#10 The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Kate Chopin's The Awakening caused quite the uproar when it was first published in 1899. Sacre bleu!, a wife and mother who does not want to bear the responsibility of being a wife and mother in turn of the century New Orleans.
I love this book because my AP English teacher shared it with my class in 12th grade. She told us how she broke up with her long-term boyfriend after reading this book because she, too, wanted an awakening such as Edna Pontellier's. My teacher eventually got married to this boyfriend and had a bunch of kids, but that goes to say that this book instilled feminist feelings within me too.
Edna Pontellier is a young wife and mother who is vacationing with her family off the coast of New Orleans. She's not like every other doting wife and mother in 1899 New Orleans. There she meets Robert Lebrun, the resort owner's son. And while her way thinking is already different from all the other wives and mothers of the time, she has an awakening during her time with Robert. She doesn't want to bear the burden of having a family. She wants to be able to love Robert, freely.
Once Edna starts to think about Robert more, she tells her friend, Adele Ratignolle, that she would never sacrifice herself for her children. Adele, the quintessential wife and mother, vehemently disagrees with her. Edna says that she would gladly sacrifice the "unessential" - her life, money, material things, but not the essential. Well what is essential if life is considered unessential? I took it as her livelihood, her happiness. I suppose it's one thing to give your life for your children's well being as opposed to suffering in a loveless marriage for them. It's a fine line and even though I think I understand Edna's point of view, I'm not entirely sure of it.
While the book is fairly short at 150 pages, it still manages to convey plenty of emotions and vivid descriptions. The book made me think both times I read it, as a high school senior and five years later as a 22 year old. It makes you wonder about your role as a woman (wife, mother), and even though this book is more than a century old, there's still plenty to draw from it. Sure, it's considered socially acceptable if you choose not to get married and pop out kids every few years. But I'll be damned if I'm the only one who has been told "I was married and already pregnant at your age!" or that I should have a man in my life because it's "right" and it's what I "need" as a woman.
I know a few people who hate this book and the hatred is largely manifested in the book's ending. I liked it and thought it was appropriate. I guess that's what separates the Edna Pontelliers from the Adele Ratignolles.