by Kate Chopin
The daughter of a wealthy Kentucky farmer and wife of a wealthy New Orleans businessman, Edna Pontellier has an easy life, one that would bring most women nothing but happiness. And at first, Edna is quite content with her life. She sees nothing wrong with her husband treating her as nothing more than another of his prized possessions, and is happy, if a little bored. They spend their summers on Grand Isle in the company of other members of New Orleans society. Their days are often spent at the beach and their nights at various parties. As the summer wanes, though, Edna becomes less and less content with her life, and more and more enamored with a young man who harmlessly, initially, showers her with attention. She begins to rebel against the notion that she has no identity separate from that of a wife and mother and struggles to embrace her individuality. This struggle continues following their return to New Orleans, and the disappearance of her young companion. By the end of the book, she has decided that she will no longer allow her life to be determined by anyone else, including her husband and her children.
This is often called an early feminist work, despite the authors strident disagreement. I'm not sure that I see it as espousing feminist ideals myself. Instead it expresses the notion of the individual. While Edna was a very selfish character, and her wants and desires failed to take into consideration the very real responsibilities she had towards her husband and children, it also depicted a struggle that many women experience as wives and mothers. It is all too easy to subsume yourself in your husband and your children, completely loosing your identity as an individual. Edna realizes that she does not want this - she wants to be a fully realized person and so she battles the expectations placed on her by society.
In this modern era, if a woman is dissatisfied with her home life and chooses to leave it, abandoning husband and child, it is accepted, though there is still often a great stigma and prejudice towards any woman who will not or cannot put her children above all else, especially self. However, in the era when this book was written it was shocking, even scandalous, for a woman to even consider placing her own desires above that of her husband or children. She was a slave to societal expectations, so for Kate Chopin to write about a woman doing just that, would have sent shock waves throughout both the literary world and the general public. Not surprisingly, this book all but ended her career. Today, this novel wouldn't even ruffle the feathers of the most repressed among us, but at the time it was considered quite avant garde and was a precursor and inspiration to many later feminist authors.