Literary criticism of Kate Chopin's "The Awakening" comparing modern reception with that of the 1800s

Essay by Hoover889University, Bachelor'sA, December 2006

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Kate Chopin's "The Awakening" has received completely opposite reviews over the years, which demonstrates how Chopin was many years ahead of her time. When the novel first came out it was harshly criticized for its radical ideas on women's rights, which showed how the people of that time still believed in male superiority. However in 1969 this novel was "rediscovered". The book was praised by many feminists for the same reasons that the old critics had disapproved it.

Willa Cather's review from 1899 accurately portrays most critics' reception of the novel. Cather spends most of the review talking of how intelligent women receive the "disease" of independence, the only mention of Chopin's writing style comes is, "...Chopin has devoted so exquisite and sensitive, well-governed a style to so trite and sordid a theme" (Cather) . This shows that the writing was exquisite but the reviewers of the time did not like her choice of topic.

The general consensus of the time was that the feelings that Edna experienced in her "awakening" were symptoms of "[disease that] attacks only women of brains, at least rudimentary brains, but whose development is one-sided; women of strong and fine institutions, but without the faculty of observation, comparison, and reasoning about things" (Cather). At the turn of the 20th century very little was known of mental illnesses and why Edna and many other women felt the way they did, they were told to simply be content with what they had.

Other critics of that time period generally had a similar opinion. The critic of The Nation states that, "The recording reviewer drops a tear over one more clever author gone wrong." (Recent Novels: The Awakening). The reviewer mentions how well Chopin wrote her novel and describes how well it puts an image into the readers...