Introduction: Kate Chopin in Context: New Approaches
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After finishing The Awakening, Kate Chopin’s groundbreaking novel, many first-time readers leave the text admitting that they feel transformed. The novel becomes a kind of rite of passage: their lives, their outlooks, or their relationships may never look quite the same after Edna takes her final swim. Every year, the Kate Chopin International Society welcomes new members who send e-mail messages such as: “I was in college when I read this novel for a lit survey and it changed my life,” or “I was going through a really difficult time, and Edna was such an inspiration.” Part of what makes the novel transformational for so many readers is its consistent relevance to people’s lives. Emily Toth remarks in Kate Chopin, her landmark biography, that in 1970, while attending an antiwar march, her friend gave her “a copy of The Awakening and said, ‘You have to read this.’ I did, and was astonished that a woman in 1899 had asked the same questions that we, in the newly revived women’s movement, were asking seventy years later” (9). In Europe, Helen Taylor has written that she links the novel with her time as an international student visiting the United States in 1969, during “the most exciting years in recent American history” (48). Since those earlier decades, in the generations that have followed, readers have responded similarly.
KeywordsShort Story Female Character Liberal Individualism Literary Realism North American Literature
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