Gender and Literary Valorization: The Awakening of a Canonical Novel

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Saundra D Westervelt, Associate Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: We use the reception history of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening to study the social context in which and processes through which literary texts are evaluated. We explain The Awakening’s ascendancy from an initial negative critical position in 1899 to its current canonical status by the emergence of new “interpretive strategies” for understanding and evaluating texts. The dominant interpretive strategies of nineteenth-century reviewers sentimentalized women as selfless wives and mothers responsible for moral purity, making it difficult to construct a valued or fruitful narrative from The Awakening. Late-twentieth-century feminist interpretive strategies, however, were highly productive tools for rereading The Awakening, generating a socially resonant narrative focused on the search for an independent female self. Most important, we show that analytic attention to interpretive strategies allows sociologists to analyze both the meanings constructed from texts and the differential judgments attached to them under varying interpretive strategies.

Additional Information

Sociological Perspectives 45: 139-161
Language: English
Date: 2002
literary criticism, Kate Chopin, The Awakening, social context, feminist interpretive strategies

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