Scholars often describe The Awakening as an early feminist novel because of its exploration of a young woman’s self-discovery and self-liberation. Chopin was not the first and only woman writer at the time exploring these issues. For example, her literary contemporary Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote short stories like “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1890), exploring the trivialization of women’s feelings. However, Chopin’s frank depiction of women experiencing sexual desire as something distinct from a desire for marriage and children—in addition to Edna’s complete disinterest in motherhood—created outrage in the American literary scene. Chopin faced such great literary backlash to The Awakening that she stopped writing for good, and the book soon went out of print. Her short stories maintained some circulation in the following years, but scholars focused on their depiction of Louisiana life and Creole culture. In the 1950s, the new second wave of the feminist movement rediscovered The Awakening, and the book came back into print. Mid-century feminists saw The Awakening as shockingly modern, addressing issues they still struggled with. It has become a prototype for novels exploring the stifling and repressive aspects of marriage and motherhood, including Sue Kauffman’s Diary of a Mad Housewife (1967).

Read about a later feminist novel, Margret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.