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How To Love Lit Podcast

Christy and Garry Shriver

A look at all of the literature you read in high school and college and wished you had paid more attention to.

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Guy de Maupassant - The Necklace - The Master Of The Short Story At His Best!
Jun 4 2022
Guy de Maupassant - The Necklace - The Master Of The Short Story At His Best!
Guy de Maupassant - The Necklace - The Master Of The Short Story At His Best! Hi, I’m Christy Shriver and we’re here to discuss books that have changed the world and have changed us.  I’m Garry Shriver and this is the How to Love Lit Podcast.  Today we are going to journey to France and meet one of the greatest short story writers in the world- he influenced O Henry, Chekov, Kate Chopin and many others- this would be Guy de Maupassant.  And the story we will be reading and discussing is his most famous story, “The Necklace”.  Guy de Maupaussant didn’t live very long.  He died right before turning 43, but fortunately during his life he got to enjoy financial success and even fame.  He wrote over 300 stories, six novels, three travel books and a bunch of poetry.    So, let’s date him exactly.  He was born in 1850 and died in 1893.  If we put that in historical context in the America’s, we were living through the American Civil War.  Europe in general was experiencing the good and bad of the height of the Industrial Revolution(we talked  about that briefly when we talked about Charles Dickens but also William Blake-some of the excesses were pretty terrible and were felt all over Europe), but France in particular under the leadership of Emperor Napoleon 3rd, made great strides to modernization.  France led the world in many ways.  Unfortunately this all came crashing down to some degree with Emperor Napoleon III, reluctantly really, led France into the Franco-Prussian war.  As with every other war, it was an atrocity, although we don’t talk about it much today.  Among other things, it changed the landscape of Europe and the. European balance of power from then on.   Yeah, I guess I’ve heard of the Franco-Prussian war, but I can’t say I understand it very well.    This war was between France and what is now primarily what we call Germany.  However, this isn’t exactly accurate because our maps have changed so much since those days.  The German confederation led by the Kingdom of Prussia defeated Napoleon III and France’s Second Empire. Napoleon the 3rd, would be the last emperor of France. Guy de Maupassant volunteered in that war and pulled from his experiences in the war for a lot of his stories.    I’m sure MauPaussant’s war experiences were one big influence and subject of his writing, but certainly not the only one.  De Maupassant observed  all levels of French society starting with prostitutes to soldiers and upward on the social scale.  He was very interested in social struggle and in some ways a little cynical about the whole thing.   A lot of his stories convey a sense of hopelessness really- trying to fight fate.  Which in some ways is interesting in light of the fact that he did financially and professionally well for himself in spite of some very difficult obstables not the least of which is his parents fairly traumatic divorce.  He grew up in Normandy which is in the North of France. His mother filed for and got divorced from his dad for his being a womanizer-   a woman being granted a divorce was unusual for that time.    Well, it was, and Guy was raised by his mom.  He went to Catholic school which apparently wasn’t a positive experience, and he orchestrated his own expulsion.  Eventually, he moved to Paris, and his mother introduced him to a man who would be the single greatest influence in his life, outside of his mother, Gustave Flaubert. Flaubert was famous and he was a writer.  His most famous book- Madame Bovary-maybe one of the most infuriating books I’ve ever read- of course that’s intentional.  is beautifully written and admired as a powerful work concerned with human frailty .    Well, Flaubert introduced de Maupassant to other famous writers and off his career started.  He was prolific and well-received.  After a few years, he was able to quit his day job and live off his writing and in a high style.  Yes, amd he apparently inherited his father’s taste in women, for he too has been labeled by history as “a womanizer.”  He was single, had many relationships: these included relationships prostitutes all the way to many other women of high rank including countesses.  He even had three children with one lover.  Unfortunatetly, his lifestyle ultimately resulted in his contracting syphilis.  As his syphilis progressed his writing got more and more shocking because he himself was losing his sense of reality.  Eventually he became convinced that flies were devouring his brain.  He tried to shoot himself, then he rammed a paper knife into his throat.  This got him taken to an asylym where he stayed until he died just a few months later.    Wow.  That ending is somewhat shocking.   Well, it truly is and perhaps ironic that a writer so respected for his ability to see real life for what it really was, ended his life without a real notion of reality.    Well, Tolstoy, the Russian writer found him worthy enough of a writer to write a very long and complimentary piece titled “The Works of Guy de Maupassant”.  He claimed that de  MauPaussant could see with his own eyes things as they were, see their meaning, see the contradictions of life, which are hidden from others and vividly present them.    Yes, and that in a nutshell is basically what what he’s famous for.  At that time, many writers in France, and this includes Flaubert, de MauPassant’s mentor, but also others most notably Emile Zola, were moving away from a romanticized way of writing about the world towards a move gritty realistic way.   The trend was to portray life as it really was- we call this realism.  Of course, we saw this with Ibsen and the theater.  In Ibsen’s plays he also  portrayed real life, but Ibsen was working in the theater.  We saw this with Chopin.  But the French were doing this first and most notably in the plastic arts, like painting. One notable and famous early example was a politically controversial artist by the name of Gustave Coubert.  He would paint peasants, which wasn’t that big of a deal, but in his work, tney weren’t out in some field happily picking wheat.  They were miserable.  He was showing that life was hard—people didn’t like that in their paintings.  They wanted the romantized versions showing how beautiful life was., Guy de Maupasasnt was in this vein.  He didn’t want to make people or life look like they were better than they really were.  However, de Maupassant wasn’t just a realist in the sense that he wanted to portray real life, he extended this idea further into a branch which we call naturalism.  Now, I know I’m throwing out a lot of -isms and that can get boring, but if you understand what these guys were doing it actually makes reading the stories more interesting.  De Maupassant was of the mindset that nature held a very large sway on your agency in the world.  In other words, it’s not really possible to pull yourself up by your bootstraps- the powers of this world are going to win.  He saw this in evolutionary terms- This is survival of the fittest type thinking.  The strongest survive, the weakest die and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.  God is not coming to your rescue; there is no prince charming that will swoop down.  Nobody is coming to save you.  John Steinbeck thought like this too and we see that in Of Mice and Men.    That kind of writing is pretty dark.    Well, it certainly can be.  But our story today isn’t as dark as Of Mice and Men; no one dies, but we do see that people are what they are, and they are not always good.  They are selfish and often stupid.  Also, they will be products of their environment.  It’s not likely that you will rewrite your story to overcome your circumstances- not really- most people will succumb to their environments.  De Maupassant said this about what he wanted to do, He wanted to “write the history of the heart, soul and mind in their normal state.”  His goal was not “telling a story or entertaining us or touching our hearts but at forcing us to think and understand the deeper, hidden meaning of events.”  So, let’s do it….this story, “The Necklace” is set in Paris sometime during the 1800s.      She was one of those pretty and charming girls born, as though fate had blundered over her, into a family of artisans. She had no marriage portion, no expectations, no means of getting known, understood, loved, and wedded by a man of wealth and distinction; and she let herself be married off to a little clerk in the Ministry of Education. Her tastes were simple because she had never been able to afford any other, but she was as unhappy as though she had married beneath her; for women have no caste or class, their beauty, grace, and charm serving them for birth or family. their natural delicacy, their instinctive elegance, their nimbleness of wit, are their only mark of rank, and put the slum girl on a level with the highest lady in the land.  De MauPaussant immediately situates our protagonist in the social system of her day. During this period of European history, classes were very stratified.  There was the highest class, there were the peasants, but because of the Industrial Revolution, there was a growing middle class- but even the  middle class was stratified. The woman in this story, is from a family of artisans.  That’s one class up from peasants but not prestigious or powerful by any definition.  Artisans work with their hands. Bottom line, our protagonist is born poor; however, because she is so gorgeous she is able to have a little upward mobility.  Her beauty, according to our story “puts the slum girl on a level with the higest lady of the land.”  Her husband, on the other hand, is a bureaucrat- that’s better than a bricklayer of other working class people, but certainly not high ranking.    I do notice a little editorializing on the narrator’s part in that he comments that women live outside of the class system since they cannot work.  They have only their physical attributes, their elegance and their social smarts as a way to improve their lives, NOT their ability to work for a living.  Indeed, and what makes this girl upset is that she thinks she is better looking and basically better than her husband because she’s beautiful.  Her beauty, in her mind, means she DESERVES something in this life.  She deserves luxury, and since he can’t provide that, she suffers.  She’s tormented use deMaupassant’s words.  Let’s read how she thought of her life.   She suffered endlessly, feeling herself born for every delicacy and luxury. She suffered from the poorness of her house, from its mean walls, worn chairs, and ugly curtains. All these things, of which other women of her class would not even have been aware, tormented and insulted her. The sight of the little Breton girl who came to do the work in her little house aroused heart-broken regrets and hopeless dreams in her mind. She imagined silent antechambers, heavy with Oriental tapestries, lit by torches in lofty bronze sockets, with two tall footmen in knee-breeches sleeping in large arm-chairs, overcome by the heavy warmth of the stove. She imagined vast saloons hung with antique silks, exquisite pieces of furniture supporting priceless ornaments, and small, charming, perfumed rooms, created just for little parties of intimate friends, men who were famous and sought after, whose homage roused every other woman's envious longings. When she sat down for dinner at the round table covered with a three-days-old cloth, opposite her husband, who took the cover off the soup-tureen, exclaiming delightedly: "Aha! Scotch broth! What could be better?" she imagined delicate meals, gleaming silver, tapestries peopling the walls with folk of a past age and strange birds in faery forests; she imagined delicate food served in marvellous dishes, murmured gallantries, listened to with an inscrutable smile as one trifled with the rosy flesh of trout or wings of asparagus chicken. She had no clothes, no jewels, nothing. And these were the only things she loved; she felt that she was made for them. She had longed so eagerly to charm, to be desired, to be wildly attractive and sought after. She had a rich friend, an old school friend whom she refused to visit, because she suffered so keenly when she returned home. She would weep whole days, with grief, regret, despair, and misery. It’s a very long description describing her “misery.”  It’s also a long description of the things she imagines she deserves.  And again, we see our narrator communicating through the subtext that maybe, this woman’s perspective does not align with her reality.  She describes how bad her house is..but notice she has a MAID!!!  So, obviously, she is better than some people.  Also, she complains that she doesn’t have elegant food over her dinner, so obviously she’s not starving.    If you listen to how she behaves it’s pitifully over-dramatic.  Listen to the language- it is as if she were in a war zone, but the reality is, she’s not as well off as her friend friend from her old school days.  The text states the ONLY thing she loves is clothes and jewels.  She weeps for whole days with grief, regret, despair and misery, but what is she weeping over?  We are set up to question this woman’s priorities and perspectives. One evening her husband came home with an exultant air, holding a large envelope in his hand. " Here's something for you," he said. Swiftly she tore the paper and drew out a printed card on which were these words: "The Minister of Education and Madame Ramponneau request the pleasure of the company of Monsieur and Madame Loisel at the Ministry on the evening of Monday, January the 18th." Instead of being delighted, as her-husband hoped, she flung the invitation petulantly across the table, murmuring: "What do you want me to do with this?" "Why, darling, I thought you'd be pleased. You never go out, and this is a great occasion. I had tremendous trouble to get it. Every one wants one; it's very select, and very few go to the clerks. You'll see all the really big people there." She looked at him out of furious eyes, and said impatiently: "And what do you suppose I am to wear at such an affair?" He had not thought about it; he stammered: "Why, the dress you go to the theatre in. It looks very nice, to me...." He stopped, stupefied and utterly at a loss when he saw that his wife was beginning to cry. Two large tears ran slowly down from the corners of her eyes towards the corners of her mouth. "What's the matter with you? What's the matter with you?" he faltered. But with a violent effort she overcame her grief and replied in a calm voice, wiping her wet cheeks: "Nothing. Only I haven't a dress and so I can't go to this party. Give your invitation to some friend of yours whose wife will be turned out better than I shall." He was heart-broken. "Look here, Mathilde," he persisted. :What would be the cost of a suitable dress, which you could use on other occasions as well, something very simple?" She thought for several seconds, reckoning up prices and also wondering for how large a sum she could ask without bringing upon herself an immediate refusal and an exclamation of horror from the careful-minded clerk. At last she replied with some hesitation: "I don't know exactly, but I think I could do it on four hundred francs." He grew slightly pale, for this was exactly the amount he had been saving for a gun, intending to get a little shooting next summer on the plain of Nanterre with some friends who went lark-shooting there on Sundays. Nevertheless he said: "Very well. I'll give you four hundred francs. But try and get a really nice dress with the money."  Again, the focus of our story is Madame Mathilde Loisel.  Her husband, so proud of himself, has scored for his miserable and despairing wife a very impressive and selective invitation to go to a ball, an event for elite people.  She weeps for days because she doesn’t have a certain life, and he’s finally found something he thinks his wife will appreciate.   What follows is a dialogue between the two where we see Mathilde very obviously condescend to and degrade her husband. She also manipulates him to get something she wants.  She says this,  Only I haven't a dress and so I can't go to this party. Give your invitation to some friend of yours whose wife will be turned out better than I shall." He was heart-broken.  In other words, give this invitation that you think I’ll like to a better man than you.  Find a bigger man who can take care of his wife better than you can take care of yours.  This is passive aggressive and accusasatory and it  has the desired effect.  She breaks his heart.  He wants to know how much it would cost to satisfy her, and we notice that she takes her time before responding.  She asks for exactly the amount he has set aside for a hunting trip- we aren’t told this is a coincidence, but we have been led to believe this is a self-centered manipulative woman.  He gives her the whole thing.     The day of the party drew near, and Madame Loisel seemed sad, uneasy and anxious. Her dress was ready, however. One evening her husband said to her: "What's the matter with you? You've been very odd for the last three days." "I'm utterly miserable at not having any jewels, not a single stone, to wear," she replied. "I shall look absolutely no one. I would almost rather not go to the party."  Again- the hyperbolic language demonstrates her total contempt and ingratitude for her husband.  She’s miserable because she doesn’t have jewels.  Remember- clothes and jewels are the only things she loves. She’s humiliated, and she looks to her husband to problem-solve for her.   He’s going to recommend she go see her rich friend- which she does.    "Wear flowers," he said. "They're very smart at this time of the year. For ten francs you could get two or three gorgeous roses." She was not convinced. "No . . . there's nothing so humiliating as looking poor in the middle of a lot of rich women." "How stupid you are!" exclaimed her husband. "Go and see Madame Forestier and ask her to lend you some jewels. You know her quite well enough for that." She uttered a cry of delight. "That's true. I never thought of it." Next day she went to see her friend and told her her trouble. Madame Forestier went to her dressing-table, took up a large box, brought it to Madame Loisel, opened it, and said: "Choose, my dear." First she saw some bracelets, then a pearl necklace, then a Venetian cross in gold and gems, of exquisite workmanship. She tried the effect of the jewels before the mirror, hesitating, unable to make up her mind to leave them, to give them up. She kept on asking: "Haven't you anything else?" "Yes. Look for yourself. I don't know what you would like best." Suddenly she discovered, in a black satin case, a superb diamond necklace; her heart began to beat covetousIy. Her hands trembled as she lifted it. She fastened it round her neck, upon her high dress, and remained in ecstasy at sight of herself. Then, with hesitation, she asked in anguish: "Could you lend me this, just this alone?" "Yes, of course." She flung herself on her friend's breast, embraced her frenziedly, and went away with her treasure.  Again notice the words, her heart beats “covetously”.  Her hands tremble.  She’s in ecstacy.  She embraces her friend in a frenzy.    The day of the party arrived. Madame Loisel was a success. She was the prettiest woman present, elegant, graceful, smiling, and quite above herself with happiness. All the men stared at her, inquired her name, and asked to be introduced to her. All the Under-Secretaries of State were eager to waltz with her. The Minister noticed her. She danced madly, ecstatically, drunk with pleasure, with no thought for anything, in the triumph of her beauty, in the pride of her success, in a cloud of happiness made up of this universal homage and admiration, of the desires she had aroused, of the completeness of a victory so dear to her feminine heart.  What is interesting about this account of the party is that it’s so short.  Her delusions of gradeur at the beginning were described in more words.  She’s a hit.  She’s the most beautiful woman there and by far.  All the men want to dance with her.  The Minister himself notices her.  She is “drunk with pleasure”.  All she thinks about is her triumph, her success the “universal homage and admiration”. Her presence at the ball is a complete victory.  In other words, she gets everything she wanted.  Except, it only lasts two short paragraphs.   She left about four o'clock in the morning. Since midnight her husband had been dozing in a deserted little room, in company with three other men whose wives were having a good time. He threw over her shoulders the garments he had brought for them to go home in, modest everyday clothes, whose poverty clashed with the beauty of the ball-dress. She was conscious of this and was anxious to hurry away, so that she should not be noticed by the other women putting on their costly furs. Loisel restrained her. "Wait a little. You'll catch cold in the open. I'm going to fetch a cab." But she did not listen to him and rapidly descended-the staircase. When they were out in the street they could not find a cab; they began to look for one, shouting at the drivers whom they saw passing in the distance. They walked down towards the Seine, desperate and shivering. At last they found on the quay one of those old nightprowling carriages which are only to be seen in Paris after dark, as though they were ashamed of their shabbiness in the daylight.  Notice how much attention is paid to the fact that she’s ashamed.  This paragraph is just as long as the entire party.  She races out the door because she’s ashamed of her coat.  Her husband literally tries to restrain her, but she’s in a rush.  She shouts, she walks, she’s out pacing in the streets ashamed of her “shabbiness.”  It brought them to their door in the Rue des Martyrs, and sadly they walked up to their own apartment. It was the end, for her. As for him, he was thinking that he must be at the office at ten. She took off the garments in which she had wrapped her shoulders, so as to see herself in all her glory before the mirror. But suddenly she uttered a cry. The necklace was no longer round her neck! "What's the matter with you?" asked her husband, already half undressed. She turned towards him in the utmost distress. "I . . . I . . . I've no longer got Madame Forestier's necklace. . . ." He started with astonishment. "What! . . . Impossible!" They searched in the folds of her dress, in the folds of the coat, in the pockets, everywhere. They could not find it. "Are you sure that you still had it on when you came away from the ball?" he asked. "Yes, I touched it in the hall at the Ministry." "But if you had lost it in the street, we should have heard it fall." "Yes. Probably we should. Did you take the number of the cab?" "No. You didn't notice it, did you?" "No." They stared at one another, dumbfounded. At last Loisel put on his clothes again. "I'll go over all the ground we walked," he said, "and see if I can't find it." And he went out. She remained in her evening clothes, lacking strength to get into bed, huddled on a chair, without volition or power of thought. Her husband returned about seven. He had found nothing. He went to the police station, to the newspapers, to offer a reward, to the cab companies, everywhere that a ray of hope impelled him.  Notice the juxtaposition here- after the necklace is lost, the husband takes the initiative to look for it.  He looks for it until 7am.  Matilde lays in bed.  He walks, he goes to the police, he goes to the newspapers, he offers a reward.  She does nothing.  She waited all day long, in the same state of bewilderment at this fearful catastrophe. Loisel came home at night, his face lined and pale; he had discovered nothing. "You must write to your friend," he said, "and tell her that you've broken the clasp of her necklace and are getting it mended. That will give us time to look about us." She wrote at his dictation.  By the end of a week they had lost all hope. Loisel, who had aged five years, declared: "We must see about replacing the diamonds." Next day they took the box which had held the necklace and went to the jewellers whose name was inside. He consulted his books. "It was not I who sold this necklace, Madame; I must have merely supplied the clasp." Then they went from jeweller to jeweller, searching for another necklace like the first, consulting their memories, both ill with remorse and anguish of mind. In a shop at the Palais-Royal they found a string of diamonds which seemed to them exactly like the one they were looking for. It was worth forty thousand francs. They were allowed to have it for thirty-six thousand. They begged the jeweller not to sell it for three days. And they arranged matters on the understanding that it would be taken back for thirty-four thousand francs, if the first one were found before the end of February. Loisel possessed eighteen thousand francs left to him by his father. He intended to borrow the rest. He did borrow it, getting a thousand from one man, five hundred from another, five louis here, three louis there. He gave notes of hand, entered into ruinous agreements, did business with usurers and the whole tribe of money-lenders. He mortgaged the whole remaining years of his existence, risked his signature without even knowing it he could honour it, and, appalled at the agonising face of the future, at the black misery about to fall upon him, at the prospect of every possible physical privation and moral torture, he went to get the new necklace and put down upon the jeweller's counter thirty-six thousand francs.  By this point in the story, no one should have any respect for Matilde.  She has done nothing for herself.  We even find out that he has a pretty good inheritance from his father, and he spends the entirety of it to partially pay for this necklace his wife lost.  Listen to the language, he is appalled at the agonizing face of the future, at the lack misery about to fall upon him, at the prospect of every possible physical privation and moral torture….it’s very inflated language- in fact, the sentence structure and contrasts very obviously with the language used to describe Matilde  in all of her glory.  The inflated misery will be as inflated as her momentary glory- except it will last into the infinite future.  This stands out!  His misery is undeserved.  Her short-lived fabricated glory is undeserved.  He is grounded in his own reality; she does nothing to fix her problem; it is his to solve.    When Madame Loisel took back the necklace to Madame Forestier, the latter said to her in a chilly voice: "You ought to have brought it back sooner; I might have needed it." She did not, as her friend had feared, open the case. If she had noticed the substitution, what would she have thought? What would she have said? Would she not have taken her for a thief? *** Madame Loisel came to know the ghastly life of abject poverty.  From the very first she played her part heroically. This fearful debt must be paid off. She would pay it. The servant was dismissed. They changed their flat; they took a garret under the roof. She came to know the heavy work of the house, the hateful duties of the kitchen. She washed the plates, wearing out her pink nails on the coarse pottery and the bottoms of pans. She washed the dirty linen, the shirts and dish-cloths, and hung them out to dry on a string; every morning she took the dustbin down into the street and carried up the water, stopping on each landing to get her breath. And, clad like a poor woman, she went to the fruiterer, to the grocer, to the butcher, a basket on her arm, haggling, insulted, fighting for every wretched halfpenny of her money. Every month notes had to be paid off, others renewed, time gained. Her husband worked in the evenings at putting straight a merchant's accounts, and often at night he did copying at twopence-halfpenny a page. And this life lasted ten years.  At the beginning of the story, we see that she thought she was poor.  Now, she has come to know what real poverty looks like.  Now she is “glad like a poor woman.”   At the end of ten years everything was paid off, everything, the usurer's charges and the accumulation of superimposed interest. Madame Loisel looked old now. She had become like all the other strong, hard, coarse women of poor households. Her hair was badly done, her skirts were awry, her hands were red. She spoke in a shrill voice, and the water slopped all over the floor when she scrubbed it. But sometimes, when her husband was at the office, she sat down by the window and thought of that evening long ago, of the ball at which she had been so beautiful and so much admired.  If you remember, this is how she started.  She was pretty but she was poor.  Now she’s poor and ugly, like everyone else who she thought she was better than. Even her dillusions have stopped.  All she has is the memory of her one moment of glory.   What would have happened if she had never lost those jewels. Who knows? Who knows? How strange life is, how fickle! How little is needed to ruin or to save! One Sunday, as she had gone for a walk along the Champs-Elysees to freshen herself after the labours of the week, she caught sight suddenly of a woman who was taking a child out for a walk. It was Madame Forestier, still young, still beautiful, still attractive. Madame Loisel was conscious of some emotion. Should she speak to her? Yes, certainly. And now that she had paid, she would tell her all. Why not? She went up to her. "Good morning, Jeanne." The other did not recognise her, and was surprised at being thus familiarly addressed by a poor woman. "But . . . Madame . . ." she stammered. "I don't know . . . you must be making a mistake." "No . . . I am Mathilde Loisel." Her friend uttered a cry. "Oh! . . . my poor Mathilde, how you have changed! . . ." "Yes, I've had some hard times since I saw you last; and many sorrows . . . and all on your account." "On my account! . . . How was that?" "You remember the diamond necklace you lent me for the ball at the Ministry?" "Yes. Well?" "Well, I lost it." "How could you? Why, you brought it back." "I brought you another one just like it. And for the last ten years we have been paying for it. You realise it wasn't easy for us; we had no money. . . . Well, it's paid for at last, and I'm glad indeed." Madame Forestier had halted. "You say you bought a diamond necklace to replace mine?" "Yes. You hadn't noticed it? They were very much alike." And she smiled in proud and innocent happiness. Madame Forestier, deeply moved, took her two hands. "Oh, my poor Mathilde! But mine was imitation. It was worth at the very most five hundred francs! . . .   And of course the irony.  If you remember, irony is when things are opposite.  Here we have situational irony.  The situation is the opposite of what we should have expected.  And the story ends with an ellipsis…what happens next has no consequence.  The self-delusion, the self-serving nature, the lack of agency, all of it…was it her destiny, was it her personality, was it her society, de Maupassant ends with an ellipsis, but he has led us to his conclusion.    If we go back to the essay Tolstoy wrote about Guy de Maupassant, this is what he had to say,  There has hardly been another such an author, who thought so sincerely that all the good, the whole meaning of life was in woman, in love, and who with such force of passion described woman and the love of her from all sides, and there has hardly been another author, who with such clearness and precision has pointed out all the terrible sides of the same phenomenon, which to him seemed to be the highest, and one that gives the greatest good to men. The more he comprehended this phenomenon, the more did it become unveiled; the shrouds fell off, and all there was left was its terrible consequences and its still more terrible reality.- Tolstoy  Oh, I feel like for me to comment here would be swimming in dangerous waters.  HA!  Yes, it seems that Guy de Maupassant loved women passionately in every way until the day he died, but he was a realist; he was a naturalist.  Humanity is what it is- both men and women are equally human, and he felt no need to romanticize our essence.  It’s kind of refreshing, really.   Well, we hope you enjoyed this very famous short story by one of our world’s greatest writers of short stories.  Thank you for being with us today.  If you enjoy our work, please like us on social media.  Give us a review on your podcast app, but most importantly share our podcast with a friend.  That’s how we grow.  Peace out!     See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.
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May 21 2022
Kate Chopin - The Awakening - Episode 4 - Symbolism, Romanticism, Nihilism And A Dissonant Ending!
Kate Chopin - The Awakening - Episode 4 - Symbolism, Romanticism, Nihilism And A Dissonant Ending! Hi, I’m Christy Shriver. We’re here to discuss books that have changed the world and have changed us.  I’m Garry Shriver, and this is the How to Love Lit Podcast.  This is our final episode in our four-part series of Kate Chopin’s masterpiece The Awakening.  There is a lot layered in such a short book.  In episode 1, we discuss Chopin’s life, we introduce the concept of “local color” and we arrive on the colorful shores of a summer resort village in Grand Isle, Louisiana.  Episode 2 we spend time on Grand Isle.  We meet Edna, Adele, Mr. Pontellier, Robert Lebrun and Madame Reisz.  We watch Edna awaken to an inner awareness she had never understood before, and we see this awakening occur through a physical sensuality she has never experienced before.  She learns to swim.  Edna Pontellier leaves Grand Isle a very different person than how she arrived at the beginning of her summer. Episode  3 we start with chapter 18 as Edna arrives back home in New Orleans.  Nothing would be the same.  She cannot  conform to the roles she has previously played.  She does not fit into the culture; she doesn’t want to anymore.  She abandons almost all that she had previously identified with and experiments with different lifestyles: the arts, the horse races, men, ultimately she decides to leave the ritzy Esplanade street and take up residence in what she calls her Pigeon House just around the corner.  Today, we begin with chapter 26 and we follow Edna’s progression through the end of the book.     Stylistically Chopin wrote what we call a realistic novel. The story, the settings, the characters truthfully represent the real world.  Grand Isle really exists and the resort there existed in the way she described it.  The same is true for Esplanade Street.  The details are accurate as Chopin represents the reality the great city of New Orleans at the turn of the century.  The French language, the customs, the way people behave, the races, the music, even the Song, “Ah, si tu savais”…is a real song. All of these things reflect reality.   However, as we get farther to the end of the novel, and as the reader gets more submerged into Edna’s perspective, things get more and more romanticized.  Objects that seemed liked just objects at the beginning are now understood to be metaphorical and are symbolic.  We notice that objects are repeating and evolving- they are motifs.   In other words, the objects are still what they have always been, but they have taken on to mean MORE than just what they originally meant.  We understand things to be symbols in two ways.  The first way is whey the author spends an inordinate amount of time describing something that maybe isn’t THAT important otherwise.  A second way is when we notice something to keep showing up over and over again.  Here’s one example  There is music in the beginning.  It’s described in detail, but notice just how much music there is in this book.  Notice how much time is devoted to describing it.   There is music in the middle and there is music at the end.  It means something, but of course it’s up to us to draw our own conclusions as to what.  The birds work the same way.  There are birds on the first page, they come back in the middle and there is a bird on the last page.  It means something.  Food and meals are often symbolic.  Meals are archetypal symbols for fellowship.   Chopin use meals as a way to sort track what’s going on with Edna and her relationships throughout the story.  Following the symbols helps us understand the universality of the story.  The biggest symbol is the sea, and by the end of the book it takes on mythic proportions.  The sea, as we pointed out in the beginning is personified.  It’s alive.  But by the end, if we look carefully, we see in the description that the ocean is described as a serpent- uh ohh.  That’s a Biblical symbol- but even in the Bible a serpent is not just one thing.  But it’s not just the Bible that that is alluded here in these ocean references.  Edna as called Venus, and Venus emerges from the sea. What is that about? Although everything is still realistic- there are no superheroes or magic or pirates or fairies of any kind, there symbols somehow feel allegorical; is Edna even a real person or is she a type?  I know that’s a little hyperbolic, but not by much.  Today as we end our discussion, I’d like to see this book as indeed political; there certainly is that side of it, but that is just the surface.  It goes beyond that to ask questions that are personal.  But before we can do that, we must first address the political.  Chopin was, by her very essence, a woman in the vein of what Europeans of her day called the “New Women” of the fin de siècle.    Garry, Chopin, was a well-read French speaker and reader very attune to the political, social and literary movements of her day, but we are not- although I will say, I’ve learned a lot about new women by watching them evolve in Downton Abbey, but what is a “new woman” and what does the term “fim de siècle” mean beyond the obvious translation of end of the century.  The term “New Woman” was actually an invention of the British media- it’s not an American thing- and you’re right, it’s showcased in a lot of period pieces.  Here’s one tell, a new woman might be the one riding a bicycle as a display of her independence.  A bicycle.  That’s funny.    You’d have been the first to get your hands on one, I’m sure.  Think about it; just being able to wear clothes that would allow you to ride it would be liberating.  Anyway, the term first came out in the The Woman’s Herald in August of 1893.  To use the newspaper’s words, “woman suddenly appears on the scene of man’s activities, as a sort of new creation, and demand a share in the struggles, the responsibilities and the honurs of the world, in which, until now, she has been a cipher.”  This feminist vision, as you can imagine was highly controversial and threatening to the status quo.  Among other things, it involved a new definition of female sexuality.  Some considered this alone to be the beginning of the apocalypse- the world was certainly turning upside down.  The mainstream media portrayed the new woman as a mannish brute towering over men- someone who is extremely hideous and monstrous- something most women obviously would not want to embrace- very propagandic.  Opponents were making caricatures as negative as possible of these “independent women”  wearing masculine clothes and pursuing unwomanly pursuits like sports, politics or higher education.   How dare they?  There was a lot of cigar smoking in these pictures.  These were meant to be negative images; the women would have angry faces, maybe with their hands on their hips scowling at the reader.  But in the feminist media, the new woman was portrayed very differently.  The traits were the exact same but portrayed in a positive way.  The new woman in these publications  was portrayed as a social warrior defending her home, using her political positions, social standings to compliment traditional household duties.  The idea being a new woman didn’t neglect her family she was a better provider and defender of self and family because of it.  The main difference between these new visions of a new woman had to do with what you do with motherhood.   Femininist media created images of women incorporating traditionally male domains not necessarily excluding motherhood.   The big political interests that stand out were women’s suffrage and property rights. Women were interested in careers outside the home and higher education.   Women’s periodicals emerged with pretty large readerships, and not all of these readers were women.  Women were publicly and in writing asking other women to openly express their views on contemporary life- this was new.  The question of the era was “What is the role of the ‘new woman’?” I quote the North America Review here, “the great problem of the age is how to emancipate woman and preserve motherhood.”   In the 1890s, the new woman wanted to be what some called a “respected radical”.    And of course, we don’t have to get far into The Awakening to see these political and social concerns embedded in Chopin’s work.  She is a voice speaking to this socio-political moment in time, and she’s commenting in a serious way on women’s struggle to speak- Edna struggles to speak for herself at everyone point in the book.  Interestly enough, Edna didn’t have a mother and doesn’t know what to do with motherhood.  She had no personal role model.  I noticed that, and it matters psychologically when we watch Edna vacillate at the end of the book.  Chopin created a character of extreme economic privilege for her day, yet still, Edna has terrible trouble articulating even to herself what she feels or what she wants.   The reasons for this are not simply resolved.  Chopin seems to suggest to me that for sure there are political, social and cultural adjustments that must be made giving women more rights, but that’s just one part of it.  Chopin illustrates this from the vantage point of a woman.  There must be a redefinition of respectable womanhood that is not so polarizing.  Here there are only two versions of respectable women-  Madame Reisz and the other Adele Ratignole.   By chapter 26 Edna clearly understands she is not one or the other, but there is an inarticulate lostness.  Where does Edna fit in?  She tells Madame Reisz that she’s moving out of her home, and for a brief moment you wonder if she’s got some sort of radical plan, except she doesn’t and her reasons don’t even make a lot of sense.  They’re emotional. She’s literally moving  “just two steps away in a little four-room house around the corner.  It looks so cozy, so inviting a restful, whenever I pass by, and it’s for rent.  I’m tired looking after that big house.  It seemed seemed like mine, anyway- like home.  It’s too much trouble.  I have to keep too many servants.  I am tired bothering with them.”  She goes on to say when Madame Reisz doesn’t buy that explanation, “The house, the money, that provides for it are not mine.  Isn’t that enough reason?”  Obviously those are NOT reasons enough- what does she get out of this move? When Madame Reisz asks how her husband reacted to this plan this is her response, “I have not told him.   I only thought of it this morning.”    Very impulsive.  SOO impulsive.  I’m ashamed to say, I know people that do things like this, but this is not my vision of the real pioneers of the women’s movement- not today or from the turn of the century- women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Isadora Duncan, Clara Burton, Mary Wollstonecraft- they aren’t anything like Edna Pontellier.  Well, no they are not, Edna has some deficiencies for sure, and they express themselves in various ways.  One of these is expressed through this confusion of passion with relationship like we see with Robert LeBrun.   She indulges in fantasy which is fun, of course, and the idea of Robert is a wonderful fantasy.  This is something else that frustrates me, personally, with Edna. I keep wanting to say, “snap out of it, child!”  Chopin builds this tension but she never lets Edna snap out of it.  And even though the title of this book is The Awakening, and it is true is that Edna awakens continuously throughout the book, There is another sense paradoxically where Edna is always asleep literally and figuratively.  Edna is not a villain; Edna is not a pathetic character; Edna is a realistic character who vacillates all the time between this illusion and reality.  She’s continually uncovering things that haven’t been real, but then constructing things that are totally fake- like her life in this pigeon house or her relationship with Robert. Unpacking Edna is seeing a real life- a struggle. Chopin’s evolutionary character awakens from a very female - not a male one, not a neutered life; the complexity derives from realities that are unique to women, specifically those from the turn of the century, but the social and culture implications aside, in universal terms, what does it mean for Edna to be in love with Robert?  To love someone means something in a universal way.  People love in all cultures in all times all around the world.  For a woman to love a man as she claims to love Robert, what does she mean?  Is she saying she desires a life with him; does she want to take on any responsibility for his happiness or good?  That is what I find confusing, because Edna doesn’t seem to be doing that for anyone.  In what sense is Edna “in love” or should we not take her at her word on this?      Ha!  Do we take anyone at their word when they are “in love”?  Of course, when she is asked to describe what she means, she describes the biochemical addiction we all feel when we can’t get enough of another person.  That experience is overwhelming for anyone; and Chopin has gone to a lot of trouble to show us that Edna has never been “in love” before.  Edna is a woman who recently just turned on her feelings.  Turning on our feelings is important, and it is very sad that it was so long in happening for her.  Contrary to popular opinion, feelings are good.  To experience feelings is not a sign of weakness. Not taking into account her feelings is what got her into a loveless marriage to begin with.  We have to learn to incorporate our emotions if we are going to live as a whole individual- a person with no dead spots.  Edna has lived from her childhood onward with lots of dead spots.  This has handicapped her in many ways.  In this case, what does it mean for Edna in Edna’s mind to love Robert LeBrun?  What does it mean if he loves her?  I’m not sure the relationship between these two is what is important for Chopin.  It appears to be the backdrop of a larger issue?  Love is not the end game for Edna; passion was the catalyst to her awakening, to be sure, but the relationship between Edna and Robert is not a Romeo and Juliet type story.  The Awakening is not a love story.  Indeed, Madame Reisz recognizes that as well.  Madame Reisz calls Edna “Ma Reine” in chapter 26.  She then asks, “Why do you love him when you ought not?”     And why does that term “ma reine” draw your attention?  Because that term means, “My queen”, and that seems to be more in line what Edna wants instead of a relationship with Robert LeBrun.  What has Edna discovered in this world.  She’s discovered she doesn’t want to be woman-mother.  She discovered she doesn’t really want to be artist woman.  She’s trying out what it’s like to be a “man” in some ways.  But really what she wants is to be Woman-queen.  Which is a nice role- I’d like that to be that one as well.  Ha!  Not a Disney princess.  Heck no- I’m all for mother-queen.  But here’s Edna’a problem.  She’s not prepared nor does she seem creative enough to invent this role for herself in the actual real world in which she lives; she likely can’t conceptualize it.  This illusion of a mother-queen will be the model from here to the end of the book.  The thing is, it’s not real; Edna is creating an illusion.  In fact, this whole book is a discussion on illusion versus reality.  What did Edna awaken to, if not to the understanding that her entire life was an illusion- she was living an inauthentic life.  Except, look at what she does in response to that?  She’s building more illusion- exhibit A-  this relationship with Robert- if it is anything it is an expression of illusion.    Edna doesn’t need a fantasy.  She needs hope.  She needs to see her own potential- a creative vision of what she can become, something she would like to become- if not mother, if not artist, if not horse-racer, if not socialite, then what.  In chapter 27, Edna says this “Don’t you know the weather prophet has told us we shall see the sun pretty soon?”  The sun is a very ancient and universal symbol.  It represents hope.  It represents creativity; it’s a male archetypal symbol, btw, the sun represents energy.  If you remember, Edna can only paint in the sun, and that’s exactly right.  That’s all of us, we all can only create in the sun.  We can only move forward when we have hope.  The Sun gives us life and without it we live in darkness, without hope.  Edna is wrestling with finding hope, but that seems to be problematic because she can’t even decide if she’s a good person or a bad person.  Listen to what she says to Arobin, “I’m going to pull myself together for a while and think- try to determine what character of a woman I am; for, candidly I don’t know.  By all the codes which I am acquainted with, I am a devilish wicked specimen of the sex.  But some way I can’t convince myself that I am.  I must think about it.”    It is in that line that I think Chopin enraptures many female readers.  I want to read it again, “ By all the codes which I am acquainted with, I am a devilish wicked specimen of the sex.  But some way I can’t convince myself that I am.  I must think about it.”    In other words, the world tells me I am a bad person because I’m not conforming properly.  I’m not doing the right things; but something inside of me defies that.  I don’t feel devilish.  But I’m told I am, and there is my disconnect.  Indeed-and isn’t it interesting that it is here at this point that Edna revisits something Madame Reisz has apparently told her previously but we are only getting to see in this context after this confession, “When I left her today, she put her arms around me and felt my shoulder blades, to see if my wings were strong, she said, ‘the bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings.  It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.”  I agree, but what kind of bird is Edna?  Madame Reisz is not using language that suggest Edna IS this kind of woman.  She’s challenging her to be a certain way.  She’s saying if Edna wants to have a certain outcome, she must display certain characteristics.  But, notice the next thing that happens, Edna and Arobin kiss passionately.  “It was the first kiss of her life to which her nature had really responded.  It was a flaming torch that kindled desire.”  Chopin is very delicate in how she expresses the implied sex scene.  The entire chapter is very short- very different than how Shonda Rimes does these things in Bridgerton.  Let’s read it.  Chapter 28  I know this is not the majority view here, but this is not only Edna asserting independence.  This is Edna running into more illusion. From here, she immediately moves out of Leonce’s house, but not without running up a crazy expensive bill with a lavish dinner party.  Arobin calls it a coup d’etat.  “It will be day after tomorrow.  Why do you call it the coup d’etat?  Oh! It will be a very fine; all my best of everything- crystal, silver, and gold. Sevres. Flowers, music and champagne to swim in.  I’ll let Leonce pay the bills.  I wonder what he’ll say when he sees the bills.”  This dinner party is very strange.  For a book so short, why should so many pages be devoted to a dinner party that is essentially meaningless in terms of plot development.    It is long.  One critic pointed out that it’s literally, “the longest sustained episode in the novel.”   So, why?  It does not develop the plot; it does not develop any characters; nothing provocative is uttered.  What is going on?  Well!!!  Meals are never just meals- not in literature, not in the movies.  In fact, food is never just food.  It’s almost always symbolic of something.  Food is so essential to life, in fact it IS life,  but meals are essential to community.  They don’t just symbolize fellowship- they ARE fellowship.  This Thursday night we are going to celebrate our niece, Lauren,  graduating from Collierville High School, and how are we going to do this, we are going to eat together.  Eating together is bonding.  With that in mind, notice how many meals are consumed in this story.    So, what’s with the dinner Edna holds?  Her family isn’t there.  Her husband isn’t there.  Adele, her closest friend, isn’t even there.  Many literary critics have suggested, and I honestly think there is validity to this, that Chopin is creating a parody of Jesus’ last supper.  Edna has invited a select 12 to join her on her birthday dinner.  There’s irony there.  In some sense, it’s not just a day where she is celebrating turning 29.  She sees herself as being reborn- her birth…day.  She is celebrating her departure, but unlike Jesus’ humble meal in the upper room before his crucifixion and resurrection- Edna goes high dollar.  She sits at the end of the table presiding over her dinner guests, who all have a magnificent time, btw. She wears a cluster of diamonds she had just received that morning from her husband.   There is a specially designed cocktail her father invented for her sister’s wedding that she didn’t attend; there are multiple courses, everyone has a special chair.  Everything was queenly.  Let me read the description of Edna, “The golden shimmer….  Page 103  Madame Reisz on her way out at the end of the party again says this, “Bonne nuit, ma reine, soyez sage.”  Translated- Good night, my queen, be wise.”  Well, you’ve made your case…she is playing the part of the queen. But who are the other people in this charade?  Specifically, why is  Mrs. Highcamp there who we know she doesn’t like, and why is she weaving a garland of yellow and red roses and laying it over Victor…according to Chopin transforming Victor into a vision of oriental beauty, his cheeks the color or crushed grapes and his dusty eyes glowed with a languishing fire. After that she drapes a while silk scarf on him. It’s just weird…and pagan feeling…nothing like the Lord’s Supper of the bible, if you were trying to make that comparison.    No, it’s the very opposite. That’s why critics say it’s a parody of Jesus’ last supper.  It’s imitating but not recreating.  It feels pagan, doesn’t it?   Edna is Queen but she has no stated purpose; she is not Jesus sacrificing his life for the sins of the world.  Another moment of parody is when Victor, Judas’ like, quickly falls out of favor or betrays her so to speak by singing a song Edna associates with Robert.  But he is shut down.  In the chapters that follow, we see Leonce saving face by remodeling the house as a way of explaining Edna’s odd behavior and moving out of the family home.  Edna feels happy about what she’s done.  Of course, these are all feelings but “Every step which she took to relieving herself from obligations added to her strength and expansion as an individual.  She began to look with her own eyes; to see and to apprehend the deeper undercurrents of life.”   Again, Chopin never gets far away from the idea that Edna is trying to understand for herself what is real and she is doing this by stripping down, an image we will see all the way to the end.  And yet, the text never clarifies exactly what it is that Edna is learning about the world and herself.  She draws no conclusions, makes no provisions, takes on no responsibilities.  Reality is an immovable thing.  It is not something we simply escape- that is not possible.   Well, I’m not sure Edna knows that.  She visits her children and weeps when she ssees them. Let me quote here, “She lived with them a whole week long, giving them all of herself, and gathering, and filling. Herself with their young existence.”  She tells then about the Pigeon house and the kids get real very quickly.  They ask her where they would sleep, where papa would sleep. Edna’s answer betrays her unwillingness to problem solve.  She says and I quote, “the fairies would fix it all right.”    Edna rejects reality over and over again.  She responds with fantasy at every point.  Madame Ratignolle recognizes this.  In chapter 33 she pays Edna a visit at the pigeon house.  She asks about the dinner party.  She warns her about her behavior with Arobin, but she also makes Edna promise that when the baby comes, Edna would come be a part of the delivery.  Before leaving she says this to Edna, “In some ways you seem to me like a child, Edna. You seem to act without a certain amount of reflection which is necessary in this life.”    Adele is referring to whatever is going on with Arobin, but really, the relationship with Robert is the epitome of her fantasy.  As long as Robert is flirting with no goal- like he did on Grand Isle, Edna is in love with him.  On Grand Isle they share a meal together.  They talk about spirits and pirates.  She loves that.  But here in New Orleans, Robert approaches Edna with a desire to be honest and she rejects that.  The text says that in some way “Robert seemed nearer to her off there in Mexico than when he stood in her presence, and she had touched his hand”.   After Edna’s birthday we see no more communal meals, Edna eats alone- there is no more fellowship at this point really with anyone.  Edna invites Robert to eat with her at a little restaurant called “Catiche”.  Edna requests a plate and puts food in front of him, but he doesn’t eat a morsel. He walks her home and comes inside.  Edna kisses him.  He confesses his love and how he is tormented because Edna is not free.  Let’s read this exchange.  “Something put into my head that you cared for me; and I lost my senses.  I forgot everything but a wild dream of you some way becoming my wife.”  Your wife!  “Religion, loyalty, everything would give way if only you cared.”  Then you must have forgotten that I was Leonce Pontellier’s wife.”  “Oh I was demented, dreaming of wild, impossible things, recalling men who had set their wives free, we have heard of such things.”  Yes, we have heard of such things.”  There’s a little more back and forth until we get to this line of Edna’s, “You have been a very very foolish boy, wasting your time dreaming of impossible things when you speak of Mr. Pontellier setting me free!  I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions to dispose of or not.  I give myself where I choose.  If he were to say “here Robert, take her and be happy; she is yours, I should laugh at you both.”  He of course responds with, “What do you mean?”  He has no idea what Edna’s talking about.    Exactly, and here is where the a plot complication makes things interesting.  Their conversation is interrupted when Madame Ratignolle’s servant comes to say that Adelle is having her baby.  Edna leaves Robert.  She says this to Robert, “I love you.  Only you; no one but you.  It was you who awoke me last summer out of a life-long, stupid dream.”    Robert begs Edna, as if she really were Queen Edna.  He begs her to stay with him- to not go to Adelle.  This is kind reminiscient of the stereotypical female damsel in distress begging her hero to stay- except in revere.  She pulls away, promises to return and leaves him and  quote the text here, “longing to hold her and keep her.”    This Birth scene is symbolic in many ways.  It also is a return to the female reality.  Is there anything more real in this world than bringing life into it?  This birth scene reminds readers that this is a uniquely female story because this is one way men and women engage the world differently and there is no way around it. Motherhood and fatherhood are not the same.  Edna goes to Adelle and begins to feel uneasy. Let’s read this paragraph from chapter 37.   Page 127  On the surface, it seems that Adele is hoping to inspire Edna to resume her role as a Woman-mother.  On the surface it seems that Edna is battling social conventions and her own sensuality.    Of course, the whole experience leaves her dazed.  The doctor walks her home, and I quote, “Oh well, I don’t know that it matters after all.  One has to think of the children some time or other; the sooner the better.”  Let’s read the rest of this dialogue between the doctor and Edna.  Page 128   Even at the end of the chapter, Edna cannot articulate her own thoughts, not even inside her own head.  Still she remembers Adele’s voice whispering, “Think of the children; think of them.”  She meant to think of them; that determination had driven into her soul like a death wound- but not tonight.  Tomorrow would be time to think of everything.”  Of course, when she gets inside the pigeon house there is no Robert.  He left a note. “I love you. Good bye- because I love you.”  Edna grew faint; uttered no words and stayed up the entire night, apparently just staring at a flickering lamp.  Again, may I point out- light represents hope and hers is flickering.    Speaking just in a general sense, we are co-creators of our reality- our circumstances proscribe lots of things, but we create out of those circumstances and we know it.  And since we know this, no person can run away from his own innate moral obligation to live up to whatever potential we find inside of us.  Whatever we determine that to be.  We cannot run away from that reality.  No matter how hard we try to put it off until tomorrow, that sense of obligation to create something out of our lives is inside of us.  We can’t run from it because it is not coming from outside of us.  Edna, in all of her confusion, and she, is very confused about a lot of things at various points in the book, but she never wavers about that.  She clearly says early on in the book, that she understood herself to have an obligation first and foremost to herself.  But what is that obligation- it is for her what it is for everyone.  She must meet her own potential.  We cannot fail at that.  If we feel we are failing at that, that’s when despair sets in.    Edna looks at certain realities in her life and awakens to an awareness she doesn’t want to face.  She sees obligations in her future- not opportunities.  She doesn’t want tomorrow to come, but not going to bed does not put off the morning from arriving.    The end of the book circles back to where it starts- Grand Isle.  Except it is not the Grand Isle of the summer.  Archetypally, Spring represents new birth, summer represents youth; fall represents adulthood or maturity.  Grand Isle is still there, but the women from the summer resort are not.  It’s barren. The sun and the warmth is not there either.  Edna returns to find Victor there.  She arrives to find that he’s been telling Mariequita all about her birthday dinner.  He has described Edna and and I quote, “Venus rising from the foam”.  If you remember from your Roman mythology, Venus is the goddess of love and is said to have emerged full-grown from the ocean foam.  So read into that what you will.  Anyway Edna asks him to prepare a meal of fish.  She then leaves Victor for the beach for a swim.  If you recall, it was at this place where she had her first swim and experienced her first real awakening.  But now this beach is dreary and deserted.   Let’s listen to the thoughts in Edna’s head, “She had said it over and over to herself.  “Today it is Arobin’ tomorrow it will be someone else.  It makes no difference to me.  It doesn’t matter about Leonce Pontelllier- but Raoul and Etienne!”  She understood now clearly what she had meant long ago when she said to Adele Ratignolle that she would give up the unessential, but she would never sacrifice herself for her children.  Despondency had come upon her there in the wakeful night, and had never lifted. There was no one thing in the world that she desired.  There was no human being whom she wanted near her except Robert; and she even realized that the day would come when he, too, and the thought of him would melt out of her existence, leaving her alone.  The children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her, who had overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul’s slavery for the rest of her days.  But she knew a way to elude them.  She was not thinking of these things when she walked down to the beach.”  There’s a lot of nihilism in those comments.  Edna has found nothing that excites her passion.  “There was no one thing that she desired” – that’s the line that stands out.  Desire is the fuel of human behavior.  It’s where we see our potential.  This is a huge expression of someone who has given up all desire to have responsibility for anyone or anything- and it is unthinking here.  She is completely detached to a degree that it’s actually shocking.  I see why this book unsettled so many people.  We don’t want to believe people can detach like this.  We know it’s dangerous.   She wades out into this ocean because the seas is seductive.  It whispers, it clamours; it murmurs.  It invites her soul to want in the abysses of solitude.  Edna looks up to see a bird with a broken wing beating the air above and falling down disabled to the water.  She then takes off all of her clothes and stands naked in the open air, at the mercy of the sun with the waves inviting her to come in, and so she does.  Let’s read this final page.  Page 133   We notice right away the sea is a serpent about her ankle.  Most of us think of a serpent as a symbol for the devil, and that’s true in the book of Genesis.  But that is not the only time we see a serpent in the Bible.  In the book of Exodus, the Israelites in the desert look up to a serpent on a stick for healing.  Archetypally a serpent is a symbol of rebirth.  Edna retreats into thoughts of her childhood which reminds me that Edna has no mother.  Honestly, this does not read like a suicide. I For one, think, Chopin leaves it completely open ended.  Can we be sure Edna even dies?  Chopin ends this book entirely unresolved.  It’s disturbing.    It hinges on what you want to do with that ocean.  And scholars have come to zero consensus on how to understand this ending.  Oceans symbolically can be sources of self-awareness.  They can be places to find rebirth.  But, what’s jarring about this ending is that there is nothing in Edna’s characterization at any point in the book to suggest that Edna wants a beginning or even an ending for that matter.  Edna doesn’t search for closure not one time in this story- even the bedtime story she tells her kids there’s no ending.  Edna is not just rejecting society’s roles for her; she seems to be rejecting herself as an individual here.  Do these final images of her childhood suggest she wants to start over or does she give up up?  When ending a good song, every musician knows you have to create closure at the end or you don’t resolve the tension in the music.  Non musicians may not know that but they feel it when it happens. Try ending a song on the 5 chord.  And for a woman with such a keen sense of music, it seems Chopin purposely leaves her song unresolved.  There is no funeral; nobody on the beach; not even any thoughts of exit in Edna’s mind.  There is nothing.  Instead, Edna is focused on all the repeating elements of her own life’s story.  It is a totally directionless ending.  And that’s what people love about it- it’s messy and unresolved.  It’s realistic but also kind of mythical.   I guess, if we want to we can finish the tale in our own minds.  We can either kill her off or revive her.  She either sinks into further illusion, or she awakens one final time into a creative reality.  The central motif of this book is this sleeping/waking thing that goes on the entire time.  And maybe that’s where we find ourselves-- hopefully to a much lesser degree than Edna- the messiness of life sets in when we find ourselves oscillating between waking up and further deluding ourselves at some lost point in our lives.  We will make a mess of things (as Chopin says about Edna) – being a victim of forces without and forces within.  Yet what happens after we go into the ocean- or do we even dare?  I like to see this ending positively.  I like to think of Edna rising up and finding she CAN attach to other humans in a way where one does not consume the other.  She can find meaning in her children, in work, in art, in society.   She can find a way to make peace with her culture, her society, her limitations from without and within.  In my mind’s eye, she arises out of the foam-like Venus to rob a term from Victor. So, whether it’s realistic or not- In my mind, Edna comes back up- A woman- Queen.  I know I’m adding extensively to the text and that is a terribly bad no no, but hopefully while she was under water listening to all those bees she came up with a good plan.    HA!  You do like to find the silver lining in every storm.  Well, thanks for spending time with us today.  We hope you enjoyed our final discussion on this very perplexing piece of literature.  Next episode, we move from Louisiana up the road to our home state of Tennessee to discuss the music and life of our own Dolly Parton, self-made woman of this generation, whose displays the very idea of local color in her music.  We would ask you to please share our podcast with a friend.  Email or text them a link.  Share a link on your social media.  That’s how we grow.  Also, visit our website at www.howtolovelitpodcast.com for merchandise as well as free listening guides for teachers and students of English.    Peace out.                     See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.
Kate Chopin - The Awakening - Episode 3 - Edna Pontellier Battles The Forces Without Only To Meet The Forces Within!
May 14 2022
Kate Chopin - The Awakening - Episode 3 - Edna Pontellier Battles The Forces Without Only To Meet The Forces Within!
Kate Chopin - The Awakening - Episode 3 - Edna Pontellier Battles The Forces Without Only To Meet The Forces Within! Hi, I’m Christy Shriver and we’re here to discuss books that have changed the world and have changed us.  I’m Garry Shriver and this is the How to Love Lit Podcast.  This is our third episode discussing Kate Chopin’s controversial novella, The Awakening.  Week 1 we introduced Chopin, her life and the book itself.  We talked about what a stir it made during her lifetime ultimately resulting in it being forgotten and then rediscovered midway through the 20th century.  Last week, we spent all of our time on the vacation resort island of Grand Isle.  We met Mr. ad Mrs. Pontellier, as well as the two women who represent got Edna, our protagonist, two alternating lifestyles.  Edna Pontellier, we were quick to learn, is not a happily married woman.  Her husband is outwardly kind to her, but readers are told outright that love and mutual respect was never part of the arrangement between these two.  Edna is indulged by Mr. Pontellier, for sure.  He gives her anything she wants in terms of money or material, but in exchange, she is his ornament, an expensive hobby, a pet even- something to be prized- or as Ibsen would describe it- a beautiful doll for his doll house.    The story starts in the summer at the vacation resort town of Grand Isle, Louisiana.  While vacationing on the island, Edna Pontellier experiences what Chopin terms “the awakening”.  She awakens to the understanding that she is not a pet or a doll in the doll house, and just like Nora in the The Doll’s House, she decides she really doesn’t want to be one anymore.   No, I guess if that were the only thing to this story, we’d have to say, Sorry Kate, Ibsen beat you by about 20 years.  In Ibsen’s story, Nora awakens when her husband, Torvald, turns on her over money.    That’s a good point, what awakens Edna in this book is not a marital crisis over money.  It is a crisis that awakens her, and it totally informs how she views her marriage, but it is a crisis concerning her husband at all that is the catalyst.   She is awakened to her own humanity by discovering her own sensuality.  I want to highlight that this awakening isn’t overtly sexually provoked.  No man comes in and seduces Edna; she does not go off with a wild vacation crew.  She is left vulnerable, if you want to think about it that way, because of loveless marriage, but she is sensually and emotionally provoked through three  very different relationships- all of which affect her physically as well as emotionally.  The first is with a Creole woman, Adele Ratigntole, one with a younger Creole man, Robert LeBrun, and the third with the provocative music of Madame Reisz.  Experiences with these three awaken something in Edna that encourages maybe even forces her to rebel- rebel against her husband, against the culture, against the person she has always been, against the roles she has played, against everything that she has ever known.    The problem is- rebellion only takes you so far.  You may know what you DON’T want, but does that help you understand what you DO?  And this is Edna’s problem.  Where do we go from here?   And so, in chapter 17, we return with the Pontellier’s to their home in New Orleans.  And, as we have suggested before, New Orleans is not like any other city in America, and it is in these cultural distinctives of Creole life at the turn of the century that Chopin situates our protagonist.  But before we can understand some of the universal and psychological struggles Chopin so carefully sketches for us, we need to understand a little of the culture of this time period and this unusual place.  Garry, tell us a little about this world.  What is so special about Esplanade Street?  Well, one need only Google tourism New Orleans and a description of Esplanade street will be in the first lists of articles you run into.  Let me read the opening sentence from the travel website Neworleans.com  One of the quietest, most scenic and historic streets in New Orleans, Esplanade Avenue is a hidden treasure running through the heart of the city. From its beginning at the foot of the Mississippi River levee to its terminus at the entrance of City Park, Esplanade is a slow pace thoroughfare with quiet ambiance and local charm.  According to this same website, Esplanade Street, during the days of Chopin, functioned as “millionaire row”- which, of course is why the Pontelliers live there.  It actually forms the border between the French Quarter and the less exclusive Faubourg Marigny.  At the turn of the last century it was grand and it was populated by wealthy creoles who were building enormous mansions meant to compete with the mansions of the “Americans” on St. Charles Avenue.  “The Americans”?  Yes, that was the term for the non-Creole white people.  The ones that descended from the British or came into New Orleans from other parts of the US.   Esplanade Street was life at its most grand- there is no suffering like you might find in other parts of New Orleans.  The Pontelliers were wealthy; they were glamorous; these two were living competitively.    The first paragraph of chapter 17 calls the Pontellier mansion dazzling white. And the inside is just as dazzling as the outside. Mrs. Pontellier’s silver and crystal were the envy of many women of less generous husbands.  Mr. Pontellier was very proud of this and according to our sassy narrator loved to walk around his house to examine everything.  He “greatly valued his possessions.  They were his and I quote “household gods.”  The Pontelliers had been married for six years, and Edna over this time had adjusted to the culture and obligations of being a woman of the competitive high society of Creole New Orleans.  One such obligation apparently centered around the very serious etiquette of calling cards and house calls.  This is something we’re familiar with, btw, since we watch Bridgerton.  It was something we saw in Emma, too.  Garry, talk to us about the very serious social business of calling cards.   Well, this is first and foremost a European custom during this time period. It started with simple cards designed to announce a person’s arrival, but as in all things human, it grew and grew into something much larger and subtextual- and of course, with rules.  During the Victorian era, the designs on the cards as well as the etiquette surrounding were elaborate.  A person would leave one’s calling card at a friend’s house, and by friend meaning a person in your community- you may or may not actually be friends. Dropping off a card was a way to express appreciation, offer condolences or just say hello.  If someone moved into the neighborhood, you were expected to reach out with a card, and a new arrival was expected to do the same to everyone else.    The process would involve putting the card on an elaborate silver tray in the entrance hall.  A tray full of calling cards was like social media for Victorians- you were demonstrating your popularity.   For example, if we were doing this today, we would have a place in the entrance of our home, and we’d make sure the cards of the richest or most popular people we knew were on to.  We would want people who dropped off cards to be impressed by how many other callers we had AND how impressive our friends were. The entire process was dictated by complicated social rules, and as Leonce explains to Edna, to go against these rules could mean social suicide.   It could also mean financial suicide because business always has a human component.  The function of an upper class woman would be to fulfil a very specific social obligation and this involved delivering and accepting these calling cards.  Every woman would have a specific day where she would make it known she was receiving cards, and the other ladies would go around town to pay house calls.  In some cases, a woman might remain in her carriage while her groom would take the card to the door.  During the Regency era like in Jane Austen’s day, there was a system of bending down the corner of the card if you were there in person, and not if you were sending it, but by Chopin’s day, I’m not sure if that was still a thing.   The main thing was that the card would be dropped off on this special silver tray. If it were a first call, the caller might only leave a card.  But, if you were calling on the prescribed day, the groom would further inquire if the lady of the house were home.  A visit would consist of about twenty minutes of polite conversation.  It was important that if someone called on you, you must reciprocate and call on then on their visiting day.    Well, the Tuesday they get back, Edna leaves the house on her reception day and does not receive any callers- a social no-no.  In fact, as we go through the rest of the book, she never receives callers again. This is an affront to the entire society, and an embarrassment to her husband; it’s also just bad for business, as Mr. Pontellier tries to explain to his wayward wife, let’s read this exchange.  “Why, my dear, I should think you’d understand by this time that people don’t do such things; we’ve got to observe “les convenances” if we ever expect to get on and keep up with the procession.  If you felt that you had to leave this afternoon, you should have left some suitable explanation for your absences.    One thing I find interesting.  Mr. Pontellier assumes that Mrs. Pontellier is on the same page on wanting the same things as he wants, and what he wants is to keep up with the procession.  They’d been doing this for the last six years, and doing it well.  Another thing I notice is that he doesn’t rail at her for skipping out. Mr. Pontellier, unlike her father, even as we progress through the rest of the book, is not hard on her at all.  In fact, he’s indulgent.  The problem in the entire book is not that he’s been overtly abusive or cruel.  Read the part where he tries to kind of help her fix what he considers to be a serious social blunder.  Page 60  Well, if taken in isolation, this exchange doesn’t seem offensive, and I might even have taken sides with Mr. Pontellier if it weren’t back to back with this horrid scene of him complaining about his dinner then walking out to spend the rest of the evening at the club where he clearly spends the majority of his time.  You have to wonder what is going on at that club, but beyond that.  Edna is again left in sadness.  “She went and stood at an open window and looked out upon the deep tangle of tea garden below”.  (On an aside, if you’ve read Chopin’s story, the story of an hour, you should recognize the language here and the image of this open window).  Anyway,, Here again we have another image of a caged bird, or a person who is looking out in the world but not feeling a part of it.  “She was seeing herself and finding herself in just sweet half-darkness which met her moods. But the voices were not soothing that came to her from the darkness and the sky above and the stars.  They jeered and sounded mournful notes without promise, devoid even of home.  She turned back into the room and began to walk to and from down its whole length, without stopping, without resting.  She carried in her hands a thin handkerchief, which she tore into ribbons, rolled into a ball, and flung from her.  Once she stopped, and taking off her wedding ring, flung it upon the carpet.  When she saw it there, she stamped her heel upon it, striving to crush it.  But her small boot heel did not make an indenture, not a mark upon the little glittering circlet.  In a sweeping passion she seized a glass vase from the table and flung it upon the tiles of the hearth.  She wanted to destroy something.  The crash and the clatter were what she wanted to hear.”  She’s clearly angry…and not just because Mr. Pontellier complained about the food and walked out of the house.  She’s angry about everything.   Never mind the fact that we are never told what goes on at this club, but there are several indications in different parts of the book that Mr. Pontellier may be doing other things besides smoking cigars in crowded rooms.  Adele even tells Edna that she disapproves of Mr. Pontellier’s club.  She goes on to say, “It’s a pity Mr. Pontellier doesn’t stay home more in the evenings.  I think you would be more- well, if you don’t me my saying it- more united.”    Although I will add, Edna quickly replies, “’Oh dear no!’ What should I do if he stayed home? We wouldn’t have anything to say to each other.”  - the fact remains that MR. Pontelier does not see any need to nurture any sort of human or intimate relationship with Edna- theirs comes across as a cordial business arrangement, at best, with Edna in the position of employee.    True, and although I don’t know if this is the right place to point this out, but in terms of the sexual indiscretions that may or may not be going on when Mr. Pontellier is at the club, there is likely a lot in the culture at large going on under the surface that a person from the outside wouldn’t immediately be aware of.   Edna is naïve at first to all that goes on in her Victorian-Creole world.  There just is no such thing as “lofty chastity”  amongst the Creole people, or any people I might add, although Edna initially seems to believe that in spite of all the sexual innuendo in the language, nothing sexual was ever going on.  There are just too many indications otherwise in the story that that is not the case.  The reader can see it, even though Edna cannot.   True, and if you didn’t catch it on Grand Isle, in the city, it is more obvious, and the farther along we go in the story, it gets more obvious as well.  Mrs. James Highcamp is one example.  She has married an “American” but uses her daughter as a pretext for cultivating relationships with younger men.  This is so well-known that Mr. Pontellier tells Edna, after seeing her calling card, that the less you have to do with Mrs. Highcamp the better.  But she’s not the only example.  Victor basically details an encounter with Edna of being with a prostitute he calls “a beauty” when she comes to visit his mother..ending with the phrase that she wouldn’t comprehend such things.  And of course, most obviously there is the character Arobin with whom Edna eventually does get sexually involved, but his reputation has clearly preceded him.     Well, Edna’s awakening to all of this would explain part of her anger, but  there is more to Edna’s awakening then just Leonce, or the new culture she’s a part of, or really any outside factor.   Yes, and it is in the universality of whatever is going on inside of Edna that we find ourselves.  That’s what’s so great about great literature- the setting can be 120 years ago, but our humanity is still our humanity.     I agree and love that, but let’s get back to her setting for a moment. I think it’s worth mentioning that the 19th century culture of the Creole people in New Orleans is messy and complicated in its own unique way.  It’s fascinating, but for those who are not of the privileged class, life was often a harsh reality.  The world, especially in the South, was problematic for people of mixed race heritage.  So, and this is more true the closer we get to the Civil War and the Jim Crow era, but those who called themselves “white creoles” had a problem because of the large existence of the free people of mixed race ancestry in New Orleans.  There was a strong outside pressure to maintain this illusion of racial purity, but the evidence suggests this simply wasn’t reality.  Let me throw out a few numbers to tell you what I’m talking about.  From 1782-1791, the St. Louis Catholic Church in New Orleans recorded 2688 births of mixed race children.  Now that doesn’t seem like a large number, but let me throw this number out- that same congregation at that time same only records 40 marriages of black or mixed race people.  Now, I know Catholics are known for having large families, but I’m not sure 20 women can account for 2688 births.    No, something feels a little wrong.  That number suggests another explanation may be in order.    Exactly, and by 1840 that number grows from 2688 to over 20,000 with mixed raced Creoles representing 18% of the total population of residents of New Orleans.  And if that doesn’t convince you, here’s another indicator, during this same period many many free women of color were acquiring prime real estate in New Orleans under their own names.  These women had houses built and passed estates on to their children, but notice this detail, the children of these mixed-raced women had different last names then their mothers.  We’re not talking about small amounts of property here.  By 1860 $15 million dollars worth of property was in the name of children with last names that were not the same as that of their mothers, oh and by the way, a lot of that property was in the neighborhood where Edna rents her pidgeon house just around the corner from Esplanade street- in other words around the corner and walking distance from millionaire row.    Well, that’s really interesting, and I guess, does add a new dimension to the subtext in the language for sure.  Well, it does, and it is likely something readers of the day would have certainly understood, more than we do 100 years later when the stakes of identifying as being of mixed raced heritage are not the difference between freedom and slavery.  But beyond just that, it’s an example of cultures clashing.  Edna represents an outwardly prudish Puritan culture coming into a society that is French, Spanish and Caribbean- very different thinking.  This is a de-facto multi-cultural world; it’s Catholic; it’s French-speaking; it’s international.  She doesn’t understand what she’s seeing.  And in that regard, her own situational reality is something she’s realizing she is only beginning to understand, and she comes into it all very gradually. She is not, in Adele’s words, “One of them.”  In fact, there may have been irony in the narrator in Grand Isle suggesting that Robert LeBrun’s relationships every summer were platonic.  His relationship with the girl in Mexico we will see most certainly is not, but nor was his relationship with Mariequeita on Grand Isle, the girl they meet on the day they spent together.    Indeed.  You may be right- perhaps there is a real sense that Edna has been blind, and perhaps not just to her husband but by an entire society that presents itself one way but in reality is something entirely different altogether.  When she visits Adele and her husband at their home, everything seems perfect- of course.  Adele is the perfect woman with this perfect life.  Adele is beautiful.  Her husband adores her.  The Ratignolle’s marriage is blissful, in fact to use the narrator’s words, “The Ratignolles’ understood each other perfectly.  If ever the fusion of two human beings into one has been accomplished on this sphere it was surely in their union.”    Do you think it’s sarcasm again?  Was it truly perfect, or just presenting itself to be perfect?   It's really hard to tell.  Maybe they have worked out a great life together.  I think there is a lot in this passage to suggest they are truly happy together.  Edna even expresses that their home is much happier than hers.  She quotes that famous Chinese proverb “Better a dinner of herbs”.  The entire quote is “Better a dinner of herbs than a stalled ox where hate is.”- meaning her house has better food but she thinks of it as a hateful place- whereas this place is the opposite.  Poor thing- she sees her reality for what it is.  I still see a little sarcasm in the narrator’s language, but even if Adele is every bit as perfect as she seems, and even if her home is every bit as perfect as it seems, and even if her husband is every bit as perfect as he seems, in the most real of ways, that could all be true and it wouldn’t matter.  E  Precisely, The Ratignole’s life can be every bit as perfect as it appears. and it wouldn’t make Edna want it any more.  Edna leaves Adele’s happy home, realizing that even if she could have it it’s not the life she wants.  She wouldn’t want that world even if Leonce loved her.  It’s just not for her.  The problem is, that’s as far as she’s gotten with her problem solving.  All she knows is what she DOESN’T want.  Her new world is a world of negation.  She wants to quit, and so she does.  She absolutely disregards all her duties to the point that it finally angers Leonce enough to confront her.   “It seems to me the utmost folly for a woman at the head of a household, and the mother of children, to spend in an atelier days which would be better employed contriving for the comfort of her family.”   An atelier is an artist studio.  It’ seems Edna has left all the responsibilities she had as a housewife as well as a mother.  And let me add, Edna was never dusting, cooking, or bathing her children.  She has several house keepers and nannies.  But now, she’s not even overseeing what others are doing.  Instead, she’s devoting herself entirely to painting.  And surprisingly, Leonce doesn’t even have a problem with that in and of itself.  Edna tells her husband, “I feel like painting.”  To which he responds, “Then in God’s name paint!  But don’t let the family go to the devil.  There’s Madame Ratignolle, because she keeps up her music, she doesn’t let everything else go to chaos.   And she’s more of a musician than you are a painter.” Yikes, that may be honest, but it does come across as a little harsh. I know.  I think it’s kind of a funny line.  To which, Edna has an interesting comeback- it’s like she knows it’s not about the painting. She says, “It isn’t on account of the painting that I let things go.”  He asks her then why she’s let everything go, but she has no answer.  She says she just doesn’t know.  Garry, do you want to take a stab at what’s going on with Edna?  Well, I do want to tread carefully.  What is fascinating about this book is not so much that Chopin is arguing for any specific course of action, or warning against any specific set of behaviors.  She doesn’t condemn Edna for anything, not even the affair she will have with Arobin.  Instead of judging, Chopin, to me, seems to be raising questions.  And it is the questions that she raises that are so interesting.  Edna is desperately trying to rewrite the narrative of her life.  There is no question about that.  But that is an artistic endeavor, in some ways like painting or singing.   I guess we can say Chopin is blending her metaphors here.  Edna doesn’t want to be a parrot and copy, but she’s living her life exactly the way she is painting- it’s uncontrolled; it’s undisciplined; it’s impulsive.  I’d also say, it’s rather unoriginal.  There is no doubt that the social roles offered to her are restrictive.  There’s no doubt her marriage is a problem, but as we get farther into the story, it’s hard to believe that even if all of these problems could be rectified that Edna would be able define a life for herself.  We, as humans, are always more than a reaction to the social and cultural forces in our world- I hate to get back to the word we used last week, but I can’t get away from it.  Even under strict social norms, which I might add, Edna is NOT under for her time period- she is after all one of the most privileged humans on planet Earth at that particular time in human history, but even if she were under severe restrictions, she, as a human, still has agency- we all do. Yes- and to use Chopin’s words from chapter 6, Mrs Pontellier was beginning to realize her position as an individual as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world WITHIN and about her.  I think that Edna is like the rest of us in that it’s easier to understand and manage the world about us as opposed to the world within.  At least I can SEE the world about me- how can I see within?  How can I understand myself?  And so Edna goes to the world of Madame Reisz having discarded the world of Adele Ratignolle- the world of art, the world of the artist- which is where Edna goes in chapter 21.  I would argue that she sees it as the polar opposite of Adele’s reality.  There is the Adele version of being a woman- a totally objectified, sexualized but mothering type of woman= versus this version of womanhood who is basically asexually.  Perhaps Madame Reisz isn’t a woman at all- she’s an artist.   Except that world, the world of the artist, comes with its own share of difficulties nevermind that it is simply more uncomfortable.  Reisz’ house is described as “dingy”.  There’s a good deal of smoke and soot.  It’s a small apartment.  There’s a magnificent piano, but no elegant food or servants or silver trays for calling cards.  She cooks her meals on a gasoline stove herself.  Let me quote here, “it was there also that she ate, keeping her belongings in a rare old buffet, dingy and battered from a hundred years use.” True, but there is also  the music and when the music filled the room it floated out upon the night, over the housetops, the crescent of the river, losing itself in the silence of the air and made Edna sob. The art is otherworldly, and there is something to that.  Something attractive maybe even metaphysical.  I want to talk about Kate Chopin’s choice of music.  I don’t think we noted this in episode one, but Chopin was an accomplished pianist.  She played by ear and read music.  She held parties, almost identical to the ones she described Madame Ratignole throwing in the book with dancing and card playing.  Music was a very big deal to Kate Chopin, so when she includes specific music in her writing, she’s not just dropping in commonly used songs, she uses artists she likes for specific reasons, and in this novel, the pianist Frederic Chopin is selected intentionally- and not because he has the same last name, although I did check that out- they are not related.  Garry, as a musician yourself, what can you tell us about Frederic Chopin, the Polish composer and pianist? Well, let me make this comparison, Frederic Chopin’s music in his day was the pelvis gyrating Elvis’ Rock in Roll of his day.  It was provocative.  19th century attitudes towards this type of harmony driven romantic music would seem hysterical to us.  They were seen as sensual and a destructive force, especially for women.  This may even be Chopin’s sassy narrator playing with us again- Frederic Chopin’s music is definitely driving sensuality in Edna. To say Kate Chopin is using it ironically is likely taking it too far, but I don’t know, maybe not.  This narrator has been ironic before. The main undeniable connection is that Madame Reisz plays Impromptus.  Impromptus are improvisational music.  Frederic Chopin wrote only four of them in his career.  The one Kate selects here is called Fantasie-Impromptu in C minor- it’s the only one in a minor key that he ever wrote.  You can pull it up on Spotify and hear it for yourself.   It is full of rhythmical difficulties.  It’s very difficult to play. It’s quick and full of emotion.  There is banging on low notes at times, thrills and rolling notes going faster and slower at others points.  Frederic Chopin, by the way, was a very temperamental person and in some ways shares a lot of the personality quirks of Madame Reisz. But he did have an interesting philosophy about music that I really like and does connect to our book.  He is recorded to have said this, “words were born of sounds; sounds existed before words…Sounds are used to make music just as words are used to form language.  Thought is expressed through sounds.  And undefined human utterance is mere sound; the art of manipulating sounds is music.” Interesting, music is thoughts as sounds.  I like the expression “undefined human utterance” especially in regard to Edna because she absolutely cannot get her thoughts out nor is she willing to share then with anyone.  She expresses more than once that her inner world was hers and hers alone. She can’t get her thoughts out when she talks to Adele; she can’t get them out when she talks to her husband, and she can’t get them out even with Madame Reisz which would have been a very safe space for her to express herself.  At the end of chapter 21, she’s sobbing at the music and holding in her hands a letter from Robert LeBrun crumpled and damp with tears.  It would have helped her to have found someone to talk to, maybe the Dr. Mandelet that Leonce goes to in chapter 22 for advice about how to help his wife.   What we find out from Leonce’s conversation is that Edna has withdrawn from every single person in her world.  She won’t even go to her sister’s wedding.  What the doctor sees when he goes to dinner at their house is a very outwardly engaging woman but an inwardly withdrawn one.  The Doctor wonders if she’s having an affair, but she isn’t.   She is, to use the title of the book, One Solitary Soul.  As a human being, there are only so many types of relationships we find meaning in: we have our parents and birth family, we have our intimate relationship, we have our children (if we have any), we have our professional relationships, and we have our social friends- at least one of these has to be working for us.  Edna finds no satisfaction in any of them.  She doesn’t have a trusting relationship anywhere.   Yes, every single relationship in her life is basically a burden.  Edna is trying to relieve herself of every single responsibility in the world hoping that getting out of relationships will help her expand her identity.  The problem is getting RID of responsibilities is not really the answer.  To find meaning in this world you must DO something worth doing.  Something that takes strength and energy.  Something you can be proud of.  Of course as a classroom teacher, that is what we do everyday.  It’s not helpful to give students high grades or marks for nothing.  It weakens them.  When you give them a difficult task and then they are able to do that task, they grow, they get strong, they learn they are capable of even great responsibilities.  If you want to get strong, you have to take ON responsibilities- you have to practice strength training, Edna goes the opposite way here.     Edna does look for models, and if she wanted a career path, or a professional life like we think of in  our era, Chopin threw in a character that could have served that function.  It’s what I see going on in  the chapters about the races.  Edna is actually really good at horse gambling.  She knows horses.  She knows the horse-racing business and knows it well.  The text actually says that she knows more about horse-racing than anyone in New Orleans.  In fact, it’s her knowledge about horses that puts her on the radar of the man she eventually has the sexual relationship with, Alcee Arobin.   Let’s read the section where we see this relationship, if we want to call it that, take shape.  Arobin had first seen her perform well at the tracks and to use the narrator’s words, he admired Edna extravagantly after meeting her at the races with her father. Mrs. Highcamp is also a completely different version of a feminine ideal, although neither Edna nor the narrator seem to think enough of to give her a first name.  This confused me some when I read this because in my mind, Mrs. James Highcamp would have been this type of a liberated woman that Chopin might want to have Edna admire.  She’s clearly sexualy liberated, but beyond that she’s worldly, intelligent, slim, tall.  Her daughter is educated, participates in political societies, book clubs, that sort of thing.  But nothing about Mrs. James Highcamp is alluring to Edna at all.  She suffers Mrs. James Highcamp because of her interest in Arobin.  Let’s read about these encounters between Arobin and Edna.  Here’s the first one Page 86   So, Arobin becomes fascinated with Edna, in part because she is so smart and different from other women.  At the end of that evening, they dined with the Highcamps. And afterwards Arobin takes Edna home.  The text says this “She wanted something to happen- something, anything, she did not know what.  She regretted that she had not made Arobin stay a half hour to talk over the horses.  She counted the money she had won.  There was nothing else to do, so she went to bed, and tossed there for hours in a sort of monotonous agitation. And so the relationship with Arobin is born out of boredom.   Yes, the dominant movement in Edna’s life is always drifting towards boredom.  Edna wants to rewrite her social script, but she can’t seem to define what she wants.  She has trouble speaking, so she has no words to write her own story.  She doesn’t want to be a mother; she doesn’t want to work except in sunny weather; she has an opportunity with Mrs. Highcamp to get involved with political or literary women; but that doesn’t spark her interest.  She could make a name for herself at the races, but the money doesn’t motivate her- she’s always had it and in some ways doesn’t seem to know a world without money.  So, she’s going to default into this relationship with Arobin.  I’m going to suggest that she is again playing the part of the parrot.  Messing around with Arobin is just the kind of thing she sees men doing.  It’s what Victor does; it may be what her husband does; it is likely what Robert is doing down in Mexico, so she’s going to try to mimic male behavior since she hasn’t really found a female model she’s interested in emulating, and Arobin is an opportunitiy for this.   And yet, she’s self-aware enough to not be seduced by Arobin.  The first time he really tries to make a move on her by kissing her hand, this is what she says which I find insightful, “When she was alone she looked mechanically at the back of her hand which he had kissed so warmly.  Then she leaned her head down on the mantlepiece.  She felt something like a woman who in a moment of passion is betrayed into an act of infidelity, and realizes the significance of the act without being wholly awakened from its glamour.  The thought was passing vaguely through her mind, “what would he think?” She did not mean her husband; she was thinking of Robert LeBrun.  Her husband seemed to her now like a person whom she had married without love as an excuse.  She lit a candle and went up to her room.  Alcee Arobin was absolutely nothing to her.  Yet his presence, his manners, the warmth of his glances, and above all the touch of his lips upon her hand had acted like a narcotic upon her.  She slept a languorous sleep, interwoven with vanishing dreams.” Garry, is there a connection between Edna’s boredom with her new life and her desire to pursue this relationship with Arobin.  Well, again, Dr. Kate Chopin is playing the psychologist.  Science has absolutely confirmed there is a relationship with boredom and risk-taking behaviors.  In other words, the more bored you find yourself, the more likely you are to do something risky.  It’s one reason teenagers are so prone to dangerous behaviors like drugs.  They don’t know yet how to cope with personal down time.  They can’t manage their own boredom.  Bored people don’t know what they want to do.  They also score low on scares that measure self-awareness.  Bored people can’t monitor their own moods or understand what they truly want.  And here’s another characteristic that should sound familiar in the life of Mrs. Edna Pontellier, notice that last line “vanishing dreams”, Edna is not dreaming.  She’s not working at writing a script for her life..structuring a story for herself.  Her dreams and not building anything, they are vanishing.  That’s not good.  And it’s not that doesn’t have illusions, she does, but a dream is not an illusion.  Dreams are what inspire us to do something different. Both a dream and an illusion are unreal, but an illusion will always be an illusion- it has no chance of becoming real; out of dreams new realities are born.  We are not seeing Edna dream.  Her dreams are vanishing.   Which brings us to the place where I want to end with this episode- chapter 26 and Edna’s decision to move out of her husband’s house.  I mentioned that this book is constructed with the archetypal 3 in mind at every point.  Edna has been living on Esplanade street- the wealthy gilded cage life, and she doesn’t want that.  She has visited Madame Reisz’s apartment, but she doesn’t seem to want that- it’s, and I quote, “cheerless and dingy to Edna”.  So what does she do? She moves two steps away from Esplanade Street, to a house Ellen calls, “the pigeon house.”  Pigeons are the oldest domesticated bird in the world.  They never fly far from home- homing pigeons is actually a term. She’s building an illusion. Edna is going out of her husband’s house to a place around the corner, but is she really building a new life of any kind?  What is this about?   Edna describes it to Madame Reisz, this way,  “I know I shall like it, like the feeling of freedom and independence.”   But is the feeling of freedom and independence the same as actually having freedom and independence? Well, obviously not.  They are worlds apart.  But Edna lives in feelings.  She works when she feels like it.  She plays with her children when she feels like it, and now she admits to Madame Reisz that she’s in love with Robert LeBrun, who by the way is coming back.  And when she finds that out she feels, and I quote “glad and happy to be alive.”  And what does she do after that, she stops at a candy store, buys a box to send to her children who are with their grandparents in the country and she writes a charming letter to her husband.  Her letter was brilliant and brimming with cheerfulness.  I’m sorry, but Edna frustrates the feminist in me.   Well, Edna is struggling for sure.  She can’t connect with people.  She can’t identify a dream worth pursuing.  She can’t write her own story.  There is no doubt that a lot of this has to so with cultural and social forces at work in her world.   These are powerful forces.  However,  it is not the outside forces of her world that will do her in.  Edna is smart.  She’s beautiful.  She’s charming.  She actually has a lot going for her, especially for a woman during this time period.  If Chopin had wanted to write a story where a woman breaks free and soars, she has a protagonist who is positioned to do that very thing.   But she’s in a mess.  And maybe that’s why she’s so relatable.  Many of us have made messes of our lives.  We have an incredible ability to screw up, but  humans are also incredibly resilient.  Look at Chopin’s own life as an example.  In some ways, she’s both Adele Ragntingole and Madame Reiz, at different points in her life she’d been both.  She may even have been Mrs. James Highcamp to a lesser degree. Why is Edna struggling here? Well, humans are incredibly resilient, but you know what else we are- we are social beings.  Let’s revisit that original book title, “One Solitary Soul”- it’s my experience that no one gets out alone- not even the rich, the beautiful or the smart.  No one gets out alone.   Ah, Edna is strong enough to confront the forces without, but who will help her confront the forces within? And so next episode, we will see her confront those internal forces.  There are no more female characters to meet; no more male characters either for that matter.  We will see Edna confront Edna alone, and we will see what happens.  Thank you for listening.  If you enjoy our podcast, please share it with a friend, a relative, your classmates, your students.  We only grow when you share.  Also, come visit with us via our social media how to love lit podcast- on Instagram, facebook and our website.  Feel free to ask questions, give us your thoughts, recommend books.  These are all things we love.  Thanks for being with us today. Peace out.      See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.
Kate Chopin - The Awakening - Episode 2 - Edna Pontellier Defies All Explanations!
May 7 2022
Kate Chopin - The Awakening - Episode 2 - Edna Pontellier Defies All Explanations!
Kate Chopin - The Awakening - Episode 2 - Edna Pontellier Defies All Explanations! HI, I’m Christy Shriver and we’re here to discuss books that have changed the world and have changed us.  And I’m Garry Shriver and this is the How to Love Lit Podcast.  This is our second episode in our four part series discussing the world of Kate Chopin.  Last week we introduced our author and what is generally considered her masterpiece, the novella, The Awakening.  Today we will continue discussing this book as we meet Edna and mosey around the Creole world of Victorian Louisiana on the vacation island of Grand Isle.    This book is like Camus’ The Stranger in that it is incredibly complicated but deceptively simple looking.  It has been misunderstood since the minute it was published, and it’s still misunderstood.  Critics have claimed it’s a champion of the women’s movement; a challenge to the patriarchy, an expose on depression, a discussion of narcissism, an exploration of female sexuality- and certainly it can be looked at through each of these lens without any difficulty at all and there are things to say there.  And yet, Chopin cryptically told one critic in response to her book nothing along any ideological lines.  This is how she chose to frame her book, and I never and I quote, “dreamed of Edna making such a mess of things and working out her own damnation as she did.”  What does that even mean?   Exactly, it’s a consciously and deliberately messy book.  It is NOT best read as an ideological book of any kind- no matter if your prejudices lie for or against her apparent causes.  It certainly makes it easier to read if you’re looking to make it a political statement, and when I was first introduced to it, that’s how I was taught to read it, but I have since decided to reject easy interpretations of great literature in general primarily because that makes something great immediately uninteresting.  And this book is definitely NOT uninteresting.  So, if we’re not to read it about being about politics, the patriarchy, oppression or that sort of thing, how should we understand it?  Isn’t that the million dollar question?  What is so compelling about Edna Pontellier- and she has been compelling even maddening for the last 120 years.  I don’t find her necessarily a likeable person, are we supposed to?  At first I wondered if it was designed so that men are supposed to not like her or maybe not like themselves by looking at what’s happened to her, but do women generally find her likeable?  I also don’t see how to avoid seeing gender as an important component of this book.  Oh I agree, you can’t help but see gender and you’re definitely supposed to.  It’s about a woman- it’s about being a woman- but is there anything more complicated than a woman?  That’s a loaded question!!  Do you honestly think you can bait me into answer that?  Ha!  Wise man!  In all serious, it’s about being human, but from a women’s perspective- and that can’t be reduced to any single set of definable variables.  That’s what’s messy about it.  It’s about a woman in the Victorian era at the turn of the century- the particulars of the challenges women faced that that particular political moment in US history- the woman question, as they referred to it in those days, but that’s just our starting point- the setting, so to speak- there are more interesting parts of Edna and her awakening than just resolving the contextual economic, sexual or matrimonial roles in society.  Beyond that, let’s just look at the term “the awakening”.  It's kind of  a strange  term to use in a book where the protagonist spends an unusually large amoung of her time asleep.  I’m not sure I’ve seen a protagonist sleep as much as Edna in any book, except maybe Sleeping Beauty or Rip Van Wrinkle.  And yet, the title begs a question.  What is an awakening, or at least what is ’”The Awakening”? as Edna is to experience it.  The first part of the book which we are going to talk about today- chapters 1-16 IS her awakening.  For her, it’s kind of a gradual experience that happens to her over a summer.  Chopin first defines it in chapter 6, it’s described as coming into one’s own humanity – to recognize one’s relations as an individual to the world within and about.  You know that’s a great definition of what it means to grow up really- to find one’s agency in the world.    Chopin insightfully connects someone’s internal awakening with their sexual awakening.  This awareness of how you are a sexual being and as such interact with other beings as sexual beings- both of the same sex as well as the opposite sex.  Chopin illustrates this many ways and, and I would go far as to say seems to use sexual agency as an expression of agency of a general kind.   Yes, and what does that mean?  How should we define agency, as in human agency?  What do you mean when you use that term?  I know I asked a question that could be a long answer, but in just a few words.      Agency, in general, refers to our capability as humans to influence our own functioning.  It is our ability to direct the course of events through our own actions.  Said another way, it’s our ability to determine and make meaning through purposeful and reflective creative action.    A psychologist by the name of Albert Bandura out of Stanford university is a leading figure in this field, so if you’re interested, just Google his nam and you can read as much as you want.  But basically, according to Bandura, we exercise our agency in four ways.  We are self-organizing, pro-active, self-regulating, and self-reflecting. We are not simply onlookers of our behavior. We are contributors to our life circumstances, not just products of them.  That’s a quote    We like to think, and we do think the younger we are, that agency means freedom.  And in many ways it does.  But what does freedom even mean?  Does it mean I get to do whatever I want?  Well, sort of, but we’re interacting in a world full of forces both from the outside but also from the inside.  Understanding that seems to be what Chopin is wanting to explore in a very feminine context- because female forces aren’t always the same as male forces, by definition.   Well, I will tell you what Bandura would say.  The problem is that Most human pursuits involve other people, so there is no absolute agency. Let me use Bandura’s words here.  He says, “Individuals have to accommodate their self-interests if they are to achieve unity of effort within diversity. Collective endeavors require commitment to a shared intention and coordination of interdependent plans of action to realize it- in other words you have to get along in the world you live in.  That’s the rub.    Ahhh- getting along with others.  That’s another important idea to think about here.  The Awakening wasn’t even the original title of this book. The original title was A Solitary Soul.  That makes you think of the story in an entirely different way.  Is this a story about waking up or being alone or both?  If there’s something that we can see immediately in the characterization of Edna, is that she is a solitary woman.  She is very much alone and has been all of her life not physically alone, but emotionally.    Well, for me that title tells me that this book is about attachment and intimacy, but I may be jumping the gun.  We didn’t get very far into the story last episode. We basically only got through the first chapter, so let’s kind of start there.  We found ourselves on a vacation resort island, the Grand Isle- which is fifty miles from New Orleans.   Emily Toth, Chopin’s biographer, described it as kind of a tropical paradise of sorts.  She said that For young mothers, like Kate Chopin it was a wholesome place to spend what otherwise was a dangerous season in the South.  Unlike New Orleens the Grand Isld didn’t have open canals or cisterns.  There weren’t swarms of disease infested mosquitos to threaten children or adults. No one there had to lock their doors.  The island was a tropical paradise.  It had palm trees, vines, orange and lemon trees, acres of yellow chamomile.  There were no actual streets only grassygreen or sandy paths.  It was seductive to the imagination, too, with tales of shipwrecks and pirate gold from Barataria Bay, the old haunt of the pirate Jean Lafitte.  And of course that makes sense Memphis is also sweltering hot in the summer.  And for years, summer months in the South were deadly.  Mosquitos came in and with them deadly diseases.  Yellow fever especially was terrorizing, so if you could afford to get away from the city in the summer you did; and many many people did exactly what we see the Pontellier’s doing here.  Edna and the kids would stay at Grand Isle, Leonce would go into the city during the week and would come out to spend the weekends with the family.  Last week, we didn’t actually meet Edna; we met her husband who is annoyed by these cackling birds that are making so much noise he can’t read his newspaper- a parrot and a mockingbird, and we talked about how birds are important symbols in this book.    Yes- Birds and wings.  We have a parrot, we have a mockingbird, and later we’re going to have a pigeon house.  We’re also going to have a woman with angel wings, and another woman who tells Edna she needs strong wings.  But before we get to the lady friends with wings, let’s meet Edna Pontellier.    Soon after Mr. Pontellier leaves the house,  Mrs. Pontellier and her summer companion Robert LeBrun come strolling along.  It’s not one of the world’s more normal love triangles- watch how these three interact-  Let’s read this interaction  Page 4  Well, there’s nothing quite so startling as introducing a book’s protagonist as an object on page one.  Mr. Pontellier literally looks at his wife as a piece of property according to our narrator, and he seems to care less about the man she’s spending all of her time with.  Yes, but there’s more to see here.  She’s clearly a beautiful woman and a prize for her husband, but what does she get in exchange- rings.  And they sparkle.   She also gets days at the beach free of responsibility- in fact, we will see that Edna is the only character in this book who does no work of any kind, ever. These two have made a deal.  And what we clearly see as we watch the relationship develop is that love was never part of their original agreement, at least not the way we would like to understand love as it works in an ideal marriage.  Edna married Leonce because he loved her and flattered her, but Chopin is careful to make us very aware that she never loved Leonce in return or even deceived herself into thinking she did.  She  was “running away from prayers, from the Presbyterian service” from her father.  Although, we have to jump ahead to chapter 7 to see that.  Let’s just read the love story of these two lovebirds…to borrow from Chopin’s bird motif:  Her marriage to Léonce Pontellier was purely an accident, in this respect resembling many other marriages which masquerade as the decrees of Fate. It was in the midst of her secret great passion that she met him. He fell in love, as men are in the habit of doing, and pressed his suit with an earnestness and an ardor which left nothing to be desired. He pleased her; his absolute devotion flattered her. She fancied there was a sympathy of thought and taste between them, in which fancy she was mistaken. Add to this the violent opposition of her father and her sister Margaret to her marriage with a Catholic, and we need seek no further for the motives which led her to accept Monsieur Pontellier for her husband. The acme of bliss, which would have been a marriage with the tragedian, was not for her in this world. As the devoted wife of a man who worshiped her, she felt she would take her place with a certain dignity in the world of reality, closing the portals forever behind her upon the realm of romance and dreams. But it was not long before the tragedian had gone to join the cavalry officer and the engaged young man and a few others; and Edna found herself face to face with the realities. She grew fond of her husband, realizing with some unaccountable satisfaction that no trace of passion or excessive and fictitious warmth colored her affection, thereby threatening its dissolution.  Not the most romantic love story I’ve ever read.  In fact, she seems almost proud that she doesn’t love Leonce, but honestly, I think we can say that story is common enough.  How many girls and guys marry whoever they're dating in their youth just because it seems like it’s the time to do something like that happens to be the person they met at that time- as Chopin would call it, “an accident masquerading as a decree of Fate”?  How many others make a deal of convenience- a financial transaction or sorts.  I agree completely- my favorite Marilyn Monroe movie, is about that- Diamond are a Girl’s Best Friend. Although I will say, most of the time things don’t work out like they do for Mrilyn Monroe.  Chopin’s portrayal is more realistic.  People marry and then sooner or later, one or both partners start doing things that resemble Chopin’s descriptions of the Pontellier marriage. In Victorian days, it was women, but today, I’ve seen situations where either partner experiences this exact thing Edna’s experiencing- sad isolation- being discarded for one thing or another.  Edna and Leonce have two small children, but here in chapter 3, Edna finds herself in isolation and crying in the middle of the night.  It’s gut-wrenching.  This relationship is cruel, and not just because Leonce wakes her up in the middle of the night wanting to talk- the scene  as it unfolds is an expression of a total lack of understanding between these two.   What is most cruel here is the total lack of intimacy between these two. And money doesn’t make it all better even though they seem to think it does.  Leonce gives Edna a bunch of money the next day knowing that it makes her happy.  And later on after he goes back to New Orleans, Edna receives a care package from her husband, and she even admits to her friends that she knows of no better husband than Leonce Pontellier.    Of course, this comes across very ironic to the reader because Chopin has already taken us behind the veil of what looks like a perfectly ideal marriage to see a lonely woman who cries when no one is watching.     I also found it interesting that in the second chapter of the book before we even read the sad incident of Edna crying through the night, we are told that her mother had been dead- just a very psychological detail to introduce into the text.     She’s a solitary soul.  There’s a couple more important details I think we need to pay attention to here early on in the text- what about this gentlemen- Robert LeBrun- Robert spends all day every day with Edna at Grande Isle, but Leonce is not jealous of him at all.  In fact, we are told Creole husbands are never jealous- that the gangrene passion is one which has become is dwarfed by disuse- although I’m not really sure I understand exactly what that expression means.   No, On the contrary, Leonce seems to like the fact that Edna has a playmate. Robert takes Edna off his hands, so to speak.   Later in chapter 5, we are told that Robert picks a different girl every summer to fawn over. Some of the girls are single, but mostly  he picks married women- unattainable ones. These women apparently enjoy the attention, and Robert isn’t taken seriously as a threat. It’s part of the beach culture, and not a threat in this Creole culture.   Agreed, except, as we’re going to find out, Edna isn’t a Creole woman and things aren’t the same with her- as Adele reminds Robert in chapter 8 as she tries to talk him into leaving Edna alone.  She point blank tells him, “Edna isn’t one of us”.  And she very much is NOT. Edna, the reader knows, was raised in a very frigid home- nothing like the physicality, sensuality and the openness of the Creole people.   I’ve got more to say about that, but before we get too far from the crying scene in chapter 3, I want draw attention to the detail where Chopin connects Edna’s loneliness and tears to the sea.  As Edna sat there alone and crying in the night, Chopin points out that and I quote, “no sound abroad except the hooting of an old owl in the top of a water-oak, and the everlasting voice of the sea.”  Two ideas here worth noticing- first Chopin is going to do a lot with sounds.  Music is important, which we’ll talk about extensively next episode.  But Grand Isle is noisy place- we’ve already had noisy birds and little, girls playing the piano, but here's the second idea- notice the emphasis and presence of the sea, it is the most important symbol of the entire book. The ocean is also an archetype.  Just in case you haven’t heard us talk about archetypes before and unfamiliar what we mean by them in this literary context, archetypes are psychological.  The psychologist Carl Jung famously theorized that they are symbols wired into our brains- that’s one way to look at them- he called them a universal collective consciousness.  They are universal…meaning cultures all over the world throughout time having had nothing to do with each other use the same symbols to mean the same things- although they have had no way to coordinate this.  It’s an interesting  and true phenomena whether you agree with Jung’s understanding of the unconsciousness or not.  Not all traditional symbols are archetypes, but many are.  The ocean is an archetype that represents death, rebirth, timelessness, eternity, the mother of all life- it has in cultures of all times all over the world.  This is not a symbol Chopin just made up.  Do we know how she’s using it here, Christy, any ideas?  Well, we’ll have to see how she develops it along the way.  That’s the thing about symbols, they take a life of their own in the story but also inside of every different reader.  But let’s just take note of what we can see: they are at the seaside, Robert and Edna have been at the sea all day, and now Edna listens to the sea- to its mournful lullaby- it’s just something to pay attention to and watch.  In chapter 4, we meet our first Creole woman,  Mrs. Adele Raginolle, and my goodness she is basically described as a goddess.   Chopin says there are no words to describe her, she’s that gorgeous.  She’s the bygone heroine of romance.  Oh yes, I’m intimidated by just reading about her.  I also want to point out before we get too far away from our discussion of archetypes that Chopin does a lot of things in threes- an archetypal number.  There are three women- Adele, Edna and this other one we’re going to meet in chapter 9, Mademoiselle Reisz.  Edna was raised in a household of 3 girls.  She had three crushes before marrying Leonce.  She has three male lovers in the later part of the book.  She has three homes to consider living in later on- it’s all carefully constructed and thematic, and we’ll need to look at all of them. But we’ll start with the women.  First, the amazing Adele.  She reminds me of some of the Louisianan beauties that intimated me when I showed up my ninth grade year at West Monroe  Junior High School, home of the Colonels.  Adele is perfect- gracious, well-mannered.  She is Southern charm writ large. Let me quote, “there was nothing subtle or hidden about her charms; her beauty was all there, flaming and apparent: the spungold hair that comb nor confining pin could restrain; the blue eyes that were nothing but sapphires, two lips that pouted, that were so red one could only think of cherries or some other delicious or crimson fruit in looking at them.”  Does it get any more perfect than that?  HA!, well, before she even talks about her physical beauty we find out she is the ideal mother-woman, and Chopin describes what that is.  A  mother-woman is one who is “fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood.”  A woman who and again I quote, “idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.”  Christy,  of course we’re supposed to notice the wings, but I can’t help but detect a slight bit of sarcasm on the part of the narrator.  Is she mocking “mother-women”? That whole description of Adele and the mother-women sound over the top.  Great point and good question- and truly hits on another of the several brilliant strokes of this novel. We talked about this when discussing Jane Austen, but Chopin uses the same narrative style Jane Austen used- this thing we call free indirect discourse. And- for me this is important in understanding the novel as a whole.   What Chopin does is manipulates our perspective of events by mixing the perspective of a neutral narrator  and merging that perspective with perspectives of the characters, mostly Edna’s but not always.  When we have this objective narrator we see sarcasm and strong opinion, like when we saw that Mr. Pontellier looked at Edna on page two as a valuable piece of property.  That’s the narrator’s perspective, but then sometimes we have with this also an ability to merge into the point of view of one of the characters and see how they see things- like when Edna describes not really being in love with Leonce when they got married or fighting with her younger sister or even crying alone.   Sometimes we even see things from the point of view of another character, and a lot of times this objective narrator is very ironic about this- like here, but we saw it before when Leonce came in from the club at 11pm after Edna was asleep.  Listen to how Chopin phrases this, “He thought it very discouraging that his wife, who was the sole object of his existence, evinced so little interest in the things which concerned him and valued so little his conversation.  Isn’t that ironic and kind of funny.  It seems unreasonable for him to think of her as the object of his existence. But the way she writes it makes us understand that Robert really and truly believes Edna is the center of his universe.  We just don’t buy it.  Here again, we truly believe that everyone thinks Adele is the ideal woman, we’re just not so sure we should buy it.  It doesn’t really seem a holy privilege to us to be efface oneself as an individual and grow wings as a ministering angel.  In fact, it sounds terrible.  Never mind the fact, that right after that glowing recommendation of Adele’s perfection, we are let on to the fact that she fakes being sick all the time.  Why do that?  That’s manipulative- that’s not a perfect angel at all.  Well, being around Adele, being around all the sensuous women and you haven’t mentioned the dirty book these ladies passed around, that embarrasses Edna- but all of this changes Edna.  She’s not use to the carefree openness of the Croele culture towards sensuality.  She doesn’t understand it.  And to add onto that, being around the ocean, being around this adoring younger man, Robert, being around the physicality of the females towards each other affects her- it’s the sensuality that awakens something in her, if you will.  She had felt it slightly before, but shut it down and almost prided herself in shutting it down by marrying Leonce.     And, in some ways, it comes in slowly and takes her by surprise.  By chapter six Edna is starting to dream, to feel emotional- something beyond just whatever is going on between her and Mr. Pontellier.  In short, “Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relationships as an individual to the world within and about her.  Ths may seem like a ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon the soul of a young woman of 28- perhaps more wisdom than the Holy Ghost is usually pleased to vouchsafe to any woman. But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing.  How few of us ever emerge from such beginnings!  How many souls perish in its tumult!  The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abyss of solitude, to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation.  The voice of the sea speaks to the soul.  The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.”  Dang, that’s definitely an outside narrator.  It feels a little like foreshadowing.     The language is metaphorical- the ocean is personified- it’s alive.    There are two things that really stand out to me psychologically, the first is the admission that chaos is the beginning of things.  Which of course is true.  Organizing chaos is what starting anything is about.  But that is problematic.  Chaos requires a lot of effort and responsibility to untangle.  Is Edna ready to begin something like that?  Is that what she wants? Because we aren’t given any hints that Edna looks towards anything.  The text goes to a lot of trouble to suggest that she’s whimsical, thoughtless, impulsive, almost childish even.  What comes after an awakening is naturally more responsibility- the exercise of agency as Bandura would describe it.  We haven’t seen much of a responsible side in Edna. The second is how dangerous the ocean is expressed to be- which of course is something everyone knows who’s ever gotten into the ocean.  The ocean is certainly seductive; it’s beautiful but incredibly dangerous?  And thus the second question?  Is Chopin suggesting that Edna is walking into something that is deceptively beautiful- something that looks enticing but is actually terrible- something that promises to be an awakening but actually something that would silence her forever.  Just asking for a friend, as they say?  As a man, I wouldn’t want to presume to unsettle any woman’s spiritual awakening.    HA!  No, I would say you would not- that would be wading in dangerous waters- parumpum.  And of course, you are right on all accounts.  Edna doesn’t look forward, but she does look back and in chapter 7 as she and Adele stroll on the beach, Chopin takes us back into Edna’s past.  Edna reflects on the three men she had crushes on, how being infatuated made her feel.  This is the chapter where Edna reflects on not loving Leonce but enjoying his flattery.    She also awakens in chapter 7 to the idea that she has mixed feelings about her own children.  She doesn’t think she loves her kids the way Adele loves hers.  And I quote, “She was fond of her children in an uneven, impulsive way.  She would sometimes gather them passionately to her heart; she would sometimes forget them…their absence was a sort of relief, though she did not admit this, even to herself.  It seemed to free her of a responsibility which she had blindly assumed and for which Fate had not fitted her. Garry, what do you think about that?  Well, it’s hard not to diagnose Edna, even though it’s not prudent to diagnose fictional characters. Obviously Kate Chopin is an incredibly observant student of human behavior.  She has seen this in real life.  Her interest in Edna is microscopic in some of the details.  What we know now from neuroscientists as well as psychologists who study attachment theory is that some women because they weren’t nurtured as babies or children DO have trouble attaching to their own children.  Obviously that was not Kate Chopin’s experience, but she clearly saw it somewhere.  She goes to great lengths to talk about how isolated Edna was as a child, how her mother was dead and her older sister was distant.  When we meet Edna’s father later on in the book, the reader can see for themselves that he’s mean.  It seems clear, that Edna either feels guilty or at least feels like she at least should feel guilty that she doesn’t seem to feel the way Adele feels towards either her husband or her children.  There’s a very telling passage at the end of chapter 16 where she tells Adele that she would never sacrifice herself for her children or for anyone.  That had actually started an argument with Adele.  Edna says this, “I would give up the unessential; I would give up my money, I would give up my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself.  I can’t make it more clear; it’s only something which I am beginning to comprehend which is revealing itself to me.”  I would also add, that that might be a dangerous thing to say in a Victorian world.  A Victorian woman would never admit to having such a feeling.  That wouldn’t be well-received.  Yes, I’ve read that passage too.  In fact, it’s quoted a lot as a passage for female empowerment.  A woman saying she won’t give up her essence as an individual- to be subsumed into anyone else- be it a child or a man or anything.  Yes, and maybe that’s what it means, but it may not mean that.  It may mean that she just can’t.  She literally can’t.  Lots of men and women both give up their lives for their families, their friends, even their country- and giving up their lives doesn’t mean giving up their identities. It means they love greatly.  I’m wondering if Chopin is suggesting Edna is realizing she is incapable of loving anyone outside herself, at least not loving greatly.  It’s not entirely clear to me which direction she intends to direct this character.    So, if Adele is the first model of woman for Edna, the second model is Madame Reisz.  Adele and Madame Reisz are foils.  Total contrasts.  Chapter 9 introduces Reisz at an evening party there at Grand Isle.  I should mention that the treatment of time in this novel is completely non-traditional.  There are large gaps of time between events, so you just have to keep up.  Anyway, a few weeks have passed between chapter 8 and chapter 9.  In chapter 8 is where Adele tells Robert to stop flirting with Edna because, to use Adele’s words “she is not like us” and she might take him seriously.    Of course, Robert ignores Adele’s warning and spends all of his time with Edna.  He seems to have decide he’s good with that.   Yeah, he’s good with that until he isn’t…but that’s not the point I want to make here- In chapter 9, we meet another version of a feminine ideal in the person of Madame Reisz  The summer residents of the Grand Isle are having a party at the big house.  Everyone’s dancing.  Adele is on the piano since she’s too pregnant to dance herself, and everyone is having the best time. It’s pointed out that Adele plays the piano, not because she cares about the piano but because music makes her kids and husband happy.  Music brightens their home.  It’s a means to an end, but not the end itself.   She is passionate about her family- that’s the goal.    She is the mother-woman, after all.    Exactly- but not so with Mademoiselle Reisz.  Mademoiselle Reisz we will see is the artist-woman.  Mademoiselle Reisz’ relationship with music is much deeper.  Music is the end for her.  It’s her passion. and her music doesn’t make people happy it moves them to another place entirely.    Before we talk about how Madame Reisz’ music affects everyone including Edna, let’s see how Chopin describes Madame Reisz- and contrast that with how she compared Adele. if you remember Adelle is the most beautiful creature to alight on planert earth.  But here’s Madame Reisz.  She was a disagreeable little woman, no longer young, who had quarreled with almost everyone, owing to a temper which was self-assertive and a disposition to trample upon the rights of others….she was a homely woman, with a weazened face and body and eyes that glowed.  She had absolutely no taste in dress, and wore a batch of rusty black lace with a bunch of artificial violents pinned to th side of her hair.”  Well, that’s not exactly flattering.  No, I’d say it isn’t.  She is not a mother-woman either.  She’s single and strong in a different way, not that Adele isn’t strong because I think she is.   It’s just a different feminine ideal. When Madame Reisz plays the piano it sends a tremor down Edna’s spinal cord, literally.  Let me read the text here, “the very passions themselves were aroused within her soul, swaying it, lashing it, as the waves daily beat upon her splendid body.  She trembled, she was choking and tears blinded her.”    Edna is crying again, but this time it’s very different.    True, and it is this night that Edna finally learns to swim.  Robert talks the entire party out into the white moonlight for a late night swim.  The sea is quiet, and Edna for the first time, boldly and with overconfidence goes into the water all by herself.   She has been trying all summer to learn to swim and has failed, but tonight it’s different.  A feeling of exultation overtakes her.  She grows and I quote, “daring and reckless, overestimating her strength, she wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before.”  She’s intoxicated by her power to swim alone.  The text says, ‘she seemed to be reaching out for the unlimited in which to lose herself.”  She tells Robert how swimming made her feel as he walks her back to her cottage.  She said this, “A thousand emotions have swept through me tonight.  I don’t comprehend half of them…she goes on to say.  It is like a night in a dream.”    She stays on the porch that night instead of going in to bed like she usually does.  Mr. Pontellier comes home sometime past 1am (although I’m not quite sure where he went after the beach party), and she’s still on the porch wide awake.  He tells her to come in with him.  The text says that she normally would have “yielded to his desire”- however you want to understand that- but this night for the first time in her life, she tells him no.  She feels strong- maybe even masculine.  He’s kind of shocked and stays on the porch with her the entire night.  The text says this, “Edna began to feel like one who awakens gradually out of a dream, a delicious, grotesque, impossible dream, to feel again the realities pressing into her soul.”  That sounds like she has had her awakening.    Well, it does, but then what does that awakening impel her to do?  The very first paragraph of chapter 12 says this, She was blindly following whatever impulse moved her, as if she had placed herself in alien hands for direction, and freed her soul of responsibility.”  That does NOT sound like empowerment or Dr. Bandura’s description of human agency.  It sounds like the opposite of empowerment.    Impulsivity and irresponsibility are not noble character traits that lead to success.  No, and if Edna is the parrot from the first chapter of the book, it seems to me, she might be parroting the behavior of her husband as her first acts of independence.  She tries to outwait him at night, then, the next morning, she gets up early and leaves him, just has he has done to her every single day.  She calls Robert and is gone, and she stays gone until 9pm at night leaving Adele to put her kids down.   It seems to me Edna and Leonce have more in common than we might have thought from the first two chapters of the book.    Yeah, the text literally says, “She was blindly following whatever impulse moved her, as if she had placed herself in alien hands for direction, and freed her soul of responsibility.”  Robert even mentions to Edna that he had often noticed that she lacked forethought.  There’s that word again- responsibility.  And hence the great paradox Edna does not understand responsibility and freedom go hand in hand.  If you don’t have responsibility, you really can’t have freedom.  Edna tries to have one at the expense of the other.    She also starts things and doesn’t see them through.  Even on this little adventure outing, she starts the mass, but walks out.  She literally goes into the house of a woman she doesn’t know, imposes herself by laying on her bed and sleeps the entire day away.  She is able to exercise freedom, but often only because other people are willing to take responsibility for her.    The first part of the book ends with chapter 16.  Robert has announced that he is leaving Grand Isle and going to Mexico.    We are left to infer, that after a day with Edna and the realization he might have real feelings for her, he doesn’t want the entanglement taking responsibility for that will bring.  Edna, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to get it.  She is distraught.  She doesn’t know how will she spend the rest of her summer without Robert.  Her husband literally asks her, “How do you get on without him, Edna?”  Which I think is a question I would never ask you about another man, but again I’m not a Victorian Creole.  Ha, no, that’s true, but these two don’t think a thing about it.  Let me read this part, “It did not strike her as in the least grotesque that she should be making or Robert the object of conversation and leading her husband to speak of him.  The sentiment which she entertained for Robert in no way resembled that which she felt for her husband, or had ever felt, or ever expected to feel.  She had all her life been accustomed to harbor thoughts and emotions which never voiced themselves.  They had never taken the form of struggles.  They belonged to her and were her own, and she entertained the conviction that she had a right to them and they concerned no one but herself.”- again that outside narrator commenting somewhat ironically on the state of affairs.    Well, our solitary soul has not found wings, but she has found her sea legs and is exercising them.  I don’t find her behavior necessarily admirable at this point, but, but as we said in the beginning of the podcast- beginings are always chaotic.  That’s the normal state of affairs.  The question will be, is Edna capable of creating a story for herself?  She has decided she hasn’t been the protagonist of her own life, she’s been a parrot, or an object of Leonce’s.  She’s awakened to that in some way, she has begun.  She has two models of womanhood before her- the mother-woman of Adele and the artist-woman of Madame Reisz.   Next episode we will see the middle part of her story, what will Edna do when she goes back home?  What will she do when she’s away from the sea, the dreamy unreality of vacation life.  Will she take on new responsibilities with her awakening?    Will Leonce?  Indeed, things aren’t always the same when we get back home after vacation.  So, thanks for listening………..  peace OUT.                  See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.
Kate Chopin - The Awakening - Episode 1 - Meet The Author, Discover Local Color And Feminism!
Apr 30 2022
Kate Chopin - The Awakening - Episode 1 - Meet The Author, Discover Local Color And Feminism!
Kate Chopin - The Awakening - Episode 1 - Meet The Author, Discover Local Color And Feminism! I’m Christy Shriver, and we’re here to discuss books that have changed the world and have changed us.  And I’m Garry Shriver, and this is the How to Love lit Podcast.  This episode we begin a journey to a very unique American location to discuss a very American author. Kate Chopin, was born in St Louis but her heritage is more associated with Louisiana than with Missouri as she is from an originally American people group, the Louisianan Creole’s.  Christy, I know, you lived a part of your life in Louisiana, and your dad’s family is from Louisiana.  As we discuss Kate Chopin and her unusual and ill-received novel The Awakening, I think a great place to start our discussion, especially for those who may not be familiar with American geography, is with the Pelican State itself.   What makes Louisiana so unusual than the rest of the United States, and why does that matter when we read a book like The Awakening.  Well, there are so many things that people think of when the think of Louisiana- Louisianan distinctive include Mardi Gras, crawfish bowls, jazz music, bayous, The French Quarter of New Orleans and its beignets.  The list is cultural distinctives is long.   But, just for a general reference, Louisiana is part of the American South.  Now, it might seem that the states that constitute the South are kind of all the same- and in some respects that’s true.  Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, and the rest of them, … after all, they all succeeded from the Union during the Civil War, they all had slaves, they all have had to one degree or another racial tension over the last two hundred years, and, of course, to bring it to modern-day, they all are deeply entrenched in a tradition of American football, barbeque, shot guns, sweet tea, the Bible and a general admiration of good manners that include addressing each other as mr. mrs, yes mam and no sir.    Ha!  Yes, that IS the South.  I remember moving down here and being frustrated that I could never find anywhere that served tea without sugar- and when they say sweet tea down here- I’m talking one step away from maple syrup.    I like it!!!     People do and feel strongly about it.  In fact a lot of people have a lot have strong feelings about this part of the United States.  Some love the South; others hate it.  It’s a part of the United States that is historical, by American standards, although laughably young compared to other parts of the world,  and controversial- to this very day.   Yes, yet having said that,  once you move here, it doesn’t take you long to realize that  The South is not one cohesive unit.  Every state is very different.  Florida was colonized by the Spanish- and has strong ties to places such as Cuba to this day.  Virginia was the seat of government and is still central to the heart of American politics.  The horse-racing people of Kentucky are very different from their cotton-growing neighbors in Mississippi.  There are many many cultural distinctives that are both old and deep.  Which brings us to the great state of Louisiana- Louisiana, especially South Louisiana, in some ways has more in common with the Caribbean islands than it does with other parts of the United States.  My daddy was born in Spring Hill, Louisiana and raised in Bastrop Louisiana which are in North Louisiana- far from the coast but the people of north Louisiana share many commonalities with their Cajun and Creole brothers.  I have early memories of magnolia trees, cypress trees, bayous, shrimp gumbo,  and, of my Uncle Lanny taking us in the middle of the night out with his hound dogs to go coon hunting- as in racoon hunting.    So, for the record, these are things you don’t see in other parts of the United States.    Indeed, they don’t have bayous and gumbo anywhere else- and although they do have racoons in other places and likely hunt and eat them, I don’t know.  The whole government of Louisiana is different and its visible.  They have parishes instead of counties.  The law is based on French law, not British law which affects everything.   It is predominantly Catholic not Protestant, hence Mardi Gras, which is what they call Carnival in Brazil but which we don’t celebrate in other part of the US.  But what interests us for this book is the ethnic origins of the people indigenous to the region.     The rural part of the state has been dominated by a group we call Cajuns.  Cajuns are Roman Catholic French Canadians, or at least their descendents were.    They were run out of the Captured French Colony called Acadia in North Eastern Canada- it’s actually be termed “the Acadian diaspora”.  Acadia was in the maritime provinces up on the Atlantic side, near the US state of Maine. That part of Canada was very British hence the obvious antagonism.    Well, The word Acadians kind of morphed into Cajuns over the years.  That’s one people group.  But we also have another distinctively Louisianan people group  called the Louisiana Creoles.  This group of people ethnically are entirely different group than the Cajuns but also speak French.  Our author today, Kate Chopin was a creole, and she wrote about Lousianan Creole people.  Garry, before we introduce the Mrs. Chopin, local color and her influencial work, The Awakening, let’s learn just a little about these remarkable people.  Who are the Creoles of Louisiana?  Well, let me preface by saying, as Kate Chopin would be the first to admit, history is always messy- people marry, intermarry, languages get confused and muddled, so when we talk about distinctives, we are talking about generalities, and if you want take to talk about Creole people the first word that must come to mind is multi-cultural.  There are creole peoples all over the Caribbean.  Haiti is the first country that comes to mind, so we need to be careful as we speak in generalities. But  the first generality you will notice of the Louisianan Creole people shows up in the first chapter of Chopin’s book, and that is that they also speak the French language, except for the Louisiana Creoles that can mean two different actual languages.  Today, and the latest stat, I saw was from May of 2020,  1,281,300 identified French as their native tongue- that would be Colonial French, standard French and the speakers of would include both people groups the Cajuns and the Louisianan Creoles.  But what is even more interesting than that is that the language Louisiana Creole is its own distinctive indigenous language, and is not the same as Haitian Creole or Hawaiian Creole or any other form of Creole where you might hear that word.  Meaning, Louisianan Creole although having origins in the French language is not French at all but its own distinct language.   This is confusing because the Cajuns speak a dialect of French that sounds different than the French from France or Quebec, but it's still French and French speakers can understand what they are saying even if it sounds different than the way they might pronounce things.  That’s different. Creole is French-based, but has African influences and is literally its own language and French speakers cannot understand it.  Today it’s an endangered language, only about 10,000 people speak it, but it is still alive.     Yeah, that wasn’t something I understood as a teenager living in Louisiana. I thought Cajun- Creole all meant Lousianan.  Since we lived in North Louisiana, I never met anyone personally who spoke Lousiana Creole.  All the Creole’s I came into contact, including Mrs. Devereaux, my French teacher spoke traditional French, which is what they do in Chopin’s book too, btw.     Of course, Cajuns and Creole people have a lot in common in terms of religion and even in taste in cuisine, but where they differ tremendously is in ethnicity and also in social class.  The Cajuns are white and from Canada but often rural and historically lower-middle class.  The Creole’s are not white, but culturally a part of the urban elite, the ruling class.  They are the first multi-cultural people group on the American continent and deserve a special status for that reason.  Explain that, because that’s really interesting.  Today, to be multi-cultural is cool, but 100 years ago when ethnic groups did not intermingle, and being a multi-cultural group that was upper class seems like a huge anomaly.  Although I will say the word “creole” tips you off to the multi-cultural element.  It actually comes from the Portuguese word “crioulo” and the word itself means people who were created.   And again, I do want to point out that this is kind of a very big simplification of a couple of hundred years of history, but in short, the criolos were people who were born in the new World- but mostly of mixed heritage.  Gentlemen farmers, primarily French and Spanish came over to the new world.  A lot of them came  by way of the Caribbean after the slave revolt in Haiti.   They had relationships and often even second families with local people here. Many were Black slaves, others were native Americans, lots were mulattos who also came from the Caribbean.  Unlike mixed raced people from Mississippi or Alabama, Creoles were not slaves.  They were free people.  They were educated.  They spoke French and many rose to high positions of politics, arts and culture. They were the elite, many were slaveholders.  Now, I will say, that most chose to speak Colonial French over Louisiana Creole as they got more educated, also over time as we got closer to the Civil War era being mixed race in and of itself got pretty complicated with the black/white caste-system of the South, which is another story in and of itself.   And as a result, you had creoles who were identifying as white and others who didn’t- Chopin’s family were white creoles.  But regardless of all that, but in the 1850s and through the life of Chopin, until today, Creoles are a separate people group that identify themselves as such.  They are a proud group of people who worship together, connect socially together, and often build communities around each other. They have societal behaviors and customs that set them apart, and we learn by looking at life through Edna Pontellier's eyes, have a culture that can difficult for an outsider to penetrate, if you marry an insider.  And so enters, Mrs. Kate Chopin, born in 1851 to a mother who was Creole and a father who was a Irish, both Catholic. She was not born in Louisisana, but in the great midwestern city of St. Louis.  St Louis, at the time had a rather large Creole population by virtue of being a city on the Mississippi river- which runs from New Orleans miles north. Her mom’s family was old, distinguished and part of what has been termed the “Creole Aristocracy”.  Kate grew up speaking French as a first language, and as many Creole women was raised to be very independent by three generations of women in the household. She received an exceptional education, was interested in what they called “the woman question”.  This will give you an indication of how progressive her family actually was, now brace yourself because this is scandalous….on a trip to New Orleans at the ripe age of 18, Kate learned to smoke.  Oh my, did she smoke behind the high school gym or in the bathroom stalls?  Ha!  Who even knows, but we do know that at age 19 she married the love of her life, another Creole, Oscar Chopin.  Kate and Oscar were very compatible and the years she was married to him have been described as nothing but really happy by all of her biographers that I’m familiar with.  They lived in New Orleans at first and then to Natchitoches parish in the central Louisiana where he owned and operated a general store.  They were married for 12 years, and- this small fact wipes me out- they had five sons and two daughters.  Ha!  That confirms all the Catholic stereotypes of large families.    I know right, that’s just a lot…and their lives were, by all accounts, going well until…there’s always an until… Oscar suffered the fate of a lot of people around the world even to this day, who live in hot climates.  He caught malaria, and suddenly died.  And there Kate was, alone in the middle of the interior of Louisiana,  with this store and all these kids.  She ran it herself for over a year, but then decided to do what lots of us would do in that situation…she moved back to the hometown of her childhood, St. Louis so she could be near her mother- I didn’t mention it before but her father had died in a terrible railroad accident when she was a young child and her brother had died in the Civil War- so basically all of the men that had meant anything to her at all, had all died.  One of Kate’s daughters had this to say about that later on when she was an adult talking about her mom, “When I speak of my mother’s keen sense of humor and of her habit of looking on the amusing side of everything, I don’t want to give the impression of her being joyous, for she was on the contrary rather a sad nature…I think the tragic death of her father early in her life, of her much beloved brothers, the loss of her young husband and her mother, left a stamp of sadness on her which was never lost.”    Goodness, that Is a lot of sadness.  Well, it is and it took a toll.  When she got back to St. Louis, Dr. Kolbenheyer, their obgyn and a family friend talked her into studying some French writers for the sake of  mental health, specifically Maupassant and Zola and take up writing.  She took that advice ..…so at age 38 a widow with six living children, Chopin began her writing career.  A career, sadly that was only going to last five years.  It started great, and she was super popular, but then….she wrote a scandalous book and was cancelled, and I mean totally cancelled.  Five years after the publication of  this candalous book that today we call The Awakening, she had a stroke and died.  At the time of her death, Kate Chopin as a writer, was virtually unknown and uncelebrated.    What do you mean by cancelled? That sounds like a crazy story for a mommy writer.  True, and it is.  When she started  writing, she was super popular.  This kind of reminds me a little of Shirley Jackson, honestly.  She wrote short things for magazines for money.  What made her work popular, at least in part, was because writing about a subculture of America that people found interesting.  Although she was living in St. Louis, her stories were set in Louisiana amongst the Creole people- and people loved it.  This movement in American literature where authors focus on a specific region or people group  has been called “Local Color”, and her ability to showcase the local color of the Creole people led her to success.      Subcultures are so fascinating to me and I’m always amazed at how many different subcultures there are- and I’m not talking about just ethnically. There are endless subcultures on this earth, and most of the time we don’t even know what we’re looking at.  Oh, for sure.  I think of guitar players as their own subculture- they speak their own language, have their own passions, I wouldn’t be surprised if they have their own foods.   HA!  Do I sense a bit of mockery?  But you are right, we do have a little bit of a subculture, but if you think guitarists are a subculture, what do you think of my cousin Sherry who is neck deep into Harley Davidson culture and goes to Sturgis, South Dakota every year.   True, and there are hundreds of thousands of people who participate in that subculture all over the world   And of course, we’re talking about hobbies which are not the same as actual ethnic subcultures in any location, understanding and just seeing behind the fence of someone else’ experience is the fun.  The idea of living life vicariously through the stories, so to speak, of people who are so radically differently is one of the things I most love about reading.  In the real sense of the term “local color” though, this was an actual movement after the Civil War.  Authors were using settings from different parts of the country and it made the writing feel romantic for people unfamiliar with the setting while actually being fundamentally realistic- I know that’s a paradox, but if you think about it it makes sense.  They were works that could only be written from inside the culture by someone who was a part of it- that’s what made them realistic.   Chopin was considered a local color author because she was Creole writing about the world of Louisiana Creoles.    Well, apparently it was well received.  She got stories printed first in regional publications but then in national publications.  “The Story of an Hour” which was the only story I had ever read of hers, and I didn’t know this, was published in Vogue in 1894.    Very impressive, Houghton Mifflin, the publisher that to this day publishes quite a bit of high school literature textbooks actually published a collection of her stories, titled it Bayou Folk.  So, just in the title, you can tell they are playing up her Louisiana connection.  And that book was a success.  Chopin, who kept notes on how well all of her works were doing, wrote that she had seen 100 press notices about the book.  It was written up in both The Atlantic and the New York Times.  People loved how she used local dialects. They found the stories and I quote “charning and pleasant.”  She was even asked to write an essay on writing for the literary journal Critic- which I found really insightful.   Well, of course, all of these things sound like a woman bound for monetary and critical success- stardom of her day.     And so her trajectory kept ascending.  She was published in the Saturday Evening Post.  Of course that was a big deal.  Everything was moving in the right direction….until.. The Awakening.  The Awakening was too much and she crashed immediately and hard.   You know, when I read these reviews from 1899, it’s so interesting how strongly they reacted.  Let me read a few, her local paper, The St Louis Daily Globe-Democrat wrote this, “It is not a healthy book….if it points any particular moral or teaches any lesson the fact is not apparent.” The Chicago Times Herald wrote, “It was not necessary for a writer of so great refinement and poetic grace to enter the over-worked field of sex-fiction.  This is not a pleasant story.”  Here’s another one, “its disagreeable glimpses of sensuality are repellent.”    She was not prepared for this.  She did not expect it.  She was expecting people to see it as the American version of some of the things she had been reading in French that had been published in France.  Her treatment of sexuality is what really got her, and maybe if her protagonist had been male she could have gotten away with it.  Actually, I’m pretty sure, she would have gotten away with it, there are other authors who did.  But discussing how women felt about sexuality- and let me say- in case you haven’t read the book- this is not a harlequin romance.  She doesn’t talk about hot steamy passion in descriptive tones.  She is very polished and shows deference to the WAY things were expressed in her day.  The problem was not in how she was treating sexual content- the problem was that she WAS discussing how women felt about sexuality and this just was too realistic.  People weren’t and maybe we still aren’t, ready to be vulnerable about how we feel about intimacy.    You know, I tell students all the time that in American politics, sexual issues have always been used as a wedge issue to define people’s position as good or bad people.  That has not changed in the American political scene in 200 years and is something our European and Asian friends have mocked us about for just as long.  We are a people committed to moralizing, even to this day.  For a long time, it was cloaked in religion, but now, hyperbolic moralizing, although not done in the name of a faith is still a favorite American pastime.    Well, honestly, I guess that’s also been true for the arts as well.  But honestly, greatr art is never moralizing.  And Chopin knew that.  Furthermore, if anyone had read that essay Chopin printed about her writing that I referenced, they would have seen that Chopin, by design, does NOT moralize in hers.  She does not condemn or judge.  She has no interest in telling us how we should or shouldn’t behave.  She sees the role of the artist, and clearly stated as much,  and the role of fiction as in demonstrating how we genuinely ARE as human beings.  It is a role of showcasing the human experience.  It is meant to help us understand ourselves.  What she does in her writing by using a culture that is unfamiliar to us, is allow us a safer space from which we can pull back the veil that IS our experience, so we can see ourselves.  Let me quote her from that essay and here she’s talking about the Creole people of Louisiana,   “Among these people are to be found an earnestness in the acquirement and dissemination of book-learning, a clinging to the past and conventional standards, an almost Creolean sensitiveness to criticism and a singular ignorance of, or disregard for, the value of the highest art forms. There is a very, very big world lying not wholly in northern Indiana, nor does it lie at the antipodes, either. It is human existence in its subtle, complex, true meaning, stripped of the veil with which ethical and conventional standards have draped it.” Well, regardless of how she wanted to come across, apparently, she struck a nerve people didn’t want struck.  The Awakening unsettled America.  The book was published in April of 1899, by August critics were destroying it, and again I’ll use the reviewers words,  it had been deemed “morbid and unwholesome” and was reproached on a national stage.  She was scorned publicly.  When she submitted a new short story to the Atlantic “Ti Demon” in November after the publication of The Awakening it was returned and rejected.    Her own publisher, the one who had published the controversial book decided to “shorten is list of authors”- and they dropped her.  Of course to be fair, they claimed that decision had nothing to do with the problems with the reception of The Awakening.  I’m sure that it didn’t.  Chopin was obviously crushed.  She would only write seven more stories over the next five years.  In 1904 when she died of a stroke, she was basically a forgotten writer.  And likely would have remained forgotten until, ironically the French discovered the novel in 1952.  A writer by the name of Cyrille Arnavon translated it into French under the title Edna with a 22 page introduction essay called it a neglected masterpiece.  What he liked about it had nothing to do with “local color” or creole people or anything Americana.  He saw in it what we see in it today- psychological analysis.    So fascinating, this is the 1950s; this is exactly the time period psychology is shifting from Freudian interpretations of Chopin's’ day into behaviorism and eventually to humanistic psychology.    Why does this matter?  With Freud everything is secret and we’re ruled by unseen forces we don’t understand without psychoanalysis.  Chopin’s book came out when this was how we were looking at the world.  After him came Skinner’s behaviorism which said everything can be reduced to rewards and punishments.   Humanistic psychology is this third way of looking at things.  It’s extremely empathetic.  Names like Karl Rogers were looking at life with the idea that it’s just plain difficult to be a human, and we need to understand this complexity.  They would like books that are not all black/white thinking or moralistic.  This is what’s crazy to me about Chopin.  She wrote in the days of Freud, but she was so far ahead of her time psychologically; nobody would get her for another 60 years- literally two entire movements later in the field of psychology.    Well, when they did get her, they really got her.  In 1969 a Norwegian critic Per Seyersted brought her out into the open in a big way.  This is what he said, “ Chopin, and I quote “broke new ground in American literature. She was the first woman writer in her country to accept passion as a legitimate subject for serious, outspoken fiction. Revolting against tradition and authority; with a daring which we can hardy fathom today; with an uncompromising honesty and no trace of sensationalism, she undertook to give the unsparing truth about woman’s submerged life. She was something of a pioneer in the amoral treatment of sexuality, of divorce, and of woman’s urge for an existential authenticity. She is in many respects a modern writer, particularly in her awareness of the complexities of truth and the complications of freedom.”  Finally people were understanding what she was trying to do.  That’s exactly what she wanted to show- the complexity of being human.  Here’s another Chopin quote whole talking about the role of a writer, “Thou shalt not preach; “thou shalt not instruct thy neighbor”.  Or as her great- grandmother Carleville, who was extremely influencial in her life, used to tell her, Kate’s grandmother who raised her was known for saying this “One may know a great deal about people without judging them.  God does that.”  Well, she was immediately resurrected.  Today she is considered one of America’s premiere writers.  Well, it also didn’t hurt her reputation that she was being discovered in Europe at the exact same time, the women’s movement was taking off in the United States and finding an unsung feminist writer was very popular.   Yeah, I thought she WAS a feminist writer, but you don’t see her as that.  I really don’t, and that’s not to say there isn’t any feminism in the book, because obviously, it’s about life as a woman at the turn of the century.  Virginia Wolfe famouslty argued in her essay A Room of One’s Own that no one knew what women were thinking and feeling in the 17th century because they weren’t writing.  Well, you can’t say that about Chopin.  She was absolutely writing about what women were thinking and feeling, it just took 60 years for the world to allow her to share it.     If we want to talk the particulars about The Awakening, which of course we do, we have a female protagonist.  I’m not going to call her a hero because I don’t find anything heroic about her.  But it’s very very honest characterization of what women feel, and honestly, perhaps it’s what a lot of people feel- both men and women when they live, as we all do, within cultures of high expectations.    Isn’t writing about standing up to cultural norms and societal expectations kind of cliché?  I’m surprised you find it interesting in this situation.   Well, it for sure can be.  It’s what a lot of teenage angst poetry is about.  But Chopin’s book is a lot more complex than just a denouncement on social expectations of women’s roles.  In some ways, that’s just the setting.  This particular woman, Edna, is for sure, unhappyily objectified by a husband.  That part is obvious.  But, Chopin isn’t necessarily moralizing against this or anything else.  In the opening encounter between husband and wife, we see the wife being objectified, but we also see that they have worked out some deal.  She has a very privileged life.  It’s not a life between two people who have emotional intimacy, for sure.  These two clearly don’t.  Edna asks if her husband plans on showing up for dinner.  He basically sayd, I don’t know- I may; I may not.  It doesn’t appear Edna could care less one way or another and Chopin isn’t condemning them; she is observing.  This are the deals people are working out in the world.  She makes other observations in regard to Edna and her relationship with her children.  She loves her children; sort of; but it’s certainly not the motherly and passionate devotion most mothers feel towards their kids.  It’s definitely not the self-denying ideal, we see expressed through a different character in the book.  Again, Chopin is not endorsing nor condemning.  She’s observing.  There’s no doubt, Chopin herself was progressive.  She was raised in a house of dominant women.  She herself was a head of household.  She was educated.  She made money, but she had healthy relationships with the men in her life.  She is not a man-hater, that I can tell.  She never remarried but there is reason to believe she had at least one  other significant male relationship after her husband’s death.  So, portraying her as a woman who influenced feminism in any kind of deliberate way, I don’t think is something that she intended, nor was it something that happened.  She was cancelled.  I understand that, it’s just interesting that today, we think of her first and foremost as a feminist writer in large part because she had sexual content in her books.  Although, as I think about the progressive women in the 1890s, what we know about them from history is that most were not really be fans of indiscriminate sex.   Oh my, we’re getting edgy here, but I have to ask.  Why do you say that?  You have to understand this is before birth control.  Sexual relationships for women meant running the very real risk of generating children which was often a life-risking ordeal.  Kate herself had gone through that seven times in twelve years.  Women were spending half of their lives pregnant.  Many progressive women in this time period were not fighting for the freedom to have sex, they were fighting for the right to NOT have it.  They wanted the right to say no.  The goal of Self ownership was central to nineteenth century feminism.  Woman's rights were about possessing a fully realized human identity.  We think of this today in terms of sexual freedom but that’s the arrogance of the presence kicking in.  Obviously human sexuality is a core part of the human experience and that’s likely why it’s central to Chopin’s story, but there are other aspects of person hood.  Women, especially educated ones, were interested in navigating a sense of place in the community and the universe at large- and that involves all kinds of things- hard things like love, connections, maternity.  Exactly, and that’s why Edna is so complicated.  Being a human is difficult.   Navigating  “the woman’s sphere”, to use the expression of  the notable Chopin scholar Sandra Gilbert is complicated.  And so, we all find ourselves, one way or another in cages- some of our own making, some of the makings of our community, our religion, our culture, our own personalities- whatever it is.  And that is the opening of our story.  The Awakening starts with a woman in a cage.  This is not to say that men do not experience cages or awakenigs- they absolutely do, but Chopin is a woman and will speak from inside the world of women.  She will drop a woman named Edna, a middle child Presbyterian English speaking girl from Kentucky, into a French speaking Catholic world of elite Creole women.  Edna is flawed, but not awful.  She’s flawed in the sense that we are all flawed.  This woman acts out- in the way that many of us have acted out- often as children, but for some of us, we don’t experience this desire for agency until later in life.  For Edna it comes at the age of 26 and when it does- she will scandalize her world the way acting out always does.  She finds herself in a cage and decides she wants out...but then what…where do you go from there.  Let’s read how Chopin sets this up in the first paragraph of her story.  A green and yellow parrot, which hung in a cage outside the door, kept repeating over and over: “Allez vous-en! Allez vous-en! Sapristi! That’s all right!” He could speak a little Spanish, and also a language which nobody understood, unless it was the mocking-bird that hung on the other side of the door, whistling his fluty notes out upon the breeze with maddening persistence. Mr. Pontellier, unable to read his newspaper with any degree of comfort, arose with an expression and an exclamation of disgust. He walked down the gallery and across the narrow “bridges” which connected the Lebrun cottages one with the other. He had been seated before the door of the main house. The parrot and the mocking-bird were the property of Madame Lebrun, and they had the right to make all the noise they wished. Mr. Pontellier had the privilege of quitting their society when they ceased to be entertaining.  Christy, does she give the entire story away in the beginning?  She’s doing something.  She opens with a bird- a parrot. We will talk more about this later, but birds are a big deal in this book.  But why a parrot- what do parrots do- well they imitate.  They talk.  This parrot is in a cage repeating something an English reader may not understand.    What does that phrase mean?  It means Go away! Go away!  For God’s sake!  The bird is telling everyone to go away, and Mr. Pontellier pretty much ignores the bird and does actually go away.  The bird speaks a little Spanish but also a language no one else understands.  There’s a lot of intentionality here.  This book begins with a bird in a cage and the book ends with a bird, but I won’t tell you how we find that bird yet.     These 19th century writers were always using symbols on purpose.    They really do.  And if this one is our protagonist- what we can see is that she’s beautiful, she’s in a cage, and although she can talk, she cannot articulate something that can be heard properly or understood.    And so that is our starting point.  I think it is.  Next episode, we will join Edna and explore this beautiful place, Grand Isle- the site, and if the title of the book hasn’t given it away yet, I will, of her Awakening.  We will watch Edna awaken- but then, we know from our visit with Camus…that is only step one.  Now what.  Indeed…now what.  Well, thank you for spending time with us today.  We hope you have enjoyed meeting Kate Chopin and jumping into the first paragraph of her lost but rediscovered American masterpiece, The Awakening.  And if you did, please support us by sharing this episode with a firend, either by text, by twitter, Instagram or email.  That’s how we grow.  Also, if you have a favorite book, you’d like us to discuss, you are always invited to connect with us, again via all the ways Modern world people do.  Peace out!          See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.
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Apr 23 2022
Foo Fighters - Lyrics That Camus Would Call The Antidote For Absurdity!
Foo Fighters - Lyrics That Camus Would Call The Antidote Of Absurdity! Hi, I’m Christy Shriver, and we’re here to discuss books that have changed the world and have changed us.  And I am Garry Shriver, and this is the How to Love Lit Podcast.  You have heard Christy say, over dozens of times if you’ve listened to a lot of our episodes that we’re here to discuss books.  Having said that, the word “books”  is being used as a synecdoche- to use a literary word- in other words, books is a word we’re using to symbolize something bigger of which books is just a part- and that something bigger is this concept of words.  Words that have moved the world and have moved us.  And so, in that spirit, this week, we’re pausing from looking at traditional text and looking at music lyrics, specifically rock lyrics, specifically the phenomena that is Foo Fighters and their music.    And let me just add, for Garry, this is an exciting change of pace.  He’s been a guitar-head since childhood.  He’s a rock and roll and has been since, as a young teenager he saved up his money to buy his first  amp.  Tell us that story, Garry…this is for all the rock-n-roll heads who share a similar experience.    The story…..  And if you are like me, until I met Garry I had no idea that playing the guitar is akin to jumping down Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole.  To parody Freud, sometimes a guitar is not just a guitar-  No, for me the guitar was the gateway instrument into a whole new world of Rock and it was the way that I discovered a bigger world other than the small town I grew up in.…and I will add, not just me.  David Grohl, who started the band Foo Fighters, in 1995 talks about hearing the Album The Record by the band Fear and wanting to become a musician.   In fact, if you listen to Grohl’s ac   Well, you say ___________, It’s still a bit of a  rabbit hole- I mean just in terms of gear, for those of us who didn’t know, you can be a Gibson person, a telecaster person, a stratacaster person, a Gretch person- just to name a few of the kinds of electric guitars, nevermind the amps, the pedals, the boards, the pick ups, the tones- and that’s not even the music side of it- just the tech of blasting music on an electrical guitar- think of Michael J Fox in Back to the Future.    But having said that- once you put all those elements together, and if you do so in a genius sort of way, you will get a ticket to transcend into this other realm called Rock and Roll.  Today, and this stat is only an American stat, I don’t have the numbers worldwide, but today Rock is still the preferred genre of 56% of the American population, surpassing pop, country and rap- which I found surprising.  Rock albums still account for the majority of all vinyl music sales- although they do not surpass rap or country when it comes to streaming services- that might tell you something about demographics.  But in a world with so many things that divide us, Foo Fighter unite audiences which range over 4 generations and across all nation-states, rock and roll is a powerful unifier.      Yes, and the uncontested leading rock band in the world in 2022  is The Foo Fighters.  And how do we determine that?  Well we can look at awards,   they have won 12 grammies for one thing, including Best Album 4 times.  But awards are not an awesome metric to measure human impact- especially for Rock.  But there are others.  Since David Grohl started his one man band in Seattle in 1994, They have released 9 albums, gone on 9 worldwide tours which each lasted over a year-  just the 2017 tour from the album “Concrete and Gold” consisted of 113 shows on five continents grossing $114 million.  They have sold out the famed Wembley stadium in London- not once but twice, oh and it sold out in 24 hours.  That stadium holds 86,000 people.  Another big hint as to the enormity of their impact from that same tour was the performance at Glastonbury, when over 150,000 people were documented singing in unison the lyrics to their song “Best of You”.  Their top five songs, just on Spotify, which is only one and not even the largest of streaming  services have over 2.5 billion downloads- and that is just on Spotify.  They have 16 million monthly listeners on Spotify.  In 2021 they were inducted into the rock and Roll hall of fame, the first year they were eligible.  There is no overstating the influence, the passion, the commitment and connection that this group of men, led by Dave Grohl, has had on over 4 generations of humans of all ages, races, and gender from all over the world these last 25 years.  Literally hundreds of millions have been touched by their music both in person and over the sound ways.    And so today, we would like to look at the history and the music of this powerful force of positivity, and it has been a force of positivity.  How has this group connected and improved the lives of so many?  There are hundreds of millions of personal examples from fans, but here’s a famous one.  In 1995, David Letterman, who at the time was a famous late night comedian on tv, gave the foo fighters their first spotlight on television.  They played a song from their album which I’ll tell you about in a minute called “”This is a Call”.  Letterman was hooked on the Foo Fighters.  In 2000, he had a quintuple heart by-pass surgery and after his recovery, he asked them to come to NY and be on his first show back after his surgery.   For him, them being with him was personal.   He publically stated on the show that night that their song “Everlong” was what got him through his surgery and recovery.  When Letterman retired from television, he asked that they play that song again for the last few minutes of his final show after he said farewell for the last time ending his long career.  How did that song, this band, inspire him to fight off death as his heart struggled to regain strength?  What has been the impact of their music on so many across the globe?  The answer lies in the lyrics, in part.  It lies in the musical talent, in part.  It lies in the energy and passion, in part.  It lies in the showmanship But all of these components are working together to produce a single effect- what is it?  What is the power of Rock and Roll?  I think we can see the answer by looking at this band and looking at three of our favorite Foo Fighters songs.    I think we can too.  What we see is that the Foo Fighters in general, and Dave Grohl personal story in particular in every way embody Camus’ idea that life is best lived  fighting the absurd, rebelling against meaningless, rebelling against the constant pressure to commit philosophical suicide.     Dave Grohl’s life and music showcase one man’s fight to do this- in spite of pressure to conform, in spite of death, and in spite of the heavy-handed trappings of success, and that is the gift he shares in his lyrics as well as how he plays and how he lives his life on and off the stage.   We mention Dave Grohl’s story, first, because Foo Fighters really starts with him.   For those who aren’t familiar with that. Name, Dave Grohl was the drummer for the rock band Nirvana.  In 1994, Nirvana was on top of the world with international success and Grohl became famous.  Last week we mentioned the existential song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”- that’s Nirvana.  Well, I want to add, Grohl’s story is almost the classic Camus journey.  His mother is a retired public school English teacher from the suburbs of Washington DC, so shout out to mom!!, btw.  His father was a political speech writer- also from that Washington DC area.   One finny thing is that his mom is a democrat and his dad a Republcan- so there you go navigating that as a kid!!     He left this kind of suburban highly educated lifestyle at the age of 17 and literally dropped out of high school to play the drums.  He even lied about his age because he was a minor.  But he auditioned and joined this band called Scream.  He lived for four years, sleeping on a sleeping bag, living out of a van with the 4 other band members and a roadie, playing night after night in dives to groups of 20-200 people max.    That sounds kind of like a rock and roll movie, and, Of course I don’t know, but I can’t image his mother being very excited about those life-choices, especially the dropping out of school one.  Probably not, especially since there was no guarantee it would work out.  It almost never does.  But as Grohl tells it, stardom wasn’t really the end goal.  He was pursuing music, a community, the life he wanted with nothing to prove really. At one point, Scream was really struggling.  He was in LA and things were at a standstill.  He hears about an opening with this other band called Nirvana.  It wasn’t mainstream, but was popular with the underground community on the West Coast, specially Washington state.  David calls a friend who knows the band to try to get an audition and gets it.  He calls his mom to ask her if he should drop Scream and go to Nirvana, with her encouragement he makes the change that would launch him into a different world.  Well, Nirvana’s success is pretty well documented, but of course, even people who don’t follow rock music cannot think about Nirvana without thinking about the tragic suicide in 1994 of Nirvana’s singer-guitarist Kurt Cobain.  The famous Neil Young quote from his note, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” has been controversial itself and unfortunately led to teenage suicides since its release to the public, but for Grohl the loss was personal.    Cobain’s death left David heartbroken.  He lived with Cobain, slept on his sofa during the early days.  He had watched Cobain struggle with depression.  He says he saw him have lows and he would go to his room and not come out, but Cobain also could be incredibly fun and alive.  They traveled together, played together, worked together.   He had grown to love his friend.  Beyond just losing a friend, With Cobain’s death, Nirvana was over, and Dave had to decide what to do.  Tom Petty, famous in his own right, invited him to play the drums for him, but he decided he didn’t want that.  He didn’t know if he even wanted to play the drums anymore.  What he wanted was to carve out a new thing- make his own reality- and for him that meant recording an album all by himself.  So, that’s what he did.  In 1995, for five days he sat with the engineers in a studio by himself.  He recorded the vocals, recorded the guitar parts, recorded the drum parts and then the engineers put it all on top of each other.  He wanted to make it look like it was actually a band so he used this pseudonym Foo Fighters,  He’d been reading some stuff about UFOs and kind of just used the name.  Later when he was inducted into the hall of fame he said this, “had I actually considered this a career, I probably would have called it something else, because it’s the stupidest _________ band name in the world,”  BTW, if you listen to Grohl talk on platforms meant for educational purposes, you will have to get used to a bleeping.  Grohl is passionate and very colorful, it’s funny, but there are a lot of bleeps.    The point I want to make by bringing up David’s personal history is because it’s here we see Grohl, like Camus, choosing to fight the absurd and choosing also to fight philosophical suicide.  He did not conform to th suburbs just because it certainly was an easy thing to do growing up in DC.  He didn’t say, “it doesn’t matter” when his friend died, because it does matter.  No where in this story can you find someone taking the easy way out- or lying to themselves. This is the story of a child growing into a man determined to be as completely honest as possible and committed to creating meaning- his own meaning- in this world.  And so the Foo Fighters are born.  This very first album was a success and they even got on David Letterman, but it is on the second album The Colour and the Shape that we find one of their most endearing hits,  Everlong, the one Letterman had them perform when he retired.  Which I find so interesting because the song isn’t really about anything I would think Letterman would like on the surface, in terms of lyrics.  Grohl wrote it in 1996 after going through an ugly divorce.  He had met another girl, Louise Post, and they just connected.  It’s such a funny story.  He originally recorded at a friend’s studio in DC, again playing all the parts himself, but it was rough.  When it came time to record the album the The Colour and the Shape, the producer wanted to include Everlong.  He raelly thought it brought the album together thematically.  Grohl was cool with this but he wanted Post to sing the real back up vocals for it because it was about her.  Post recalls, and this is from her Instagram post and I quote, “I sang these back-ups over the phone at 2am after being woken up from a deep sleep in Chicago by David Grohl who was tracking the vocals for “EverLong” in LA.     Again- and this is why a song is not just words - lyrics are VOICE plus words.  And the voice, if it is good, functions to enshrine language – elevate it beyond just the content of the words.  In Grohl’s case, he doesn’t have the range of someone like Mariah Carey or even Steve Perry from Journey.  But the voice is action and it’s that movement that Grohl and all the Foo Fighters communicate.  Grohl screams at times, but his voice is communicating something beyond the words on the page.   What do you hear?  There’s just an authenticity there.  I heard him talking about the origins of the song, Everlong and I was shocked when I learned that he doesn’t even know how to read music.  He never studied formally.  He just strummed a new combination and heard a song.  I don’t want to use the word innocence because that’s not the right word, but it’s this raw pursuit of wanting life and bringing people along and it has captivated the world- obviously only an authentic genius could ever do what he does, especially self-taught.  But, when you think about how songs, and this song in particular lives in the hearts of so many, we know that the human voice holds a special place.   It is a human instrument, where the soul, to sound mystical- unifies with the lungs, the diaphragm, the abs- to do something different.  But Let’s look at those famous lyrics and talk about them.   Hello I've waited here for you Everlong Tonight, I throw myself into And out of the red Out of her head, she sang Come down and waste away with me Down with me Slow, how you wanted it to be I'm over my head Out of her head, she sang And I wonder When I sing along with you If everything could ever be this real forever If anything could ever be this good again The only thing I'll ever ask of you You've got to promise not to stop when I say when She sang Breathe out So I can breathe you in Hold you in And now I know you've always been Out of your head Out of my head, I sang And I wonder When I sing along with you If everything could ever feel this real forever If anything could ever be this good again The only thing I'll ever ask of you You've got to promise not to stop when I say when She sang And I wonder If everything could ever feel this real forever If anything could ever be this good again The only thing I'll ever ask of you You've got to promise not to stop when I say when   The words are simple- which is why they work as lyrics.  No one has time to explicate poetry while they’re at a rock concert.  You have to understand the idea in a instant.   There is also a lot of repetition, when you just read it, like we did it feels redundant, but when you add the voice the repetition plays a different role.  It signifies hooks and choruses and gives us a sense of excitement and anticipation for the next drum riff or energetic pulse.    Well, the ear is listening for something different in music than it is in poetry.  Then you add the signature guitar riffs to that- you have a different emotional experience.  And I want to point out that all good music that people love is emotional. The song Everlong has two versions- the version with the whole band as well as just the acoustic version- both are powerful, but really two different experiences.  The emotions are different.     For sure, but Everlong, like all rock ballads is meant to be sung.  The contrasting anaphors of If everything, if anything, rhyme with the following line- the only thing----are drawn together in your ear because of that rhyme and they create this tension that leads you to the climatic line of feeling real.  In fact, that’s the central idea- whether it be in the acoustic or the band version-  they both convey a universal feeling of holding on to one single moment- and making it feel eternal- holding on -look at the word he chooses- what is real.  It’s really a paradox- eternity felt in a moment- on the surface it doesn’t make sense, but it’s a feeling we all have or at least want to have- and he expresses it so simply, with simple words- but the drums, the bass, the guitars plus the screaming vocals- make the idea completely alive.     “And I Wonder when I sing along with you” you feel the power of the line that “If everything could ever feel this real forever” whether your heart pounds with that overpowering electrical guitar or with just the strumming of the acoustic one- you’re inspired to hold on- to feel the moment again- just like that repeating riff.  YOu know, Everlong is an interesting example of a hit song that grows into its success overtime.  People liked it when it came out, but over time it’s just grown and grown to the point that it’s the song everyone most wants to hear when they go to a Foo Fighters concert- and they end their concerts with it., but it wasn’t that way at the first.  If you want their first hit that entered the BillBoard hop 100, you have to go to the next album they recorded called Echoes and the song from there that we all remember is Learn to Fly.    I want to ask a question, what is the BillBoards or the Billboard Hot 100- that is a term everyone uses to determine success.  Sure, Billboard is a magazine, Billboard biz is the online extension.  Billboard tabulates the popularity of songs on a weekly basis.  Sometimes the charts are genre specific, for example you have the country chart or the rock chart, but they cover all genres.  They are ranked according to sales, streams, airplay, thst sort of thing.  The Billboard Hot 100 combines all aspecits of a single’s performance (sales, radio airplay and streaming activity) and ranks how successful any one song is, it has to be a single.   The top rated songs on Billboard will be the songs featured on radio because they draw the audience that leads to higher advertising rates.   The Song Learn to Fly actually won a grammy for its music video.  The lyrics were written, not just by David Grohl, but Taylor Hawkins the drummer and Nate Mendel.  By this point in the history of the Foo Fighters, What we have seen evolve is the vision of one man, Dave Grohl, into a collective- a brotherhood.  Foo Fighters by 1997 is no longer a one-man band.  “Learn to Fly” has three co-writers.  There have been a couple of entrances and exits over the years, but not many really.  Today Foo Fighters is David Grohl, Chris Shiflett, Nate Mendel, Franz Stahl, Rami Jafee, Pat Smear, and until his untimely passing Tayler Hawkins.  Let’s read this famous anthem. “Learn to Fly”  Run and tell all of the angels This could take all night Think I need a devil to help me get things right Hook me up a new revolution Cause this one is a lie We sat around laughin' and watched the last one die  Now, I'm lookin' to the sky to save me Lookin' for a sign of life Lookin' for somethin' to help me burn out bright And I'm lookin' for a complication Lookin' cause I'm tired of lyin' Make my way back home when I learn to fly high I think I'm dyin' nursing patience It can wait one night I'd give it all away if you give me one last try We'll live happily ever trapped if you just save my life Run and tell the angels that everything's alright  Now I'm lookin' to the sky to save me Lookin' for a sign of life Lookin' for somethin' to help me burn out bright I'm lookin' for a complication Lookin' cause I'm tired of tryin' Make my way back home when I learn to fly high Make my way back home when I learn to  Fly along with me, I can't quite make it alone Try to make this life my own Fly along with me, I can't quite make it alone Try to make this life my own  I'm lookin' to the sky to save me Lookin' for a sign of life Lookin' for somethin' to help me burn out bright And I'm lookin' for a complication Lookin' cause I'm tired of tryin' Make my way back home when I learn to I'm lookin' to the sky to save me Lookin' for a sign of life Lookin' for somethin' to help me burn out bright And I'm lookin' for a complication Lookin' cause I'm tired of tryin' Make my way back home when I learn to fly high Make my way back home when I learn to fly Make my way back home when I learn to     Again when you read the song, you see the repetition that characterizes a lot of great music.  You see the anaphoras  Now what is an anaphora  It’s when you read the beginning of a phrase but you change the ending  Make my way back home when I learn to fly high Make my way bak home when I learn to fly Make my way back home when I learn to  In that case, the phrase starts the same, but the ending is different- in this case, it drifts off and is shortened each time.  The effect only works when you sing and play it.  The power is lost when you read it.  Song lyrics are just not the same as poetry for that reason- their power is different.    the rhythm bends the lyrics into different shapes or patterns that aren’t the natural flow of conversation or even in reading poetry.  The percussive breaks the lines on the page, the rhyme and repetition springs out in different places than in normal poetry- for example the word “lookin’” it’s all over the song and your ear catches it when we sing it, but if you just look at it on the page, it looks random.  I heard it said once that song lyrics exist in the air, and that is a good way of thinking about them.  When you watch a video of people watching the performance of this song, all you see are arms raised, everyone singing in unison, Everyone identifying something personal in those words.  They’re looking for something honest- looking for something to help push through the absurd and in this song it’s represented in the sky the sky.  This is a great example of how music and poetry for that matter  take a life of their own.  It’s symbolic.  It’s universal-  looking to the sky- but what does the sky represent?  Should we look up the archetype?  Is it something unattainable?  Is it something spiritual?  For each person, it’s something totally different thing and you can see it in the eyes of every person in the stadium or in the field of the festival.  Kelly Clarkson asked the band, one time on her show, what it was the song was about- at least what it was for then when they originally wrote it,  Grohl revealed the secret.  At the time I wanted to become a pilot! I wanted to learn to fly.   Well, I can tell you, and I’ve seen that interview, too, the Foo Fighters absolutely know this song is about more than being a pilot.  And if you ever had any doubt, those doubts were laid to rest with the Rockin 1000.  Oh yes.  Tell us what that is.    So, in 2014, a man by the name of Fabio Zaffagnini had a vision to get Foo Fighters to come to Italy.  His plan was insane.  He wanted to unite 1000 musicians: drummers, guitarists, , bassists, vocalists, everything- and he did it.  In July of 2015, over 1000 musicisns gathered in a field in a little town in north east Italy called Cesena and together- in unison- all 1000 played this song “Learn to Fly”.  It’s an amazing YouTube video, everyone should watch it.  At the end of their performance, Fabio appeals to the band and asks them to come play in their little town of Cesena.  Of course the band soon tweeted, “Ci Vediamo a presto, Cesena”- or See you soon, Cesena.    Well, I’ve watched that YouTube, and it almost makes you cry.  It’s so beautiful, so passionate, how could they possibly say no.  Those musicians of every age- both men and women jumped, waved in the air, sang with their hearts.    Well, exactly and why would they. Three months after the Rockin 1000 video went viral, the Foo Fighters played in Cesena, on the night of the concert, Dave Grohl admitted to the audience that their video made him cry.  This group of musicians represent everything Foo Fighters is giving to the world: energy, passion, the fight and will to live and live well.  It’s who the Foo Fighters are.  And there are endless examples of this band doing just that. On their tour of Iceland, the night before the concert they were out in the country having dinner when they drove past a barn where a group of local punk rockers were practicing.  The Foos stopped and went in and jammed with this little local band called Nilfisk AND invited them to play their original song “Jacking Around” as an opening act for the Foos.  The front man for this band at the time was 16 years old.    In May of 2005, they released one most of the most recognizable and highly regarded of all Foo Fighters, “Best of You.”  Prince even performed it during the half time show at SuperBowl.  Let’s read these lyrics and talk about why this song has resonated around the world.   've got another confession to make I'm your fool Everyone's got their chains to break Holding you Were you born to resist or be abused  Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you  Are you gone and on to someone new? I needed somewhere to hang my head Without your noose You gave me something that I didn't have But had no use I was too weak to give in Too strong to lose My heart is under arrest again But I break loose My head is giving me life or death But I can't choose I swear I'll never give in, I refuse  Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you Has someone taken your faith? It's real, the pain you feel Your trust, you must confess Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you Oh Oh, ho-oh, oh, oh-oh, oh, oh-oh, oh Has someone taken your faith? It's real, the pain you feel The life, the love you'd die to heal The hope that starts the broken hearts Your trust, you must confess Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you I've got another confession my friend I'm no fool I'm getting tired of starting again Somewhere new Were you born to resist or be abused? I swear I'll never give in, I refuse Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you Has someone taken your faith It's real, the pain you feel Your trust, you must confess Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you Oh Well, first of all the word “best” is repeated 40 times.  And repetition is emphasis.  We know that.  This song is about that.  We all have secrets in their heads about themselves.  We all fight something inside to overcome the worst in us.  This song is a personal fight song, an anthem of recovery from brokenness.   It’s also a lot about the drums.  Taylor Hawkins inspired the millions who watched him lead the band with this anthem.  His drumming was raw.  He pounds these eighth-note accents that you can hear from the back of a stadium.  There’s so much power and energy- it’s driving- it builds.    In an interview during that 2005 tour a journalist from the Globe and Mail asked Hawkins what kept his work interesting.  He said this,  “I'm scared to death every time I get on stage. I have insane stage fright. If Nate screws up, the beat goes on. If Dave screws up, everyone laughs. But if I drop the beat, we can all go down in flames. It's like jumping off a cliff every time.”   I don’t know how you could NOT be.  So much is at stake.  10s of thousands of people have spent hundreds of dollars and come with astronomically high expectations to have their lives changed and to be inspired.     I can’t imagine the weight of it.  But I think I understand, at least in part, the heart of it.  In 2011, the band released their 7th studio album.  Wasting Light would eventually win four grammies including Best Rock Album.  I think how they created that album really captures who they are as a band, what they represent and why their essence reverberates around the world.  Tell is the story, Garry,  Well, they decided to record in in Grohl’s garage with no computers.  The album is messy, distorted, over the top and they had to rehearse for three weeks to even do it because they used old fashioned editing techniques that didn’t allow for mistakes to be fixed in post-production.  And why do it?  Well, they wanted it to be real.  Grohl speaks to that at the Grammy’s after they won Best Album of the year, and his words became highly controversial almost immediately.  He said this, ““This is a great honour, because this record was a special record for our band. Rather than go to the best studio in the world down the street in Hollywood and rather than use all of the fanciest computers that money can buy, we made this one in my garage with some microphones and a tape machine...It’s not about being perfect, it’s not about sounding absolutely correct, it’s not about what goes on in a computer.”  So, what’s controversial about that.    Well, it was taken to insult everyone else in the industry who is using auto-tune to fix their voices so they never go off key, or any number of editing tricks that could make someone like you or me sound like Rihanna with the right computer. Pro tools is the recording software that can make anyone sound like they are good.   The next day Grohl released a statement clarifying his comment.  This is what he said,     I love music. Electronic or acoustic, it doesn’t matter to me. The simple act of creating music is a beautiful gift that ALL human beings are blessed with. And the diversity of one musician’s personality to the next is what makes music so exciting and … human.”        That’s exactly what I was referring to. The ‘human element.’ That thing that happens when a song speeds up slightly, or a vocal goes a little sharp. That thing that makes people sound like PEOPLE. Somewhere along the line those things became “bad” things, and with the great advances in digital recording technology over the years they became easily ‘fixed.’ The end result? I my humble opinion…..a lot of music that sounds perfect, but lacks personality. The one thing that makes music so exciting in the first place.And, unfortunately, some of these great advances have taken the focus off of the actual craft of performance. Look, I am not Yngwie Malmsteen. I am not John Bonham. Hell…I’m not even Josh Groban, for that matter. But I try really f—ing hard so that I don’t have to rely on anything but my hands and my heart to play a song. I do the best that I possibly can within my limitations, and accept that it sounds like me. Because that’s what I think is most important. It should be real, right? Everybody wants something real. An interesting aside – live orchestra music actually prefers when the concert attendees cough and make noise. It proved the recording is a live take and the orchestra truly is as good as it sounds. Everybody wants something real…there’s that word again that brings us back to Camus…we do want real, we want honest, we want someone with the courage to show us what it looks like.  The history of the Foo Fighters is just one crazy example of this after another.   In Sweden in June of 2015.  They were in the second song of a show that consisted of 26 songs in front of 53,000 people, Grohl landed wrong from a jump and his ankle collapsed and he fell.  He had broken his leg.  The band didn’t know what had happened and they just played.    Grohl grabbed the microphone, and said this, ““You have my promise right now that the Foo Fighters, we’re gonna come back and finish this show,” he said. “But right now, ladies and gentlemen, I’m gonna go to the hospital, I’m gonna fix my leg. But then I’m gonna come back, and we’re gonna play for you again! I’m so sorry!”  He handed over the show to Taylor Hawkins who led the band til Grohl came back an hour later.  They had to cancel a few dates, but by the fourth of July they had the problem solved.  They built a giant throne made just the occasion the Foo Fighters came out for their 20th anniversary Fourth of July blowout at RFK, and Grohl who screams and jumps lead the band sitting down.  That tour continued with 60 more shows.     And that’s what I mean about fighting the absurd.  Taylor, Nate, Chris, Pat, Rami, Chris, Franz, Will and Dave lead with their lyrics, their beat, their riffs, but also their example.  This is what “not surrendering either to the absurd or to philosophical suicide can look like”.  This is what not giving in looks like.  This is what finding the best in yourself looks like.  Dave Grohl spoke about what it felt like when Cobain died.  He said at one point he didn’t know if he ever wanted to play music again, but then he realized that music was the one that had healed him over the course of his entire life.  It had saved his life more than once.    I can absolutely understand and agree with this 100%.  Music absolutely been there for me personally and  has kept me sane in the worst moments of my own life.     Unfortunately, Dave and the rest of the band are going to have to face the full force and pain of absurd in a very personal way yet again.  On March 20th, Foo Fighters played at Lollapalooza in Argentina.  They ended their set with Everlong, as they usually do with Hawkins on the drum.  At the end of the song, Hawkins tossed his drum sticks to the audience, threw his arm over Grohl’s shoulder, and took a bow with the rest of the band.  Although no one had any idea, this would be his last performance.   That night Dave Grohl ended the show with these ironic words, “I don’t say goodbye,” Dave Grohl told the crowd before kicking it off. “I don’t like to say goodbye. I know that we’ll always come back. If you come back, we’ll come back. Will you come back? If you come back, we’ll come back, so then I won’t have to say goodbye.”  Hawkins said goodbye, but the music he made, the energy he emitted does. not  And so, we end this episode saying, thank you, Foo Fighters.  Thank you for pushing forward, encouraging the world to not let the world get the best of us, for inspiring us to look to the sky, learn to fly and holding on to the moments of eternity when they come.  Thank you for sharing with us in this episode on a different sort of book- the music of the Foo Fighters.  As always please feel free to connect with us on any of our social media: FB, Insta, Twitter, LinkedIn.  Email us, tweet us, if you are a teacher, visit our website for educational support, if you are a friend, check out our merch on the website as well.  In any case, if you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend, when you share about us, we grow.    Peace out….       See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.
Albert Camus - The Stranger - Episode 3 - The Absurdity Of A Happy Ending???
Apr 9 2022
Albert Camus - The Stranger - Episode 3 - The Absurdity Of A Happy Ending???
Albert Camus - The Stranger - Episode 3 - The Absurdity Of A Happy Ending??? Hi, I’m Christy Shriver, and we’re here to discuss books that have changed the world and have changed us.  And I’m Garry Shriver, and this is the How to Love Lit Podcast.  Today we finish up our three part series on Albert Camus’ class novella  L’Etranger- translated in English to either The Stranger or The Outsider depending on which side of the Atlantic ocean you reside.    We talked extensively about problems with translation when we discussed Emily Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey but it’s a subject that comes up anytime someone seeks to translate anything.  How much of any translation is affected by the personal interpretation of the translator?  Even in a book written so deliberately simple in its construction that most French 3 students can read it in French, the translation of this book has seen its share of controversy starting with the title, but extending to page after page.  Let me give you an example from the first page and ending with the last page which we’ll discuss in full today.  That famous first line that reads, “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte,”- aujourd-hui means today- est morte means is dead.  That sounds pretty straightforward. But the problem is  how you translate that second word- some translators translated it Mother; but others say if you do that you throw the entire book off- arguing it’s not today mother died.  It’s today Mommy is dead.  But maman isn’t exactly mommy, either- that’s too baby-ish- but it’s an English word with tenderness and mother is too sterile.  Also, notice how we’ve also changed the ORDER of the words in English- and in a book so intent on using words so sparingly and deliberately do we miss the true impact of that first line by saying mother died versus mommy is dead?  Do you know what I have to say?  What?  It’s just absurd!!!  Yes, indeed, it’s all absurd!  So absurd!!  And yet it matters- which is the definition of absurd.   Well, I have a controversy to bring up in regard to mis-understanding and mis-representing Camus.   Oh really.  What is it?   In 1976, the English rock band The Cure released it’s very first single and it was titled, “Killing an Arab”.  The intent of the single was to reference and honor Camus’s novel.  I want to read the lyrics and see, after reading part 1 of the novel, if you see the connection songwriter Robert Smith was making with Camus.  Standing on the beach With a gun in my hand Staring at the sea Staring at the sand Staring down the barrel At the Arab on the ground I can see his open mouth But I hear no sound  I'm alive I'm dead I'm the stranger Killing an Arab  I can turn And walk away Or I can fire the gun Staring at the sky Staring at the sun Whichever I chose It amounts to the same Absolutely nothing Well, from a literary perspective, it’s a fairly straightforward musical homage to not just the story The Stranger but it expresses Camus’ vision of the absurd- the indifference of the universe in the face of humanity.   I think so too; however, it was not universally well-received.  The Cure were labeled as racist and have sometimes chosen to sing the song with revised lyrics of “Kissing an Arab”. Hmmmm, to be honest, as I reread the those words with no context, even though, it’s a direct reference for sure, it most certainly would be misunderstood to anyone who hasn’t read the book The Stranger- which I’ll speak for Americans, but I don’t think most Americans have, to be honest.    No doubt.  In fact, if you were to read just the title  “Killing an Arab” on a Spotify or Apple song suggestion today, you likely would be emotionally triggered, especially if you are Middle-Eastern or have friends or professional acquaintances that are, which, today, most of us do.  I don’t think it’s even arguable.  And so, it has been The Cure’s most controversial song for the last fifty years.  So much so, It has been widely dropped from radio playlists. It’s been rebranded under the title Standing on a Beach which has helped, also it often contains a sleeve sticker. The sticker reads: “The song ‘Killing an Arab’ has absolutely no racist overtones whatsoever. It is a song which decries the existence of all prejudice and consequent violence. The Cure condemn its use in furthering anti-Arab feeling.”  So, although it has had this controversial, for those of us who love music, The Cure is what introduced me to The Stranger.  So it’s been a mixed reception, but honestly starting in the sixties but and even to this day, there is quite a bit of existentialism especially in Punk Rock and New Wave music- another example would be The Doors and their Song Five to One which literally says, “no one gets out alive” or Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana which starts out with “Load up on guns, bring your friends- it’s fun to los eand to pretend”.  Yeah, I have to be honest, I don’t know almost anything about either of those bands either, although I have heard of both of them, I’m not that disconnected to the music scene.  Welll, Meursault would say, “it doesn’t matter, we’re all going to die either way.”  Let’s recap where we are in our series on Camus and the book The Stranger.  In episode 1, we introduced Camus’ home country of Algeria and a little about his life.  We introduced the idea that is forever associated with Camus and that is absurdism and we got through chapter 1.  Absurdism that irreconcilable idea that the desires and passions of our heart collide head on with the apparent indifference and haphazardness of the universe we seem to inhabit.   True, our guy Meursault confronts the absurdity of the world and cannot resolve what to do with the conclusion that nothing matters.  And let me just say now, although Camus will offer some sort of dogmatic answer to this question at the end of the book -He allowed his thinking to evolve throughout his l ife.  The book The Plague is kind of a development from The Stranger, and when you get to the Rebel which a lot of scholars consider his best work, you see an even greater evolution of thought.   But here,  Camus is at the beginning of his journey into the world of the Absurd.  He presents the problem of understanding the absurd nature and argues emphaticially against some ways others have erroneously, dishonestly and  and actually harmfully responded to the absurdity of life.   I will say, it does help to read Camus’ companion piece, The Myth of Sisyphus, because it explains these ideas where here Camus expresses the emotions and the experience of the absurd.  In The Stranger, we watch this young man deal with all the absurdity of life-  the absurdity of man confronting the absolute certainty of death-  whether you live to be 12, 50 or 103.   And adding to the inescapabilty of annihilation, Meursault, as must we all, faces the very other inescapable burden of being a human and that is the feeling of guilt- we argued last week to look at the symbol of the sun to express this- this confusing yet perpetual and indominable discomfort.  But guilt and death are not the only human dilemmas Meursault confronts.  Today we add this third absurdity of being a human-  our insatiable need to find meaning in a world where we are obviously just a speck.    Without a grand plan or a divine planner, anything and everything we do, no matter how big or small is equally pointless if measured against the millions of years of time itself, and so we find ourselves just like Sisyphus pushing a rock up a hill just to watch it fall down and then to have to do it all over again- and if we are honest, that’s the key, if we are honest- we know this to be true.  We know we are specks.  Camus decries and I quote, “Nothing is clear, all is chaos, that all man has is his lucidity and his definite knowledge of the walls surrounding him.” The Stranger begins with death, the climactic end of part one is death and now we will confront it for the third time at the end of part 2.  We talked about the vague abstract guilt Meursault experiences with the death of his mother.  However, as we got to the end of part one, Camus creates a contrast with a flat out murder- a more concrete expression of death with a straightforward connection to guilt.  When I finished part 1, there was no confusion in my mind as to who was guilty of murder.  Yet Meursault expresses no remorse, and although it causes an outburst at laughter at the court, when asked he basically says, “the sun made me do it.  And strangely enough, I, as a reader, seem to understand where he's coming from.  But I do have another question. Meursault  pointlessly murders a man he only identifies as an Arab.  Christy, are we supposed to see anything racial about this? Why doesn’t this man have a name?   Again, an interesting question with no definitive answer.  We know Camus  had many Arabic friends, we know that, so I don’t think we should look at this book in terms of race.  This story claims that NO one’s life has value, regardless of anything. Period.  The Arab is insignificant; for sure; but so is Meursault who won’t even live one year longer than the man he murdered.  It’s not about the Arab, it’s not about the woman who gets beaten up by Raymond.  It’s not even about Marie- all of which could be seen as being victims- the Arab being the last and most horrific expression of victimization.  This is about Meursault who cannot see that any of that even matters and so if nothing matters, what’s the difference- eating, drinking, sleeping, smoking, beating up women, getting a promotion, murdering people- it’s all the same.  Total nihilism- nothing matters. What is interesting about Meursault, beyond being pretty nihilistic is what he does with this reality- and what he does is  refuse to pretend things matter when he clearly believes they don’t.  He won’t pretend to love Marie, if he doesn’t.  He won’t pretend to care for Raymond’s girlfriend, so he doesn’t.  He doesn’t feel any sadness when his mom dies, so he doesn’t cry.  He doesn’t have remorse for killing the Arab, so he doesn’t fake it.   And that is how most of us are different from Meursault.  We clearly understand that as social beings no matter what we actually feel, we should follow certain social norms.  For most of us in these same situations, no matter how we felt about any of this, we most certainly would have expressed the proper emotions.  You may not cry at your mother’s funeral, but you wouldn’t smoke a cigarette.  Last episode we read a quote by Camus describing Meursault. Camus said that  Meursault is simply a man who does not play the game.  Today we ask, is it for this reason that he is ultimately killed-  Exactly, and is he right to not play the game?  Camus says yes- and that is what makes him a hero to emulate and not a person to see as doing everything wrong.  And so what IS the game of life?  What’s wrong with following social norms? What does Camus value here with this disagreeable character?  And finally, why are the stakes of this game so high that refusing to play it costs lives? Great questions- and here’s the paradoxical answer that will take the rest of the episode to explain.   Truth 1 for Camus death is inevitable- start there.  Truth 2 the cost of PLAYING the game of life  is never living AT ALL.  For Camus, many of us commit philosophical suicide pretty early on, and in doing so, confess to ourselves that life is not worth living.   As a metaphor that makes sense, I guess, but,  it’s very abstract. What does philosophical suicide look like?  Enter part 2 of this book.  It shows us.  As we look at Meursault who never commits philosophical suicide, we see a guy who stays honest with himself until his moment of death.  And let’s look at the truths that really define him.  For one, Meursault is an atheist.  He doesn’t like religion at his mother’s funeral; he doesn’t even like Sundays.  He doesn’t believe in God.  And so, he won’t pretend that he does, if he doesn’t.  This, btw, is not an appropriate social belief in the 1940s not in France, not in Algeria, not in a lot of places around the world.  Meursault is told that everyone believes in god.  He is told that all criminals confess before they face the guillotine.  Of course, a careful reader knows that can’t possibly be true.  All people agree on nothing.  What might be true that most of us under pressure will pretend to believe in whatever we need to to fit into our communities- be we Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Hindi, Buddhist or anything else.   Many of us do believe, but many others play the game.  In this culture, to be an atheist is to be an outsider, and most of us don’t want that.  But Meursault absolutely cannot make himself pretend.  He isn’t going to pretend to be a Christian just because the magistrate wants him to do or what the priest wants him to do- even if just a halfhearted fake confession would extend his life.    He’s also not going to lie to himself about believing in Jesus so he can keep on living.    And let me add, that neither the magistrate or the priest really do anything to actually meet him where he’s at with this atheism.  They don’t try to have an honest conversation or even to make sense.They do not try to cite ontological arguments for the existence of God by quoting Renee DesCarte or Soren Kierkegaard.  There is no discussion about the proofs of God.   No,  they make it about themselves, “Do you want my life to be meaningless?  And, this of course, is an absurd line of reasoning to Meursault as well as to us the readers.  It’s irrational.  Camus is suggesting that they won’t have these conversation with themselves.  They have already committed philosophical suicide.  They want an easy answer to the problem of finding meaning in their lives- even if it makes no sense.  Meursault sees this as absurd.  It’s why he’s nihilistic. I think it’s a good idea to define what we are calling nihilism.   Basically nihilism is the belief we’ve heard Meursault pronounce time and time again. It’s coming to the conclusion that nothing matters. My job, my girlfriend, morality, not even my mother, not even myself.  He’s consistent and very truthful, unfortunately, as Camus says, ““Man is always prey to his truths. Once he has admitted them, he cannot free himself from them.”  Meursault has admitted to himself a few truths and now he’s prey to what that means: and a few issues with his belief system are: detachment, apathy, and inertia, and guilt- you might even say a little bit of hedonism.  Those are the problems he’s trying to solve.  In part 2,  our absurd hero is interrogated after being arrested for the murder of an Arabic man on a beach.  Part 2 feels just as absurd as part 1, but in a totally different way.  In the first half, we see the absurdity in how Meursault reacts to life, but here we are going to see the absurdity in the world in how everyone else reacts to life.  Meursault is locked away in prison with nothing to do.  He even has to give up smoking.    By sentence 3, he’s been locked up for a week and in front of the magistrate.  We don’t have those in the US, but think of it basically as the judge.   A lot of time passes in the first and second chapters of part 2- 11 months to be exact, but nothing really happens.  Meursault is stripped away from the world: from women, cigarettes, his job, his favorite diner, his neighbors, from everything.   Meursault is put through this crucible of nihilism to see if he can subsist in a world with nothing- which he actually finds out he can- he finds once you get used to your reality, you can be happy anywhere.     Meursault, since his arrest, has watched the world play a game with him almost as a game piece.  He has been the game.  When he’s appointed a lawyer which is required by law,   he literally says, “it all seemed like a game to me”- Mersault, as we know from Camus, won’t play the game but society will- with or without his consent- Meursault will face extreme pressure to play the game- he will confront first, the power of the state, secondly  the power of culture/religion and finally the power of the absurd: the magistrate, the priest and the guillotine.  He will lose only to the absurd. This is a good time to look back at the Myth of Sisyphus and Camus’ first sentence where he says the only serious philosophical problem is about committing suicide- should I kill myself.  This seems rough, and of course, he IS talking about physical suicide, yes, but more importantly- the broader idea is something he terms philosophical suicide- the idea of physical suicide is obvious, one decides that life really has no point at all and so, one physically, often despairingly chooses to take it.    Camus rejects this.  Suicide is not an answer- not physical suicide but also not philosophical suicide.  This second dimension of suicide is what is symbolized in this book by that powerful symbol of the crucifix and the role of the priest.  For Camus philosophical suicide is just as damaging and honestly maybe even more damaging than physical suicide- for one reason is that I can lead to demagoguery,  violence and murder in the name of an -ism.  Camus suggests philosophical suicide is a way more common approach to dealing with life’s absurdity.  It’s an easy but a very dishonest way to confront life’s absurdity.  It’s hypocritical- and demands that we to lie not to others, but to ourselves.  It demands we surrender our freedom of choice, of our consciouses and that is what defines us as being human.  It’s what makes us alive to begin with.   And in the midst of World War 2, this was what he saw all of Europe- and the result was death, despair and destruction all in the name of the greater good. And I want to point out that Camus was, very much, a war hero.  During the second World War, he joined the Combat. (pronounced comb- bah) Resistance group.  He became the editor of their underground paper during the war and after the war.  He faced genuine danger. Death was not theoretical in Paris during the German occupation when you are an outspoken member of the resistance. From his early days as an orphan of WW1, and the son of a woman from Spain, he saw what people did in the name of their -ism.  Whatever it is.  In the name of Fascism, many defied their own consciouses and followed Hitler and Franco.  In the name of Communism, millions were butchered.  In the name of nationalism, Algeria tore its own country apart.  In a Combat editorial published on August 8th, 1945, Camus was the first to condemn the United States for dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  He called it the “the terrifying perspectives opened up to humanity”.  All of these are demagoguery masquerading as humanitarianism.    But religion has masqueraded as well.  The name of God, in which Camus didn’t even believe, us wielded like a weapon to force us to surrender our consciouses- to commit philosophical suicide.  There is pressure from within and pressure from without to lie to ourselves- it’s just the miserably easy thing to do.  Of course, from a psychological perspective it’s crippling.  Every time you lie to yourself, you disorient yourself in the world.    So, why do it?    We do it in response to the absurd.  We need to have meaning in the world.  We want to be part of something big and meaningful and that will outlast us, define us, give us a reason to confront suffering- and so we pick something.  It can anything really.  It can be a career, a child, even a sports team, a delusion of a personal dynasty- lots of people do that.  But what Camus saw was people in 1940 were ideologies -ism’s, religions- some of which were secular. These are hidden demagogueries which he is going to illustrate in part 2 of this book.    And what’s demagoguery?  Demagoguery is when a leader appeals to the lowest prejudices of people and the emotions tto create very simplistic cures for complex problems.   Its goal is to dominate others.   In chapter 1, Meursault is interrogated by his lawyer.  And as the questions progress they take on a sort of apparently non-connected line of questioning about whether or not Meursault believes in God.  Meursault says he doesn’t.  The lawyer returns with this line, “it was impossible; all men believe in God.  Of course, we know, anytime someone says ALL people do this, or NO ONE does that- That’s the language of demagoguery.  We can’t even say ALL people breath- because there are some, those on ventilators, that do not.  But why make a statement like that, why even talk about God at all?  What does God have to do with anything?  Well, he explains it in the next lines..  “That was his belief, and if he were ever to doubt it, his life would be meaningless.  “Do you want my life to be meaningless?” He shouted.  As far as I could see, it didn’t have anything to do with me, and I told him so.  But from across the table he had already thrust the crucifix in my face and was screaming irrationally, “I am a Christian.  I ask Him to forgive you your sins.  How can you not believe that He suffered for you?”  I was struck by how sincere he seemed, but I had had enough.  It was getting hotter and hotter.  As always, whenever I want to get rid of someone I’m not really listening to, I made it appear as if I agreed.   To my surprise, he acted triumphant. “You see, you see!” he said.  “You do believe, don’t you, and you’re going to place your trust in Him. Aren’t you?”  Obviously I again said no.  He fell back in his chair.”  This is the very definition of philosophical suicide in the name of religion.  This guy is throwing out cliché after cliché in ways that cannot possibly make sense. He emotionally tries to force an agreement from Meursault because if Meursault won’t go along, HIS life, the lawyer, not Meursault, but HIS life will be meaningless.    And this is the game Meursault won’t play- and it won’t matter how much pressure that magistrate, the lawyer and later the priest put on him. He will rebel; he will NOT kill his own conscious.  In part 1, we see Meursault wrestle with the forces of nihilism, but here in part 2, we see him wrestle against the forces of philosophical suicide.  There is a lot of pressure to take the easy way out.  Turn off your brain.  Accept the -ism, give your life meaning by believing in something- even if you don’t.  This is what is being symbolized by this crucifix- don’t think about it- just accept it!    And, for me, this is so easy to understand in terms of religion.  Today it’s actually safer to talk about this in terms of religion instead of hot button current ideologies.  But both religion and secular ideologies were rampant in the Europe of the 40s.  The first world war destroyed faith in a lot of people's lives, and religion began to give way to other forms of philosophical suicide.  The atrocities in the world were always being done in the name of the greater good.  Why did young Germans kill, it wasn’t because they believed in murdering Jews per se, it was because they believed in the Motherland.  Why were millions murdered in Russia, it was in the name of Communism, the greater good.  How did Che Guevera and Fidel Castro justify killing untold numbers in Cuba?   For Camus, all of this starts at the individual level.  If life is absurd, there is no greater good.  What does it matter if you are of the left, or of the right, if you are religious or areligious, if you are of this race or that race- in the face of the absurd we are all the same.  We are all going to face the guillotine in exactly the same way- alone and with total assurance it will win.    It doesn’t matter what the -ism- it is not worth killing for. It is not worth lying to yourself about.  Killing is agreeing with the absurd. Lying to yourself is as well.  Camus was very consistent until the day he died about this.  Killing and violence are NEVER the answer- and ironically, he might have been killed for this idea.  Of course, nobody knows what caused the car crash that ultimately killed him in 1960 at the age of 46, but there are some very credible conspiracy theories that it was not an accident.   It’s speculation, of course, I’m not sure we will ever know, so I don’t feel justified in going into it, but if you’re interested Google it.  Oh yes, he enraged a lot of people, but one group we know about is the KGB.  Camus wrote articles critical of the Soviet massacres in the Hungarian Revolt of 1956, and these were not well-received. But it didn’t matter.  For Camus the enemy of man is the absurd, and we should fight it with truth.  He campaigned vigorously against capital punishment.  At one point he flat out said, “I’m not cut out for politics, because I’m incapable of wanting or accepting the death of the adversary,”    For Camus, death starts with dishonesty about who you are, especially the kind of dishonesty where you lie to yourself about your personal worth in this world- you think you are way more important than you are- more important than another person.  At the end of chapter 1, Meursault is called the Anti-Christ which is an unusual designation- since he doesn’t seem anything like the Jesus Christ in the Bible.  But Camus sees here a secular Christ because he dies for truth.  Camus is not a Christian, so he sees Christ not as a divinity, but as a person who died because he would not play the game.  He would not be dishonest with himself and others.  That is how the analogy with Christ holds true. Camus’ idea is that both Meursault and Christ died because they stood up to a society bent on forcing them to confess lies about the nature of reality which they absolutely would not do- albeit their truths were different, but in both cases, they preferred physical death over physically freedom but mental slavery.   Christy, that makes a person’s head spin.  How can we possibly understand that?  I know, it’s philosophically complex, but it’s easier to see just reading the story.  Over the course of time, prison strips every pleasure out of Meursault’s life.  If you remember, in part 1, Meursault pretty much lived a life with the goal of finding as much pleasure as possible.  His joys were smoking, sex, eating, relaxing, that sort of thing.  In jail, they strip every one of those away.  That is the punishment- but it’s also somehow where Meursault will find some sort of peace and freedom from the terrible burden of guilt that bears down on him.  He sleeps on boards; bugs crawl all over him, his bathroom is a bucket.  It is all pretty bad, but after a while, Meursault adjusts to it.    In chapter two he has this to say,   “At the time, I often thought that if I had had to live in the trunk of a dead tree, with nothing to do but look up at the sky flowering overhead, little by little I would have gotten used to it” (77). Then he remembers something his maman used to say repeatedly that you could get used to anything.    Which, of course, is what he does.  For a nihilist who has said that nothing matters for the entirety of the book, the biggest paradox of the entire book is that Meursault does not want to die.  He does not wish for suicide of any kind.  The law kills him because he wants freedom on his own terms, and this he can’t have.  He is killed in pursuit of life.  He is killed because he will have his philosophical freedom even if it costs him his life.   He will NOT commit suicide. Camus, in the myth of Sisyphus talks about the draw we have towards finding a meaning in a man-made construct.  He says this, “There is so much tenacious hope in the human heart.  Even the most desperate men sometimes give their consent, finally to illusion.”   True, if Meursault has decided anything in this life, he has decided he will not be that guy, but, if he rejects nihilism, and then if goes on to reject philosophical or physical suicide of one sort or another, then what’s left?  How do you solve the reason to keep living in this world- how do you face the absurd?   This is not a question Camus knew the answer to in his 20s, so don’t expect an answer, but Camus thinks he found step one in the process- and even if you are not a nihilist or even an atheist there is something to agree with here.  Meursault’s life is going to get incredibly shortened, and we see him change significantly in part 2.  In chapter 3, we watch his trial.  It’s absolutely yet another expression of the absurd.  There is never any doubt as to whether he killed or didn’t kill the Arab, the question seems to be about if he should die for it.  There is a long list of personal friends that come to his defense, but mostly they revisit the death of his mother- and it appears that he is being tried not for the murder of the Arab but for the death of his mother and his reaction to her death.  All of it is surreal and we get a crazy frustrated feeling as we read it.  At one point in the trial, the judge calls his mother’s caretaker to the stand.  The caretaker answers questions about his time at the home after his mother’s passing.  After the caretaker finishes Meursault thinks this, and I quote, “It was then I felt a stirring go through the room and for the first time I realized that I was guilty.” What is he guilty for?  Killing the arab?  Killing his mother. What is he talking about.  It’s ambiguous stream of conscious.   Well, it is and much of the logic of the prosecution is convoluted.  The justification for condemning Meursault for killing a father is that he first killed a mother…  Page 101-102.   And so he is convicted, let’s read that..’ 107 Camus never knew his father.  He died when Camus was 1 year old just at the beginning of WW1.  Camus knew very little bit about him either, but in an essay called Reflections on t he Guillotine, Camus writes about one of his only stories he knows about his father.  Let me read what Camus wrote in that essay, “ One of the rare things I know about him, in any case, is that he watned to witness the execution, for the first time in his life. He woke up in the middle of the night to get to the execution site, at the other end of the city, in the nidst of a great throng.  What he saw that norning, he did not say anything about to anyone.  My mother told that he came home like a gust of wind, his face overwhelmed, refused to talk, stretched a while on the bed and suddenly threw up.  He had just discovered the reality which hid under the great formulas which masked it.” What does that mean to you? I don’t know, but this true story is embedded in chapter five, Meursault asserts that there is nothing more important than an execution. Man versus the absurd.  He inserts a little bit of his personal life into this story.  There is something very freeing for Camus about facing death- facing the certainty of it- the absurdity of it.  It is only here after Meursault is convicted of murder that he finds strength within himself to exert any agency.  He’s going to lose his detachment and passivity.   He’s going to transcend the nihilism that has been the hallmark of his existence.  He’s going to find courage to live. And he asserts himself by refusing to see the chaplain.   It's also here that we see him start to think through the certainty of the guillotine.  He wishes to find a way to barter with it; to cheat death somehow, but that can’t be.  Death will not be cheated.  In his case, the machine of society is already at work.  He has to embrace hopelessness.  There is no hope of freedom.  And that for Camus seems to be the key.  It’s the key to embracing life.  It’s the key to enjoying small things and not feeling compelled to find meaning in the greater good or  pursuing a delusion of immortality in one way or the other.  In his later years Camus said that he had sought reasons to transcend out of darkest nihilism.   If you are a thinking person, regardless of your position on the rational basis for the metaphysical or transcendent,  the way to avoid nihilism is to find agency in yourself.  To create your own future.  For Camus, even if the universe doesn’t have a plan, you have consciousness.  It’s what makes  you a person, and that is a great privilege.  Don’t give that up.  Don’t kill it off.  Make a life for yourself- live.  Camus said it this way, “it is a problem of our civilization and what matters to us is to find out whether man alone, without the help of the eternal or of rationalistic thought may create his own values.”  When the priest comes for the last time, Meursault engages him with courage and agency and emotion, unlike we’ve seen at any other time in this book.  He’s awake.  He’s alive.  His confrontation is passionate and he realizes the man he’s talking to is already dead.  Let’s read just the first paragraph of his reflection on his rant.. Page 120 After that rant, he calms down and sleeps. He says the wondrous peace of that sleeping summer flowed through me like a tide.  When he wakes up, he thinks of his mother for the last time.  He understands why she got engaged right at the end of her life.  He feels ready to live life all over again.  He opens himself and I quote to the indifference of the world and finds that’s he’s happy.   You know, after all the things Camus lived through during those turbulent decades, he never lost his faith in justice, the life of the spirit and above all, the power of truth.  In a later essay titled “Letters to a German Friend” he says this, “Man is that force which ultimately cancels all tyrants and gods.  He is the force of evidence.  If nothing has any meaning, you would be right.  But there is something that still has meaning.”   In the same essay, he admits that he once had been nihilistic and thought, exactly like the Meursault of part 1 that nothing mattered.  If nothing matters than it doesn’t matter if you beat up a woman or kill a person whose name you don’t know.  It matters just about as much as getting married or getting a promotion.  But he doesn’t stay there, instead he says this, “I continue to believe that this world has no ultimate meaning.  But I know that something in it has meaning and that is man, because he is the only creature to insist on having one.  This world has at least the truth of man, and our task is to provide its justification against fate itself.  And it has no justification but man; hence he must be saved if we want to save the idea we have of life.”   For Camus, man is nothing endowed with consciousness and the ability to have courage.  And this is where Meursault arrives, unfortunately a little too late to live courageously, or really live at all- but at least he didn’t commit suicide- he lived and died free.  And so, he walks out to meet his fate with some of the strangest words to end a novel and I quote, “I felt happy and that I was happy again.  For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.” What does that mean?  That sounds terrible.  Why cries of hate? Wouldn’t we all like to know.  I wish I did know.  I don’t.  And that is, obviously, Camus intent.  We know, of course, that Meursault always felt like an outsider.  He always thought nothing mattered, not even him.  But now he knows he’s wrong.  It’s not that he thinks he matters now because I don’t think he does, but he does feel pride at not succumbing to suicide of any kind.  He can be himself all the way out the door, and the larger the crowd, the better.  If we read the companion piece, “The Myth of Sisyphus” he ends that essay with this, Garry will you read it?   “I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain!  One always finds one’s burden again.  But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises the rocks.  He too concludes that all is well.  This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile.  Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that. Night filled mountain, in itself forms a world.  The struggle. Itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.  One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” The Stranger is not just a book for atheists struggling with nihilism, although obviously it is clearly that.  The Stranger is about confronting the realities of your existence with intellectual honesty- the futule rocks of life that we pick up and carry up the hill just to watch them fall and must be picked up all over again.  Confront the absurd.  Doing this is not the ending point; it’s the starting point.  Don’t lie about your speckness- don’t inflate your significance, your role, resist the demagogues and don’t commit violence, …be honest at least with yourself and take courage.  Build if you want; enjoy morning coffee when you want, walk in the sun.  Take the pressure off, be honest at least with yourself... and last but not least- imagine yourself happy.    And so there we conclude not in the dark but in the light, perhaps we can even imagine the beautiful and bright Algerian sun.  Thank you for listening.  It’s been a difficult book to navigate, but we hope you’ve enjoyed our perspective.         See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.
Albert Camus - The Stranger - Episode 2 - The Consequences Of Meaninglessness!
Apr 2 2022
Albert Camus - The Stranger - Episode 2 - The Consequences Of Meaninglessness!
Albert Camus - The Stranger - Episode 2 - The Consequences Of Meaninglessness!Hi, I’m Christy Shriver, and we’re here to discuss books that have changed the world and have changed us.    And I am Garry Shriver, and this is the How to Love Lit Podcast.  This is episode 2 in our three part series in the first work of Albert Camus’ great cycle of Absurdity- the novella, l”etranger or the Stranger also called The Outsider.  Last week we began discussing Camus’ life, his homeland Algeria, and the events- both political and personal that made him in many ways his own outsider.  We also introduced the idea that is forever associated with Camus in literary as well as philosophical circles and that is concept of the absurd.  We tried to flesh out a little bit of what that feels like,  the world the way Camus would have us understand it.  We tried to introduce it as a feeling more than an idea- although obviously it is both.  We started with famous first line, “Maman died today.  Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.”    It’s absurd!!  Today..maybe yesterday!!! It’s absurd!  And the even more important idea…”I don’t know”.  This itself launches us into a world from which some of us may never return- the world of the absurd, the world of Meursault, our absurd hero.    Ha!  Hopefully we will fare slightly better than Meursault who I’ll tell you right now, is not famous because of the awesomeness of his outcome.  He is NOT Forrest Gump who by no design of his own winds up in the White House or making millions in the shrimp industry- although, I will say, there is something absurd about Forrest Gump.  Christy, this is an absurd tangent    I KNOW!!  Absurd is a thread I could keeping pulling, but I won’t.  Instead we will pull back into the rational world because today we want to start by giving a shout out to a friend of the podcast, a man who lives far from the world of the absurd (most days, anyway), Mr. Matt Francev.  Matt teaches AP Lit and Honors English at Whittier High School in Whittier California.  His brother Dr. Peter Francev is editor of the Albert Camus Society, and a true scholar whose body of academic work focuses on the entirety of Camus’ writings- of which the cycle of the absurd is just the beginning.  Anyway, Matt reached out to us a couple of months ago, gosh I guess it was right before Christmas and asked us to feature Camus and the familiar classic The Stranger, and so we have.  Matt, this series is for you. We hope we do right by an old friend of the Francev family as we do what Camus himself might not like for us to do- paradoxically- and that is attempt to break down into manageable bite-sized pieces this overwhelming experience of living the absurd.    Christy, before we do that, I do want to point out something cool about where Matt is investing his life and career.  Whittier, California,  is only about fifteen miles south of LA.  That area itself is an incredibly diverse working class community- but what is unusual about the high school there is that it has - an eclectic yet notable list of alumni.  Two names on that list many recognize is Former President Richard Nixon, but also, totally outside the world of politics, John Lasseter, the creator of Pixar.  And if that wasn’t interesting enough for your average high school,  perhaps even more notably is that the school itself was the setting for Hill Valley High School – that would be the high school Michael J Fox’s parents attended in his breakout movie, Back to the Future.   How fun is that?  So fun, I wonder how many times they’ve played Johnny B Good on the stage in the auditorium!!!    HA!  I wonder what the real auditorium even looks like.  Anyway, Thanks Matt, for reaching out and sharing a little of your world with us.  Today, our goal is to finish out our discussion of part 1 of this novel.  Christy, last week you told us we should very wait in anxious expectation for an episode filled with boredom and meaninglessness- and especially there at the beginning we meet that expectation. Chapter 2 is not filled with action that could be described as riveting.    No, not a whole lot happens in chapter 2, if you’re looking for plot, and not a whole lot happens if you’re looking for deep character or thematic development.  Basically…Not a whole lot happens.    NO, it starts with the day after Maman’s funeral, and We meet Marie- who will become something of a girlfriend to Meursault. Camus descriptions draw particular attention to Marie’s breasts, but these descriptions are vulgar not suggestive really.  This is not your typical romantic description from a harlequin romance, not that I’ve ever read any of those.  It clearly ends with sex but not with passion.  Sex, of course, at its minimum is an expression of excitement- even crude sit-coms go that far.   Many times, when stories feature sex, authors are expressing deep emotions.  Relationship sex is the ultimate expression of intimacy and something,  we, as humans, attach deep meaning to- but not for our absurd hero, Meursault.  For Meursault, he meets a woman, has sex with her, she goes home before he wakes, up, he smokes cigarettes in bed until 11am, he gets up to eat eggs out of a pan, and then expresses boredom with zero reflection on all that has happened over the last 48 hours to him.  Instead of reflection, his thoughts turn to the size of his apartment where he concludes it’s too big for just one person.  Again, is this guy a psychopath or a nut job?  And yet, by now, we most likely have decided that he is not.  He’s apathetic for sure, but in a way we somehow understand.  Meursault has understood a few truths in this world and now he’s stuck- he’s gotten far enough into exploring the meaning of existence to arrive at this point of lostness.  Very intuitively, he’s hit upon this notion that human reasoning is insufficient in fulfilling the very human but fundamental desire to find unity in our world.  We want things to connect, to make sense.  The universe should mean something- there should be a plan.  And yet, there are needs in our hearts that aren’t reasonable. Logic- the things we know for sure about the world- th