Feminist Narratology in Kate Chopin’s the Awakening Essay
In 1986, Susan S. Lanser published “Toward a Feminist Narratology” on “style”-a journal in U. S. A. and used the concept of feminist narratology for the first time. In this influential article, she argued that the texts which push classical narratology are all written by male writers. Therefore, if the texts of female writers and the experiences of female readers were put into consideration, narratology, and even the entire literary history will be rewritten.
She thought most of the abstract concept might not be changed, except for the theory of plot and story. Warhol, another influential figure in this field, held that feminist narratology was the interpretation of classical narratology in the point of view of one gender. It is hard to imagine a literary text that has affected the study of nineteenth and twentieth-century American culture more profoundly than Kate Chopin’s The Awakening which was published as long ago as 1899.
Those who have studied it know that however the novel is framed–as local color, as women’s writing–the question that still engages most readers is at the same time very naive and very sophisticated. Among the book’s themes are women’s independence, sexuality, spirituality, marriage, motherhood, etc. Besides, as a model narrative master, Chopin’s writing technique was thoroughly brought into play. Among them one point often mentioned by critics is the mastery of symbolism.
In The Awakening, she created an unconventional woman by her relationship with not only other people but also the objective things. The objective things, or symbols, served well in this novel. I will argue that Kate Chopin’s The Awakening can be read firstly as an early American version of feminist narratology. Its dominant motifs of the female body, bisexuality and motherhood, and its images of the sea and flight, anticipate some of the same concerns as a number of modern novels today.
Its narrative reenacts on the level of language and writing what can be explained as the feminist struggle of the protagonist, Edna Pontellier, on the level of story and theme. At moments, the structure and language of The Awakening subvert linear discourse and “phallogocentric” closure. Just as Edna struggles to articulate a feminine self, so the narrative struggles to voice a feminine language. It is known that the female body and female sexuality have been negated and repressed of centuries by male power.
Many female writers nowadays argue that the relationship between feminine writing and the female body lies in the heterogeneity and multiplicity of female sexuality. Therefore, the word and performance of “body writing” become more and more popular among ordinary readers. In The Awakening, the protagonist, Edna Pontellier, struggles to reclaim her body, acquaint herself with a whole variety of sensations, and live out a sensual relation to the world. During her short trip with Robert Lebrun, she experiences the presence, the vitality, and the sensuality of her body. All of her senses come alive: