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In 1898, Kate Chopin was a generally well-received author of short stories, her previous works described as "clever." But after the publication of her 1899 novel "The Awakening," Chopin's reputation was destroyed. To better understand the novel's disastrous failure, I will present a pentadic analysis of two initial reviews of the novel published in local newspapers. Corse and Westervelt explain that "the dominant interpretive strategy of reviewers in 1899 was built on assumptions of reading as moral instruction and of women as selfless nurturers." Reading with these assumptions, critics were appalled at the immoral and selfish behavior depicted in the novel, and they used their reviews to direct criticism at Chopin, the author, instead of Edna, the character. Kenneth Burke's pentad is a rhetorical tool used to uncover the motives of the rhetor, and in these reviews, it shows an agent-act construction based on Chopin. The critics used such a construction to direct their anger at Chopin for promoting what they viewed as immoral. In a public response to the backlash, Chopin uses an agent-agency construction based on Edna to deflect blame from herself while still standing by the novel she wrote. Audience takeaways will include an understanding of how the pentad can reveal a rhetor's motive, and a look into the disruptive and revolutionary effects of Chopin's writing.

Publication Date



Logan, UT


agent-act construction, Kate Chopin, novel reviews, pentadic analysis


Arts and Humanities

One More Clever Writer Gone Wrong': A Critical Pentadic Analysis of the Reception of Kate Chopin's 'The Awakening'