Monday, October 24, 2005

The Awakening, by Kate Chopin- Not Just a Feminist Masterpiece

The allegory of the cave is reflected in many media outlets, from fiction novels to the next blockbuster hit. The idea behind the allegory of the cave is a universal theme that comes up often in nearly all societies. Certainly Plato was not the first to bring up the idea behind the fire in the cave, yet he put it into terms that are most fitting. Without even realizing it, the writers of The Matrix, or Blast from the Past, created their own allegory of the cave on the movie screens. In these more recent adaptations of the cave, modern techniques were used to create a fanciful version of the basic idea that we are all blind to the light of the universal truth.

In The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, tells the tale of tale of a young woman blinded by the Creole society she lives under in the late 19th century. The novel progresses through her own awakening to the light of the ultimate truth; which Plato named from the sun. The many feminist undercurrents that beneath the pages of the book suggest that this removal from ignorance also removes oneself from the constrictions of the society we live in.

As Edna is raised in the Creole society of New Orleans, in the late 19th century, she is imprinted with their own cultural, moral, and ethical views. She is an angelic wife with two kids and a wealthy husband yet she feels that she is missing out. The story follows her own path as she raises her own awareness of the true issues in her society. Her transformation is complete when she breaks all contact with her family and lives on her own. The novel is closed with Edna’s suicide and the end of her quest towards her own personal peace.

There was nobody to come and help the protagonist up from the cave, instead she had to break her own chains, climb out of the cave, and adjust to the illuminated surroundings that filled her senses. The woman, Edna Pontellier has her, “eyes full of its beam and be unable to see even one of the things now said to be.” As Plato says in line 516a, Chopin is featuring a character that is experiencing the distress of being pulled into the beam of sunlight and knowledge.

Many feminists point to the protagonist’s treatment as a woman as the reason for her great awakening, however the truth lies deeper than that. The knowledge and understanding that she gained about feminism is merely one aspect of the changes that went took place. The enlightened spirit that Plato references has gained the understanding that is required to lead and to philosophize. Plato and Chopin both recognize that this release has never been achieved by a single person or any society. In a prophetic statement, Chopin kills Edna just as the protagonist’s transformation was nearly complete. Edna chooses to do this simply because she has lost all reason for living; without the pressure to gain further knowledge she has no reason to live.

The Awakening is the struggle to reach the ultimate reality that has eluded man-kind since the beginning of time. The rise and fall of Edna Pontellier is the rise and fall of a philosopher. With her education also came her destruction, and in the end, the society was never the better. This novel speaks more about the primeval drive towards this knowledge than to any contemporary movement. The allegory of the cave is mirrored in this text and yet again is left unresolved.

10 Comments:

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At 3:50 PM, Blogger k. said...

I just want to say I love this novel. It speaks to me on many different levels; it's a very personal depiction of a woman. Thanks for writing about it.

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