Preface to the Duke Edi tion
Several years ago, I was teaching an undergraduate course called "Yoices
of Mothers and Daughters in Novels By Women." We had read Jane Eyre
which introduced the great themes and classic motifs of the daughter's
journey toward self-realization. And then we came to Kate Chopin's The
Awakening,
one of the first novels in English to be written by a mother
who takes a mother's point of view as the subject of a literary work.
When it was first published, many critics and reviewers found the
heroine, Edna, to be unloving and selfish, an unnatural mother, and I
had learned over years of teaching the novel that contemporary genera-
tions of students often felt the same. So before we began this story of a
woman trying to chart a path to herself, struggling to become an artist,
loving her children but unwilling or unable to "turn over her soul to
them," I asked my students to close their eyes and think about "the good
mother." As they sat there ruminating silently, I asked a few Widely
spaced questions: What is she like? How does she act? What do we need
from her? Then I asked them to open their eyes and write down some of
what had come to them. As they read out the qualities of "the good
mother" I wrote them on the blackboard until it was filled with overlap-
ping, crowded text, long sentences and single words: She is giving and
caring. Unselfish. A model of independence, but she needs her chil-
dren's love deeply. Highly diSCiplined. A disciplinarian, but she under-
stands the need for fun. Reliable, yet childlike. Tells you right from
wrong, but is never intrusive. Emotionally connected, but she can be
mysterious-she has her own life! As they called out the phrases while I
wrote, my students understood the pattern emerging and rolled their
eyes at their own surprising beliefs. I asked them to close their eyes
again. Now imagine, I said, that you are not daughters and sons but
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