Social Commentary

Themes and Motifs

  • Identity — Author Kate Chopin tells a moving tale of Edna's identity crisis.
  • Femininity — Through Edna’s experiences, the novel exposes the rigid roles women were expected to inhabit in the late 19th century.
  • Marriage — In The Awakening, marriage represents a barrier preventing people from obtaining real love.

Related Works

Themes of Identity

The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

Divergent, by Veronica Roth

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

Themes of Femininity and/or Marriage

A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

A Doll's House, by Henrik Ibsen

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath

Key Facts

  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 12
  • Publication Date: 1899
  • Length: 176 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 960L

Movies

The film Grand Isle, released in 1991, is based on Chopin’s novel.

Additionally, in 1999, PBS aired a documentary about Kate Chopin’s work, titled Kate Chopin: A Re-awakening. The film describes Chopin’s life and the devastating backlash of publishing The Awakening, for the novel was considered outrageously scandalous for its time.

Your Students will love:

  • that Chopin wrote about topics far ahead of her time
  • The Awakening’s gorgeous imagery

Students may have problems with:

  • Edna’s suicide at the end of the novel

Available from Prestwick House

We have a number of resources for teaching The Awakening. See a list here.

Other Prestwick House Teacher's Guides to Literature

See all our Teacher's Guides to Literature here.

The Awakening