The beginning of Louisiana and Edna Pontellier’s awakening are exemplified by this quote from The Awakening. Being here, able to drive across the swamps and stay in an air-conditioned home, astounds me. To build up this state before motorcars, powertools, and industrialization is a feat in itself. We are learning about the culture, history, and geography that helped form Louisiana, yet there is still a disturbingly vague understanding of what life was like building this state out of the mud and water. This blog post is on struggling with realizing our position in the world and the potential dangers along with the beauty of existence that conflict brings about.
The environment is a driving force of experience and practicality on Grand Isle and the surrounding bayou. Exploring the holiday island of Grand Isle, every home and most structures, such as the fire station and school, is raised higher than fifteen feet. There is the yearly danger of strong storms dumping rain in the populated man made “bowls”, overflooding of the Mississippi breaking protective levees, and water from the Gulf of Mexico being driven into the region. Hurricane Katrina broke through a levee that no one expected the storm to come from. While large storms are well known, there are many things that are considered, or learned, that one would not expect. Buildings are built with hip roofs with every side having a lip edge to drive rain, and potential rot, away from the walls and foundation. Playgrounds and other things important to a city but recognized as a potential loss are being built by green materials to reduce waste. Sewage, power, and buildings have to be specially protected and up to code. Graveyards are built above ground. While these measures do not interfere with daily life, I noticed these permeations of protection and I am sure they are appreciated when the storms do come.
A significant part of this struggle we cannot ignore is the community’s past. The very island of Grand Isle has a tumultuous history-as home base for Jean Lafitte and his pirates, brutal slave estates, and vacation city as leisure time and economic wealth boomed. The state is founded on blood and pain; and the state is struggling to remember its history.
While modern technology makes it so that where we live does not matter, the warmth and weather has a profound effect on our lifestyle. Languishing, life in Grand Isle has not a care in the world.
The environment and leisure is freeing to the body, mind and soul. Being away from the busy pace of the city, the environment gives Edna Pontellier time to relax and reflect on herself and those around her. Edna in her free time notices how many mother-women there are on the island. These mother-women are helicopter parents, who “idolized their children, worshipped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.” She later realizes that this life of doting on friends and family and attending to trivial falsehoods is not what she wants. The struggle for Edna is what does this mean for her and what can she do about it.
Edna is not content with how life just is. We all struggle in having lives filled with pleasure versus meaning. All that is needed to have a “good” life is to “maintain the easy and comfortable existence”. Edna “could not see the use of anticipating and making winter night garments the subject of her summer meditations”. There is no need to look ahead as one is present. Long story short, Edna “was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her.”
With the sun and extreme humidity, I felt driven inside the home. As Mr. Pontellier “glanced restlessly over the editorials and bits of news which he had not had time read”, I found myself often picking up my phone to swipe to get updated on Facebook, Instagram, group chats, family messages, and listen to music. Coming from Los Angeles and two years of working 50+ hours a week and school, I left myself little time to be alone with my thoughts. As the holiday homes and cottages did for the characters, I felt my tension melting. While the place itself is beautiful and one would hope to naturally disconnect, there is still electricity, fast food, and service. Reading a book takes time and brings you away from the distractions. The book also in its comment on the pace of life between New Orleans and Grand Isle brings an awareness to how much stress and activities we place in our day to day. That is the beauty of bookpacking. The act of reading while traveling requires leisure time to read the novel and during expeditions into the very settings you are reading about, there is a greater appreciation for the culture of where you are.
I have been trying to find meaning in my own life after my grandfather’s death this year. As a holocaust survivor, entrepreneur, philanthropist, advocate for democracy, and an overall humorous and enjoyable person to be around, his passing inspired a need to change my life and pursue meaning. That meaning was success and wealth, but with this recent change I know I want a lifestyle that includes a family, travel, and helping others while pursuing my passions. Reading the novel added to the angst to discover what meaning and calling I want in my life. I have been exploring the USA recently through photography, and on this trip my interest in cinematography has blossomed. I cannot prescribe this trip as a reason for that interest or as the solution to find meaning in my life, but this trip has surely stoked that fire as I am learning to edit and will hopefully finish and post soon. Life is all about learning and staying open to the process.
Having been to Louisiana for less than a week, I cannot accurately speak to the character of people living here and must make some assumptions that I hope are close enough to the truth. As I explore this state for the next three weeks, I will keep my eyes, ears and mind open.