“How strange and awful it seemed to stand naked under the sky! how delicious! She felt like some new-born creature, opening its eyes in a familiar world that it had never known.” That is a strange and wonderful quote from ‘The Awakening’ by Kate Chopin. I read it some years ago but I’m not sure I really appreciated its worth. Written well over a hundred years ago, it predicts the coming awakening of women in history, but reading it again now I can see how it also predicts the coming experimentation in modern literature. Here is a writer on the cutting edge, in short.
When the book’s main character Edna Pontellier is released from the sweltering heat of New Orleans and from the oppressive hand of her husband, she finds she is not the woman she had thought herself to be. Unlike others of her time, however, she is willing to throw off the constraints of life as a married woman and the mother of her children and explore beyond the bounds that good society will allow. And yet the ‘lesson’ in the story is not what is expected. It is not the tragedy it seems to be on the surface. Rather, it is a story of liberation. A woman’s personal struggle against the ties that bind. And Woman’s struggle in history to break out of the captivity of society’s norms. That seems to be what readers and critics alike objected to. The book was pulled from the shelves of her local (St. Louis) library and she was ostracized for the remaining few years of her life.
One need not be a feminist to appreciate ‘The Awakening’ and as modern readers we need not be shocked by the story it tells. But when I think of what it must have been like for Kate Chopin to write such a beautiful and powerful work so ahead of its time, I also wonder where those writers are today. Now the tide has turned. It is the ‘norm’ to write stories of moral relativity and it is shocking to think that anyone might write from any other perspective. Can anyone still, in these post-modern times, think that God exists? Did not Nietzsche pronounce God’s death? Can anyone still, in these post-modern times, believe that there is a single overarching truth that is worth searching for? Can anyone possibly, in these post-modern times, question the absolute conclusions drawn by the scientific community about the ‘facts’ of evolution over creation? Of course not. To do so would be to draw the ire of readers and critics alike.
Much as Kate Chopin did.
I am continuing to write this weekly experiment in literature from within the creative eye. By that I mean that I am reading and writing and thinking and just plain trying to figure it out as I go along. I write where the words will take me. I experiment with my own thinking so that when I sit down to my own fiction, I have an idea about what I’m doing and why. It takes me into some strange territory sometimes. I will end with a quote from Hermann Hesse: “I wanted only to try to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult?”