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Friday, August 08, 2003

Marilynne Robinson says about The Awakening:

In discovering herself Edna is discovering her fate. In exploring Edna's regression, as she puts aside adult life, retracing her experience to its beginnings, for her its essence, Chopin describes as well a journey inward, evoking all the prodigal richness of longing, fantasy, and memory. The novel is not a simulated case study, but an exploration of the solitary soul still enchanted by the primal, charged, and intimate encounter of naked sensation with the astonishing world.

I question if she read the same version as I did. It's possible that, in order to keep up with the MTV crowd, Chopin returned from the grave in order to update it with more controversy - but I doubt it. The key parts of the paragraph are things like " she puts aside adult life..." The novel's essential message as portrayed by Chopin is that - if women are ever given an opportunity to express their own desires, and they are granted societal freedom, the first thing they will do is make horribly irresponsable decisions, allowing their irrational hedonism to overcome their actual obligations. The very expression of social rebellion Edna shows is getting a deep dicking from someone she hardly knows leading very quickly in to the disintigration of her family and the ending of her very life.

With a message like that, it's hard to make a case for feminism. It is confirming every stereotype which, for so long, kept women oppressed - that they only use emotion and not reason, that they have no sense of duty, that they can't make it on their own. Moreover it confirms the fears of those who attempted to oppose things like suffrage for women - that if you happen to allow these sorts of freedoms and loosten the bonds woven of the social fabric, the breakdown of the basic familial unit is all you can expect. You'll note further that it wasn't Edna going from her husband to an independant life, it was Edna going to another man. Everything in the entire book characterizes the protagonist in relation to the men in her life. It concedes the precept of women's role as defined by men, it simply tries to alter what that role is. Instead of wife and mother, it's as a whore.

All this could still be reconciled with feminist theory if not for the final part of the book, the suicide. It says, quite clearly, that without the framework provided for gender roles, Edna, for all her introspection and self-aware sexuality, was unable to reconcile the dissonance with her thoughts and her world, and couldn't even survive without it. Like a fish out of water, her rebellion came to naught. How much stronger an argument can you make for rigid subjugation of a sex than that their very lives are staked on having it?

Robinson also makes a striking argument which I don't think she meant literally, but it's worth noting anyway. She says, essentially, that even having a novel which portrays a woman protagonist in a sensual manner puts this book in to the feminist category. I hope, on some level, that she's kidding. Like, if I wrote a book about a guy named "Moby Mryant" who happened to be black, but who raped a number of women and couldn't overcome his savage sexuality, that would be an analogous novel. He, too, would be rebelling against society. He, too, would be exploring his "primal, charged, and intimate encounter of naked sensation with the astonishing world." But to say that a book where a physically fit black man could not keep himself from flaunting society and sexually assaulting people could hardly be said to advance the cause of black rights. Jim Crow shows in the south had black protagonists. I also doubt if you could say THOSE were rights catalysts, either.

cranked out at 5:17 PM | |

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