Bildungsroman, Künstlerroman, “Local color”

Scholars generally categorize The Awakening as a bildungsroman (novel of personal development). Although bildungsromans often follow a child or teenager’s maturation, Edna begins the novel technically an adult. However, because Edna lacks an understanding of herself as an autonomous person, she is trapped in a kind of extended childhood. The novel follows Edna as she becomes aware of herself as an individual person with desires, ambitions, and passions, growing into herself. As she begins to create an identity for herself, Edna turns to artistic pursuits to express herself, accounting for some critics to consider the novel a Künstlerroman, or novel of artistic development. Critics also categorize all of Chopin’s work, including The Awakening, as part of the “local color” genre, fiction that explores the particular customs, concerns, and dialect of a specific region. The novel focuses on French Creole culture, offering a window into New Orleans society. Chopin’s liberal use of untranslated French phrases throughout is also characteristic of this genre, realistically depicting how people talk.

Read about another bildungsroman, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes were Watching God.