Monday, April 25, 2011

Kate Chopin's The Awakening

Kate Chopin’s The Awakening
Kate Chopin
Kate Chopin was born Katherine O’Flaherty on February 8th, 1850.  After her father’s death, she developed a close relationship with both her mother and great-grandmother.  Kate’s mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were all widowed at a young age and never remarried.  The women in her family provided a powerful example of womens strength and independence.  She attended the Academy of the Sacred Heart Catholic School where she was encouraged by the nuns to journal and write.  In 1869, at the age of 19, Kate met and married Oscar Chopin and they settled in New Orleans.  By 1879 Oscar’s cotton brokerage had failed and they, along with their 6 children, moved to Cloutierville, LA to manage several small plantations and a general store.  A couple of years later Oscar died, leaving Kate in debt.  She eventually moved back to St. Louis to live with her mother.  A year after arriving in St. Louis her mother passed away.  Shortly thereafter Kate suffered a nervous breakdown and her doctor recommended that she write as a way of calming herself.  By the late 1890s Kate’s shorts stories and articles were featured in local publications.  Their literary qualities were overlooked and were generally considered regionalist work, meaning that they had little literary value beyond the portrayal of the local culture.  In 1899 her 2nd novel and best known work, The Awakening, was published.  The Awakening, a story of an unsatisfied wife, drew heavy criticism based on moral and literary standards.  Kate Chopin died August 22nd, 1904 at the age of 54.  She was considered the forerunner of feminist authors of the 19th century.
          The story of The Awakening is set in the 1890’s.  The main character, Edna Pontellier, along with her husband and two young sons are vacationing for the summer on Grand Isle off the coast of Louisiana.  Other families are vacationing there as well.  Edna is befriended by Robert Lebrun, the son of the hostess who is two years younger than her and known for becoming harmlessly devoted to some unavailable woman every summer.  Through their friendship, Edna begins to investigate who she is, independent of her identity of wife and mother.  Unbeknownst to either of them, Edna and Robert begin to fall in love.  Without warning, Robert announces that he will be leaving to travel to Mexico that very evening.  Becoming distraught at the news of his departure, Edna recognizes her feelings of infatuation for Robert.  Upon her return home from summer vacation, Edna continued her journey of self-discovery.  She begins to reject social and household duties, preferring to invest her time in sketching and pursuing a friendship with a moody pianist she met on Grand Isle.  During this time she often reflects back on her time she spent with Robert.  Her husband takes an extended business trip to New York and her children go off to visit his mother.  Soon she discovers that Robert is returning from Mexico and becomes obsessed with continuing where they left off.  She excitedly makes arrangements to move from the house she shares with her husband, abandoning him and their children.  Upon Robert’s return to the city he does not immediately seek her out.  When their paths cross, Robert is reserved.  She is confused as it is not the lover’s reunion she had envisioned.  So one evening when Robert walks her home she seizes the opportunity; she kisses him and confesses her love, which he admits in return.  Before she can explain herself, she is called away.  When she returns Robert is gone but she finds a note he left behind.  It simply says, “I love you.  Good-by—because I love you.”  Distraught, she returns to Grand Isle to visit the beach where they spent many of their days together.  Edna puts on her bathing suit, then casts if off.  Naked, she walks out into the water.  She swims out into the ocean growing increasingly tired but she refuses turn back.  Though it isn’t specifically stated, the reader understands that she has drowned herself. 
The theme in Chopin’s The Awakening is that of a woman’s rediscovery and reclamation of herself.  We watch Edna’s transformation from a sleepy, dispassionate wife and mother to an empowered woman who redefines her life.
          Prior to her summer vacation, Edna was indifferent about her marriage.  It was neither exciting nor unbearable.  Her days were filled with the standard responsibilities of a woman of that era:  accepting callers on her reception day and handling the affairs of running the household.  Though she loved her boys, she would not be described as a “mother-woman”.  Chopin describes a “mother-woman” as one who “fluttered about with extended, protected wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood”.  During their summer vacation, Edna’s husband leaves her company to play billiards at a local hotel.  When asked if he will be returning for dinner, he shrugs his shoulders.  Edna seems indifferent as to whether he returns to join her or not.  The reader can see that Edna’s domestic life lacks passion and is not a source of pleasure for her.
          Alone after a late night confrontation with her husband, Edna begins to cry.  Such an incident normally wouldn’t have bothered her.  Questioning why now, Edna realizes that “an indescribably oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anquish”.  This is the first time that Edna begins to suspect that there is something deep stirring within her soul.  Later on, when pressed by Robert to go for a swim, Edna feels “a certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her, --the light which, showing the way, forbids it.”  The reader can see that unfamiliar feelings and emotions are beginning make themselves known.
          One afternoon while reflecting on her life, Edna admits to herself that shortly after marrying her husband she realized that she has no passion for him.  And when she recalls her children visiting family one summer, “she did not miss them, except with an occasional intense longing.”  She feels a relief of responsibility by their absence.  It is here in this passage that Edna consciously acknowledges to herself that she is unhappy in where her life has led her. 
          As Edna begins to explore her newfound desires, she asserts herself, especially toward her husband.  One evening Edna decides she wants to lay in the hammock, much to her husband’s dismay.  He said to her, “I can’t permit you to stay out there all night.  You must come in the house instantly.”  Previously she would have obeyed his command.  Not this night.  Edna tells him, “Go to bed.  I mean to stay out here.  I don’t wish to go in, and I don’t intend to.  Don’t speak to me like that again; I shall not answer you.”  Never before would she have spoken to him like that.  Edna is beginning to declare her independence.
          Edna’s final display of empowerment is when she decides to move out of the home, abandoning her husband and children.  She has saved money which she won through playing the horses.  She also developed her artistic talents enough to sell some of her sketches.  And with this money she had enough to rent a modest 4 room house, giving her the freedom and independence she desired.  Edna is no longer a wife, mother and socialite.  Instead she has transformed herself into an artist with the freedom to pursue her desires.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Changing Roles of Women

In our readings from the Belle Epoque, a common theme was that of personal freedoms - rebellion from societal expectations – a time of self-discovery and of defining oneself.  This was especially true for women.  During this time we begin to see a rise in writings telling the tales of women rejecting their traditional wife and mother roles for freedom to discover who they are. 
In the late 1800’s society’s structure and culture were undergoing fundamental changes.  The most significant change to the American culture was the transformation of women's roles.  Men began to work outside the family nucleus in business roles.  Women became responsible for the home and children.  Society told women that motherhood was one of the most important contributions a woman could make to her family and country.  Women were expected to be pure, charitable, selfless and supportive at all costs.  But women recognized that there lives were not their own, and there began an unrest within themselves. 
In Henrik Isben’s A Doll's House, the main character, Nora, realizes she’s transitioned from being an obedient daughter as a child to an obedient wife as an adult – taking on the opinions and beliefs of her father and husband, never truly knowing who she is.  With this realization, she awakens a fervent desire for discovering her personal self.  This need is so powerful that she was willing to cast off her socially imposed identity and abandon her husband, children and comforts of home. 
A Story of an Hour, written by Kate Chopin, is another recognized story of a woman who realizing the opportunity for living for herself, though the ending is not as optimistic.  In this story, the main character, Mrs. Mallard, is told that her husband has died in a train wreck.  She is instantly grief-stricken, and then goes to her room to be alone.  As she takes in all that has happened she suddenly has the revelation that she is free…free to “live for herself.”  The announcement of Mr. Mallard’s death had awakened this realization that she could be free to discover her personal self.  Unfortunately Mr. Mallard returns home, unaware of the news the arrived before him, and as Mrs. Mallard lays eyes on him, she dies from a broken heart – broken because her newfound freedom has been snatched away as quickly as it came.
While A Doll’s House and A Story of an Hour are fictions, I feel that the stories are being told because they were what was happening in society during that period.  These stories, and others like them, were very controversial.  Mainly, I suppose, because it was against societal norms and tradition.  But the world was experiencing transition on many fronts during the Belle Epoque, and this sort of women’s liberation was just one aspect.  Personally I am inspired by the Kate Chopin stories I’ve read.  They give insight to a time in our history where women were beginning to open struggle to establish equal rights and to gain personal power over their lives.  To me it’s the first real sign of women emerging out from under the oppression they endured back then.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Raft of the Medusa

 The Raft of the Medusa

The painting, The Raft of the Medusa, was created by the French Romantic painter, Theodore Gericault (1791-1824).  It is an oil painting on canvas and was painted from 1818 to 1819.  It currently hangs at the Louvre in Paris.  The Raft of the Medusa is enormous in size, measuring over 16’ tall by 23’ wide, allowing for larger than life-sized subjects.  

Color plays an important role in this painting as it sets the mood.  When looking at this painting, we immediately take in the graveness of this scene.  Gericault’s use of dark colors imparts an ominous tone to the painting.  We see the black, brooding storm clouds, contrasted by the sunlight on the distant horizon.  Even the greenish-black waves of the ocean communicate the foreboding danger that is present.  Conversely, most of the painting’s subjects – the shipwreck victims - are pale; some the grayish color of death.  

The Raft of the Medusa
The Raft of the Medusa is full of energy and movement.  In the foreground we see the white-tops of the rough seas lap at the make-shift raft, threatening to tear it apart at any moment.  The sail is billowing as it captures the ocean wind.  We can see the movement of the wind in the hair of a few of the men and in the flapping of the material, presumable shirts, that is being flailed by the men in the top right of the painting.  In the background the greenish-black waves of the ocean are swelling.  The dark wave on the left is ominously approaching the delicate raft.  There is also movement within the individual people, as the men point towards the horizon at the approaching ship and as a black man and white man attempt to signal the boat by waiving the material in their hands.

The enormous size of the canvas itself has a significant impact on the viewer’s experience.  The scale of the shipwreck victims is larger than life.  This photo from the Louvre provides an excellent reference.  The tourist to the left is a full-grown adult.  We can see how much larger the subjects in the painting are.  The impressive size pulls the viewer in to the painting so they experience the painting on a personal level.  It gives the viewer the feeling that they are part of the scene, as if they were actually a part of the painting itself.   
The Raft of the Medusa is a historical piece inspired by true events surrounding the shipwreck of the French frigate, Meduse.  In 1816 the Meduse ran aground.  The affluent and rich boarded life boats, leaving behind 150 people who drifted on this a make-shift raft for 13 days.  Due to the stress of the conditions and shortage of supplies there was violence among the men and when the food was gone by the first day, many resorted to canniblism.  In the end, less than 15 people had survived.  This painting illustrates the survivor’s severe conditions and environment just hours before their rescue.  We can hardly make out the light in the distant background from the approaching ship, Argus.  

Light from the Argus (circled) 

This painting by Theodore Gericault is very representative of Romanticism movement.  Often paintings were created where the subject matter was intended to elicit strong emotions.  Moods were conveyed with the use of color.  The paintings were very dramatic and oftentimes involved tragedy.

Please watch this brief, two-minute YouTube video by Julia Forbes, Head of Museum Interpretation at the High Museum of Art.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Apollo and Daphne

Apollo & Daphne
By Gian Lorenzo Bernini

          This sculpture, titled Apollo & Daphne, was one of three works commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese.  It was executed between 1622 and 1625 and currently resides in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. 
          Bernini’s Apollo & Daphne is a life-sized sculpture standing 96 inches tall.  It was crafted by hand from beautiful near-white marble.  It was painstakingly chiseled, smoothed and polished over the course of three years.  The sculpture was designed to be viewed at a 360° angle, with detailing and different observations from all angles.
          The sculpture has natural and realistic styling, full of fluid lines and details.  Not only are the subjects life-sized, they have good proportion and balance and so they appear very life-like.  Bernini captures Apollo’s thin muscular build with detail of the shallow cleavage between the pectoral muscles of his chest and the slight indication of his thigh muscle.  Daphne physical attributes are very authentic.  The shape of her breasts and the hint of thickness in her hips and waist, are more representative of a normal woman’s features.  There are great details in the delicate leaves and branches extending from Daphne’s arms.  The bark that begins to envelop around her legs and torso also shows remarkable detailing and texture. 
Bernini brings motion to the sculpture.  Not only are Apollo and Daphne sculpted in motion, with arms outstretched and legs advancing, we can also envision that Apollo is chasing after Daphne from their swirling draperies whipping in the winds behind and around them.  Their very detailed, flowing hair also reinforces the impression of motion. 
The faces of Apollo and Daphne provide a lot of information regarding the scene.  Apollo seems very much in love.  His eager expression reflects kindness and enamor.  His mouth is open and in a slight smile, and his facial features are soft.  The outside corners of his eyes appear to angle up - a sign of pleasure or happiness.  Daphne’s expression, on the other hand, is in complete opposition.  Her eyes are wide open and she is glancing back at Apollo while reaching out in front of her.  Her mouth is open – not in a smile like Apollo’s – but in astonishment and distress. 
Apollo & Daphne was inspired by one of the stories from Book 1 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  The story tells of Apollo being struck by a golden arrow from Eros, the god of love, causing him to fall in love with Daphne.  Eros strikes Daphne with a lead arrow, causing the exact opposite affect.  Apollo is so consumed by his love for Daphne that she begins to flee and he gives chase.  She begs for her father to save her.  Right at the time he is about to catch her, her father changes her into a laurel tree. 
Alternate view
This sculpture depicts that split moment in time as Daphne is transforming into the tree.  We see her feet begin to turn into tree roots and the bark begins to wrap around her legs, then up her left hip and around her buttocks as they begin to form into the tree trunk.  From above, her fingers change into branches with leaves and berries on them.  This alternative view of the sculpture shows more details of her transformation. 
Why this subject was selected by the Cardinal Scipione Borghese, I’m not sure.  There seem to be some mystery as to why a sculpture depicting a story from pagan myth would be desired by a Cardinal.  To reconcile the situation the following was later engraved on the sculpture’s base:  Those who love to pursue fleeting forms of pleasure, in the end find only leaves & bitter berries in their hands. 
          The Italian sculptor, Gian Lorezno Bernini, was a baroque artist, as illustrated by his swirling, spiraling, energized subjects.  In his early career, he created such sculptures as Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius, The Rape of Proserpina, Apollo and Daphne, and David.  Later he created the Baldacchino in St. Peter’s, Rome and the Ecstasy of St. Teresa in the Cornaro Chapel in Rome.  He was a master with marble and was considered a leading sculpture of his time.  Bernini also had talent in painting and architecture.
          I found this sculpture piece to be very intriguing.  I especially appreciated the way this one piece told such a complete story.  Its realism appeals to me and I found the detailed aspects drew me closer.  I found it to be similar to Greek sculpture, which I like, yet it was even more.  I think the tactics used to portray the energy of this piece are very fascinating.  Here is a link to the sculpture as reviewed by SmartHistory.  YouTube Apollo & Daphne by SmartHistory  I love these guys!

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Hi everyone!  Here's my first blog for my Humanities class.  All this new technology stuff is fun!

I'm a student at Yavapai College Verde Campus and this is my very last class I need to complete my Associate's in Business degree.  Yippee!!  It's been a long trek.  I first began attending YC when I was a single mom with 3 young boys and working full-time.  Now I'm married to the most wonderful man and my youngest is grown and moved out.  I guess now I'm an empty-nester...and looking forward to what this new chapter in life holds.  This semester I'm also enrolled as a teletechnet student at Old Dominion University on the Verde Campus, thanks to their satellite classroom programs.  I am pursuing a Bachelor's in Accountancy.

How can you NOT love ME?
This is the newest love of my life (shhhh - don't tell my husband)  His name is Dodge and he's the funniest, most comical dog I've ever owed.  He's only a year old and is more of a handful than a 2 year-old kid! 

And this is our boxer, 2nd in command, and princess.

Besides being a wife and mother, and working full-time while also attending school, I like to camp and hike with my family.  We L-O-V-E boating on the lakes as well.  This October my father, brother and I are going to engage in some family bonding time while hiking down to Havasupai Falls.  We are really looking forward to the challenge!