Assignment 1: Cultural Contexts

How Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality Resonate Beyond the Novel

The Awakening was published in 1899, and the plot focuses on several months in the life of Edna Pontieller, a 28-year-old mother of two.  As modern-day readers we may not entirely identify with the strict societal expectations of both men and women at that time, yet the theme of self-fulfillment still resonates today. Chopin introduces us to a few key characters who are influential in Edna’s evolution from a traditional mother and wife to a woman who decisively frees herself from a mortal life of “bondage” (i.e. marriage and motherhood). 

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The novel touches on many social issues, including motherhood, sexuality, socioeconomic differences, marriage, and suicide.  Struggles similar to Edna’s thirst for independence, identity, and freedom are also explored in contemporary media.  Here are a few film examples of female characters in untraditional roles, and/or characters addressing controversial issues in an effort to find freedom:

Motherhood, Marriage, and Family

A Doll’s House; The Scarlet Letter; He Said, She Said; Muriel’s Wedding; The Age of Innocence; Erin Brockovich; and Mermaids


The Color Purple, The Piano, Frida, Fried Green Tomatoes, She’s Gotta Have It, Out of Africa, Heavenly Creatures, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and The Crying Game

Socioeconomic/Racial Differences

The Long Walk Home, Jungle Fever, Ever After: A Cinderella Story, The Joy Luck Club, Beloved, A Woman Called Moses, and Saving Face


The Virgin Suicides, Dead Poet’s Society, The Hours, The Shawshank Redemption, What Dreams May Come, Romeo and Juliet, Full Metal Jacket, The Happening, White Oleander, Seven Pounds, Thelma and Louise, and Girl, Interrupted

Independence, Identity and Empowerment

A League of Their Own, Thelma and Louise, Waiting to Exhale, Bend It Like Beckham,The Wizard of Oz, Norma Rae, Silkwood, If These Walls Could Talk, and Fargo

For this assignment, compare and contrast the way one social issue is portrayed in the novel The Awakening with the way it is portrayed in one or two of the above-mentioned films or another film that speaks to you in an important way in relation to Chopin’s work. 

For example, you could examine Edna’s suicide in contrast to Brooks’s suicide in The Shawshank Redemption.  Brooks was finally released after over 40 years in prison, but he could not cope in a world that had progressed without him.  Brooks could not live without rules and structure. His need for the assurance of a strict system of rules is illustrated when Brooks continually asks the manager in his new job if he can be excused for a bathroom break.  In contrast, Edna finds that she cannot live with rules and societal “structure” in a marriage she finds constricting.  In your analysis, you might conclude that while both characters ultimately chose similar fates, Brooks’s fate was based upon the fear of living without structure, and Edna’s fate was based upon the fear of living with structure.

There are other aspects to consider in this analysis, including how the roles of mother and wife, family, and sexuality have changed over time.

Choose one of the social issues from above and consider the questions below as you write your analysis.

  1. What differences and similarities are apparent between the characters in the novel and your chosen film?  How do the characters react to their circumstances?  Do they grow or change in any way?
  2. How does social environment play a role in how certain characters are viewed by others?  How would the characters be treated differently in another social environment?
  3. Are we challenged to consider any commonly held social or political beliefs?  If so, how do the choices made by the author, director, or actors contribute to that process?
  4. What conclusions can you make about societal values based on the portrayal of your chosen social issue?  What has changed and what has remained the same?
  5. Explore your reactions to The Awakening and your chosen movie.  Did you empathize with any of the characters? Which situations stirred a personal reaction or response?  Why do you think you reacted as you did?

By Monday, August 20, 2012, post your response to the following prompt to this Discussion Area.

By Tuesday, August 21, 2012, respond to at least 2 of your peers


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