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Kate Chopin

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Title: Kate Chopin


1
Kate Chopin The Awakening
Literary Perspectives
2
Kate Chopin The Awakening LITERARY PERSPECTIVES
  • 19th CENTURY REVIEWS
  • Contemporary Reviews
  • Contemporary Controversy over Categorizing
  • Viewing Through the Lens of Literary Criticism

3
Critical Responses in 1899 (Published April 1899)
  • Trite and sordid
  • Essentially vulgar
  • Unhealthily introspective and morbid in feeling
     
  • . . .its disagreeable glimpses of sensuality are
    repellent" (from The Outlook,1899)

4
  • From the St. Louis Daily
  • Globe-Democrat (1899)
  • "It is not a healthy book if it points any
    particular moral or teaches any lesson, the fact
    is not apparent. . . . Mrs. Pontellier does not
    love her husband. The poison of passion seems to
    have entered her system, with her mother's milk.

5
  • From The Providence Sunday Journal (1899)
  • "The worst of such stories is that they will fall
    into the hands of youth, leading them to dwell on
    things that only matured persons can understand,
    and promoting unholy imaginations and unclean
    desires. It is nauseating to remember that those
    who object to the bluntness of our older writers
    will excuse and justify the gilded dirt of these
    latter days."

6
  • The Chicago Tribune June 1, 1899
  • That the book is strong and that Miss Chopin
    has a keen knowledge of certain phases of
    feminine character will not be denied. But it
    was not necessary for a writer of so great
    refinement and poetic grace to enter the
    overworked field of sex fiction.

7
  • From The Nation (1899)
  • "Had Chopin lived by Prof. William James's
    advice to do one thing a day one does not want to
    do (in Creole society, two would perhaps be
    better), flirted less and looked after her
    children more, or even assisted at more
    accouchements . . . we need not have been put to
    the unpleasantness of reading about her and the
    temptations she trumped up for herself."

8
  • Public Opinion, June 22, 1899
  • If the author had secured our sympathy for this
    unpleasant person Edna it would have been a
    small victory, but we are well satisfied when
    Mrs. Pontellier deliberately swims out to her
    death in the waters of the gulf.
  • Extracted from the Norton Critical Edition (Ed.
    Margo Culley, 2nd ed., New York W.W. Norton
    Company, 1994).

9
Chopins responseHaving a group of people at
my disposal the characters in her novel, I
thought it might be entertaining (to myself) to
throw them together and see what would happen. .
. . I never dreamed of Mrs. Pontellier making
such a mess of things and working out her own
damnation as she did. (Book News July 1899).
10
Kate Chopin The Awakening LITERARY PERSPECTIVES
  • 19th century Reviews
  • CONTEMPORARY REVIEWS
  • Contemporary Controversy over Categorizing
  • Viewing Through the Lens of Literary Criticism

11
Contemporary Response to The Awakening
  • Shes one of those writers whose sense of craft
    puts her right on the edge of poetry. . . . The
    rediscovery of The Awakening came as a Godsend,
    the most incredible gift to the womens movement
    Prof. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Emory U.
  • Others deplore the novels misuse as a
    political manifesto for feminism.

12
  • The Awakening is consummate art. The theme is
    difficult, but it is handled with cunning craft.
    The work is more than unusual. It is unique.
    The integrity of its art is that of well-knit
    individuality at one with itself, with nothing
    superfluous to weaken the impression of a perfect
    whole.
  • C.L. Deyo,
    reviewer

13
Kate Chopin The Awakening LITERARY PERSPECTIVES
  • 19th century Reviews
  • Contemporary Reviews
  • CONTEMPORARY CONTROVERSY OVER CATEGORIZING
  • Viewing Through the Lens of Literary Criticism

14
Contemporary Controversy
  • When Chopins work became available in the 1970s,
    scholars defined her as a feminist, a local
    colorist, a regionalist, a romantic, an
    anti-romantic, a neo-transcendentalist, a
    realist, a naturalist, and an existentialist.
    Critics are still debating the issue of which
    literary aesthetic the novel truly represents.

15
So which is it?
  • Realism?
  • Regionalism?
  • Local Color?
  • Naturalism?
  • Romanticism?
  • Feminism?

16
On Realism
  • presents an accurate imitation of life
  • the characters are drawn to present the reader
    with the illusion of actual experience
  • topics covered include love, marriage,
    parenthood, infidelity, and death
  • characters find life dull and are often unhappy,
    but find touches of joy and beauty in life
    (M. H. Abrams)

17
On Local Color and Regionalism
  • fiction and poetry that focuses on the
    characters, dialect, customs, topography, and
    other features particular to a specific region.
  • Its weaknesses may include nostalgia or
    sentimentality.

18
More on Local Color
  • According to the Oxford Companion to American
    Literature, "In local-color literature one finds
    the dual influence of romanticism and realism,
    since the author frequently looks away from
    ordinary life to distant lands, strange customs,
    or exotic scenes, but retains through minute
    detail a sense of fidelity and accuracy of
    description" (439).

19
Local Color vs. Regionalism
  • Regional literature incorporates the broader
    concept of sectional differences, but some
    critics have argued convincingly that the
    distinguishing characteristic that separates
    local color writers from regional writers is
    instead the exploitation of and condescension
    toward their subjects that the local color
    writers demonstrate (From the Encyclopedia of
    Southern Literature).

20
  • Local Color vs. Realism
  • Eric Sundquist "Economic or political power can
    itself be seen to be definitive. . .those in
    power (say, white urban males) have been more
    often judged 'realists,' while those removed from
    the seats of power (say, Midwesterners, blacks,
    immigrants, or women) have been categorized as
    regionalists (from the Encyclopedia of Southern
    Literature).

21
What does Chopin do?
  • Draws on personal experience to color the
    settings, details, and characters.
  • Presents a clearly drawn portrait of life on
    Grand Isle and in New Orleans.

22
  • Shows Catholic Creoles with European customs,
    polyglot witty speech, rich agricultural
    landscape of picturesque Natchitoches Parish.
  • Skillfully integrates French in the English
    narrative

23
  • Develops a moving, soaring, lyrical, poetic style
    with beautiful use of imagery
  • Exceptional depictions of nature -- not
    necessarily as a benevolent force

24
Naturalism
  • The naturalist often describes his characters as
    though they are conditioned and controlled by
    environment, heredity, instinct, or chance. But
    he also suggests a compensating humanistic value
    in his characters or their fates which affirms
    the significance of the individual and of his
    life. . . .

25
  • The tension for the naturalist writer is . . .
    between the new, discomfiting truths. . . found
    in the ideas and life of the late
    nineteenth-century. . .and. . .his desire to find
    some meaning in experience which reasserts the
    validity of the human enterprise (from Pizers
    Realism and Naturalism in Nineteenth-Century
    American Fiction, rev. ed., 1984).

26
Romanticism
  • a tendency towards melodrama and idyll a more
    or less formal abstractness and, on the other
    hand, a tendency to plunge into the underside of
    consciousness a willingness to abandon moral
    questions or to ignore the spectacle of man in
    society, or to consider these things only
    indirectly or abstractly (Chase, The American
    Novel and Its Tradition, ix).

27
Feminism
Chopin denied that she was a feminist or a
suffragette. Her fiction repeatedly deals with
female characters efforts to find place, love,
and autonomy in a society that denies these needs.
28
According to Treu, Chopin took women seriously
and had a different understanding of freedom
spirit, soul, character living life within the
constraints the world and God gave. Chopin
wrote about many kinds of people, but all seem to
lack a clear concept of their own roles and
purposes in life a constant groping for
self-knowledge shapes their personalities and
actions.
29
Kate Chopin The Awakening LITERARY PERSPECTIVES
  • 19th century Reviews
  • Contemporary Reviews
  • Contemporary Controversy over Categorizing
  • VIEWING THROUGH THE LENS OF LITERARY CRITICISM

30
       
     
31
Literary criticism involves judging the value of
literature based on such things as the personal
and/or cultural significance of the themes, the
uses of language, the insights and impact, and
the aesthetic quality of the text. Part of a
critics job is to patrol the boundaries of good
writing and determine what cultural value should
be placed on a text. What constitutes, guides,
and legitimizes interpretation?  
32
Literary theory attempts to explain what the
nature of literature is, what functions it has,
what the relation of text is to author, to
reader, to language, to society, to history.
Since literary theory provides a position
through which or from which the reader/critic
interacts with the text, the theoretical stance
will prejudiceor at least informthe critics
evaluation. Source Lye, John. The Differences
between Literary Criticism, Literary Theory, and
Theory Itself. For ENGL 4F70 Contemporary
Literary Criticism. St. Catherines, Ontario
Brock University, 1998. 18 Mar. 2005.
www.brocku.ca/english/courses/4F70/crit.vs.theory.
html. 
33
Theories of Literary CriticismMarxist
challenges power structure Feminist Marxist re
females New Historicist bio historical
context Archetypal/Mythic universal
patterns Freudian sexual archetypes
unconscious New Criticism explores how the text
is written Postmodernist/Deconstructionist the
value of any text is relative, personal, and
subjective
34
Our Job
35
What are her themes?
  • the dilemma of an individuals conflicting
    responsibilities to others and to herself
  • a wifes impatience and frustration with marriage
  • A rejection of the traditional roles of women
  • a womans acknowledgement of and responses to her
    sexual urges

36
  • the results of acting on ones nature and
    impulses
  • alienation
  • the search for freedom
  • the search for identitya theme that recurs in
    Chopins work
  • We must consider this how do her themes fit in
    with the various literary aesthetics, theories,
    and perspectives?

37
1. Find passages that provide evidence that the
novel belongs to your literary school then
explain what critics with your perspective might
say about the novel (20 minutes).
  • Forge Realist Marxist
  • Riverbend Romantic Archetypal/Mythic
  • Spotsy Naturalist Historicist
  • Stafford Regionalist (w/ Local Color) Feminist

2. Report back (3-5 minutes each site 12-20
minutes total)
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