Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.

The Awakening and the Whale

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KeriHulme_1985_lr              Kate_Chopin



In the passage written about Keri Hulme before “One Whale, Singing” in our anthology, a comparison is made to Edna Pontellier from Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening”.  While both authors come from different time periods, cultures and backgrounds,  the main characters from both stories are very similar in many ways.


In Hulme’s “One Whale, Singing”, the two stories of a young pregnant wife and a young pregnant whale collide.  The point of view switches from the woman on the boat to the whale every couple of paragraphs.  We find out that the young woman is a poet and married to a scientist in what looks like a love-less marriage.  We also discover that the woman is dreading motherhood.  At one point she says when referring to her unborn child: “Don’t refer to it as a person!  It is a canker in me, a parasite.  It is nothing to me.  I feel it squirm and kick, and sicken at the movement.” (856).  She is constantly bashing her husband in her thoughts, and she seems to hate everything about her life.  Only at the end of the story after the mother whale accidentally hits the boat and destroys it and the woman is swimming for her life in the ocean her unborn child is “dear to her for the first time” (860).

There are many comparisons that can be made between the woman in “One Whale, Singing” and Edna Pontellier.  Both woman resent their lives and their husbands.  Both women are married to men who view their creativity as a weakness and it is not taken seriously.  On page 857 in “One Whale, Singing”, the woman says something about how nice it would be to communicate with the other species and her husband replies with, “That’s the trouble with you poets…Dream marvels are to be found from every half-baked piece of pseudoscience that drifts around.  That’s not seeing the world as it is.  We scientists rely on reliably ascertained facts for a true picture of the world.”  He doesn’t take her as seriously because she has a more creative and earthly mind.  Edna’s husband in “The Awakening” tells her that she should be spending more time taking care of her family rather than painting.  Both husbands oppress their wives’ creativity in both stories.

Another similarity both women share is that they are both loath to the idea and role of motherhood.  In “The Awakening”, Edna Pontellier struggles with the ideality of the “mother-woman” and taking care of her children, and in “One Whale, Singing”, the woman calls her unborn child a “parasite” and doesn’t refer to it as a person at all.  We can deduce that becoming a mother was not her decision and it is not something she is looking forward to.  In fact she doesn’t feel any connection to the child until the very end of the story when she is swimming for her life in the ocean.  Even then she doesn’t feel a strong desire to save her baby’s life.

The last comparison between the two women is their draw and connection to the ocean, as well as both of them meet their ends in the ocean.  Throughout “The Awakening”, Edna makes many references to the sea and her draw to it and at the end of the story, Edna swims far out into the ocean to escape her life and is unable to swim back to shore.  It is assumed that she dies in the ocean but it is uncertain whether or not she did it intentionally or not.  At the end of “One Whale, Singing”, the mother whale accidentally crashes into the boat, destroying it and sending the pregnant wife into the ocean.  She has a moment with the whale, and then as she’s floating in the water says, “How strange, if this is to be the summation of my life.” (860).  It then goes on to read, “The sea is warm and confiding, and it is a long long way to shore.” (860).  One can assume from that last sentence that the woman did not make it back to sure and she met her demise in the ocean, just like Edna Pontellier.

Keri Hulme and Kate Chopin were not contemporaries of each other, nor do their respective stories take place in the same time period, culture, or setting.  Yet their main characters share a lot of the same feelings and characterizations.  Both women have more creative minds that are denounced by their love-less marriages, a loath of the idea of motherhood, and have a connection to the ocean as well as meet their ends there.


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