I finally finished reading Kate Chopin's The Awakening last night. It wasn't that it was a difficult read, just that it didn't give me much of a sense of anticipation. I didn't put it down reluctantly, and when I put it down, I wasn't anxious to pick it back up to see what happens next. I mostly just read it in restaurants, over a solitary dinner.
But I finished it. I think this does have a decently high reading level — I'd think a HS senior honors class or above. I'd certainly feel sorry for any high school freshmen (especially the boys) who had this thrust upon 'em. The language is just too different from what we're used to. And since most of the novel takes place in New Orleans, there are a lot of French words thrown in there sideways. I guess it makes the main character look more like she is a bonafide member of the upper class. It's also hard to keep track of all of the minor characters who pop in and out of the life of the main character, Edna Pontellier — the Lebruns, the Ratignolles, Madame Weisz, Victor, Arobin — and their relationships with and to each other.
My major criticism, though, is that the symbolism is too obvious. For instance, I rolled my eyes a little at the appearance of the bird with a broken wing on the beach in the last chapter. And Edna's nakedness in that same chapter. It was a little too thick with symbolism.
Still, this would be a great book for a class on feminist literature, or feminism in literature. It's definitely a "woman's book," but beyond that, Chopin's message about the role of women and of wives, and the history of the book's public reception, reveals an important message that came way before its time.
But now my quest to read all the "classics" for which there are CliffsNotes can continue. I think I'll go for a little more action this time, though. Maybe Treasure Island or Gulliver's Travels?