Learning Beyond the Confines of a Classroom

A remote oasis nearly hidden within Louisiana’s expansive shoreline, Grand Isle’s unblemished views of the Gulf of Mexico and seemingly endless miles of beaches makes it the perfect getaway to turn your phone off for a few days to relax, unwind, and of course, read. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I made the decision to venture off to the South for a month, but the instant I laid my eyes on the curiously stilted houses, inhaled the salty air, and cracked the spine of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, I knew I had made the right decision. While one of the many joys of reading is to be able to digest the words on the page, perhaps close your eyes and imagine the places that the author is describing— there is something especially wonderful about being able to raise your gaze for a moment and to experience firsthand what the author is describing. The Awakening explores the sensual and emotional awakening of the main character, Edna Pontellier, who is enchanted by the island, ocean, ambiance, and the people which allow her to see life, and more importantly, herself, in a different perspective.

The water of the Gulf stretched out before her, gleaming with the million lights of the sun. The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in abysses 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.
— Kate Chopin, The Awakening

Although the novel was written over a century before I was born, I am able to sink my toes into the same sand, listen to the same waves clapping against the shore, and get burned by the same southern sun as Edna fictitiously did in the late nineteenth century. It’s exhilarating to be able to study literature outside the confines of a classroom and to step into a different world and experience a place through the novel. It offers an opportunity to be fully immersed in the physical environment and understand literature to a point that is far deeper than just words on a page. Of course, fiction can tell us a lot about the people and the culture of a specific point in time, but Edna’s experiences in the novel also unveil deeply human struggles that are still prevalent today. Edna describes that:  

There were days when she was unhappy, she did not know why — when it did not seem worth while to be glad or sorry, to be alive or dead; when life appeared to her like a grotesque pandemonium and humanity like worms struggling blindly toward inevitable annihilation. She could not work on such a day, nor weave fancies to store her pulses and warm her blood.
— Kate Chopin, The Awakening

Edna experiences the same state of melancholy and lack of inspiration and creativity that myself, and certainly many others can relate to. The days where you can’t bring yourself to do anything, so you lay in bed all day watching Netflix and procrastinating hoping tomorrow will feel different. Living in Los Angeles, this feeling seems practically inevitable at times. The overflowing population lends itself to unbearable traffic, pollution, and misplaced ambition to “make it” in the city of stars, or should be titled city of cars. Edna, like the rest of us, is searching for experiences that are: 

…warming and brightening [to] the dark places of her soul.
— Kate Chopin, The Awakening

I myself didn’t realize how healing an escape from the almost four million people living in Los Angeles would be. Who would have known that the fifteen hundred smiling southerners living in Grand Isle would be just what the doctor ordered?

The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.
— Kate Chopin, The Awakening