A New Introduction to The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Osborne, Deirdre. 2022. A New Introduction to The Awakening by Kate Chopin. In: Deirdre Osborne, ed. The Awakening. London: Flame Tree 451, pp. 5-52. ISBN 9781804172438 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

This Introduction examines how The Awakening is noteworthy for representing the ways in which the life of a late nineteenth-century, white, upper-class woman diverges from prevailing social codes and expectations of feminine behaviour – much as Chopin’s own life might be said to have done. Yet it argues that The Awakening also reveals narrative fault lines in its emancipatory representation, particularly in terms of the racial realities of late nineteenth-century America and literature. It traces Chopin’s literary life to plot a course through momentous changes in nineteenth-century American history. The timeline covers the Indian Appropriations Act and the Indian Reservation Era to the Civil War period (secession, confederacy, abolition of enslavement), the post-bellum transformations of the South during Reconstruction, the erosion of free black people’s rights under Jim Crow laws and segregation. It includes reference to female suffrage campaigning, agitation for equal paid employment, temperance, maternity leave, education and independence from domesticity. These epochs of epic cultural and political shifts in American life contour Chopin’s fiction and shape her consciousness – alongside those interlocking social categories of race, sex, gender, religion and class. While The Awakening explores the possibilities for a married mother’s emancipation from the stifling social protocols in myriad ways, black women are on the fringes of Chopin’s narrative. Referred to pejoratively and racially marked, they are objects of service for the efficient maintenance of her household regime and her release from labour to pursue her artistic life.

Item Type:

Book Section


southern creole culture, race, colourism, genre of 'local colour', female emancipation.

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature



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Date Deposited:

03 Jan 2023 12:15

Last Modified:

09 Jan 2023 11:16



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