Kate Chopin Questions for English 222 American Literature, CSU Fullerton

E222 CHOPIN QUESTIONS, CSU FULLERTON

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KATE CHOPIN

The Awakening (Norton Vol. C 561-652).

The Awakening

1. Focus on the domestic situation constituted by the marriage of Léonce and Edna Pontellier. What kind of marriage do they have? How does Léonce Pontellier seem to regard his wife, and what were the circumstances that led to their marriage? In what sense is it at least initially typical of the era in which the novella is set, namely the late nineteenth century?

2. Places such as New Orleans, Grand Isle, and Chênière Caminada are by no means neutral settings in Chopin's novella. What do at least two of these places (and perhaps others you may think of) have to do with the process whereby Edna "awakens" to herself and her desires?

3. Describe at least a few of the stages of the transformation through which Edna goes as we move from the beginning of Chopin's novella to the end. At what points do you find the key indications of this transformation, and why do you find them the most important?

4. Edna's "awakening" is of course in part erotic in nature, and very frankly so, but at the same time, there's more to it than that. First of all, how important is sexual awakening in Edna's transformation, and where do you find at least one indication of that importance? Secondly, how would you describe or explain the other dimension of Edna's awakening, the one that has to do with her sense of "who she really is"? Again, where do you find at least one indication of this dimension of her awakening?

5. How much help or hindrance does Edna get from other characters aside from her husband Léonce? For example, Madame Aline Ratignolle and/or Mademoiselle Reisz? What role does one or more of these characters play in Edna's progress as an independent woman?

6. There is a rather strong concentration on the value of the arts to Edna in particular in Chopin's novella, and the author seems to be working from a basically romantic or "expressive" conception of art's genesis and value for individuals -- namely, art is a vehicle for self-expression, a product of (and encourager of) passion rather than a product of reason. But what more can you find to say about the arts in this story? What role do they play at key points in Edna's awakening?

7. Consider the concluding chapters of Chopin's The Awakening: why does Edna choose the final path that she does, the one that leads to her death? What is it about the nature of her last insights that conducts her towards such an ending? Could things realistically have been otherwise? What would have had to be the case for things to turn out differently?

8. On the whole, what feeling does Kate Chopin's The Awakening leave you with as a reader? Was reading the book a positive experience, or an unsettling one? Either way, why so? (Saying the book is "unsettling" wouldn't necessarily mean one dislikes the book since the primary purpose of art need not be construed as bringing us comfort, reassuring us of the rightness of prior views, and so forth. Oscar Wilde once wrote that art is a "disturbing and disintegrating force," and he meant it as a compliment.)