The Awakening

I first read Kate Chopin’s The Awakening when I was 18, a first-year at Smith College. My reaction was probably typical of an 18-year-old at an all women’s college. Something along the line of “You Go, Girl!” (but not in so many words.) Then I read it 5 or maybe even 6 years later while at Utah State and my reaction was quite different. Something along the line of how the responsibility to the individual must be tempered by responsibility to others and Edna Pontellier’s sense of responsibility was decidedly imbalanced. I guess it’s about time to read the book again. But first, I wanted to see where Edna’s awakening began. Grand Isle is a little island about 2.5 hours south of New Orleans.

I had been waiting for a nice, warm day (have I mentioned too many times already how much colder this winter has been than last?) to make the trip and last Saturday was finally it. I invited my friend, Jaime, to come along. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the landscape. According to the map, it’s very coastal, so I was expecting a lot of marshes and swamps. I guess we drove on the only strip of land all the way south because it seemed pretty solid. However, we did follow a bayou full of fishing boats.

(Is it still trespassing if the sign is too rusted to read?)

It wasn’t until we actually got within 10 miles of Grand Isle that I saw the landscape I was expecting the whole trip.

And then the houses in stilts that I didn’t expect but wasn’t surprised by. After I first saw them, it seemed obvious that those were the types of houses that would be built on an island in the Gulf of Mexico. Somehow, though, I had imagined Edna Pontellier in a grand resort on Grand Isle. Something akin to the White Sands Hotel in the Anne of Green Gables movies, as seen below.

Not so much. More like these kind of houses:

Even the Town Hall was on stilts.

But all of the houses did have great names. I wish I had written more of them down or at least taken more photos. As it was, this is the best example. (Speaking of photos, I have to apologize for the smudge on most of these. I didn’t realize my UV filter was so dirty. Oops.)

We had lunch at the Starfish Cafe and then drove around some more trying to find something to see. What we did find were some more boats. I wasn’t expecting to see so many boats on our trip, but they were my favorite part. I loved the fishing nets and all the complex rigging. I also loved the rounded cabins and different colors.

There were some fishermen out that we talked to briefly. They told us to visit the shore across the way, so we went to the beach.

It was more of a post-apocalyptic, grey wasteland of a beach than the green-blue waters and white sand in Pensacola. What had started out as a sunny day was quickly becoming more overcast. And there were lots of huge dead fish washed ashore.

Not exactly the kind of place you want to linger. Plus, it was cold and windy, so we decided to stop by a large pier we had seen as we came into town. Lots of people were fishing from it. Houses were lined up along the shore near it. It was rather lovely.

So Grand Isle wasn’t exactly what I expected, and I didn’t have my own awakening. But I got to see lots of working fishing boats up close. I saw the gaping mouths and eyes of dead fish, and I ate a delicious po’boy. I’d say it was worth the drive. I’d actually like to see what it’s like in the summer when the town of 1500 swells to a seaside resort of 12,000. Maybe then I’d get that awakening.


  1. Amanda Nicholas · February 27, 2010

    Thanks for posting such great pics, I felt like I was there. Man I wish I had a shrimp po-boy right now!

  2. Kitty · February 27, 2010

    I loved The Awakening as a teenager. I should follow your lead and read it again now that I am an adult.

    Great pictures. I had imagined the house just like “Anne” hotel, too. Very interesting to see what they really look like!

  3. Erica · February 28, 2010

    These pictures are so beautiful, Katie.

  4. Karla · August 28, 2010

    I think it is great that you made the trip down to Grand Isle. Although I no longer live there, my family still does and I love it there. I read the Awakening about 5 years ago during a summer I spent in Grand Isle. I’ve heard the stories from “the old people” about the grand hotel that used to be in Grand Isle. Their stories are much akin to Chopin’s.
    I recently received a link that shows old pictures of Grand Isle. Hope you enjoy.

    • katie · August 29, 2010

      Karla, thank you so much for your comment and the link. I loved going through the old pictures and seeing what Grand Isle looked like back then.

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