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An Analysis Of The Awakening English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1249 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In Kate Chopin’s, The Awakening, Edna Pontellier, is no ordinary woman of her time. During an era in which a women primarily cared for her children, husband, and home, Pontellier took a personal journey to learn about herself as more than just a “mother-woman”. She ultimately battles against the social cultures of her time. This process of rebellion was far ahead of both Chopin and Pontellier’s time, and the pressures of an oppressive society ultimately led to Pontellier’s suicide in the novel, and Chopin abandoning her writing career in reality. Nonetheless, this story laid the groundwork for feminism in generations to come

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As stated, in “The Awakening”, a woman is expected to be a mother and that role should be fulfilling of all her needs. It is clearly demonstrated that a woman who chooses alternative lifestyles and behaviors will shame her husband. Edna’s husband often reprimanded her for neglecting the children. “He reproached his wife with her inattention, her habitual neglect of the children. If it was not a mother’s place to look after children, who’s on earth was it? He himself had his hands full with his brokerage business. He could not be in tow places at once; making a living for his family on the street, and staying at home to see that no harm befell them” (95).

Clearly, according to social norms, this reprimand was from Edna’s boss, her husband. Edna’s own father encouraged Leonce to follow these norms, when advising himn to use his business skills in dealing with his daughter, specifically citing his lenience. This draws an interesting pattern between managing the commerce of this time period and managing the home. In many ways, Edna’s unorthodox behaviors are an issue only when they risk client relationships. As a woman’s role was to entertain guests and provide enjoyment, Mr. Pontellier had to save face when Edna rented a nearby apartment. An ad was placed in a local paper discussing that the Pontellier’s were having renovations completed on their home; thus, entertaining must be put on hold. In this example, a wife is viewed almost as a business asset, or object to put on display for the purpose of entertainment and enjoyment. Possessions were important to men during the Victorian age. “He greatly valued his possessions, chiefly because they were his, and derived genuine pleasure from contemplating a painting, a statuette, a rare lace curtain – no matter what- after he had bought it and placed it among his household gods” (837).

During Victorian times, Edna viewed other women who could have been her role models. Instead, she viewed these women curiously, however, did not follow suit. One example of this is Mme. Ratignoll, and her relationship to her wifely duties. She appeared to enjoy being a wife, and kept up appearances very well. It was said that she visibly hung on her husband’s words, and had social skills that were impressive to her husband’s business associates. She “was keenly interested in everything he said, laying down her fork the better to listen, chiming in, taking the words out of his mouth”(948). Furthermore, “She was keeping up her music on account of the children, she said; because she and her husband both considered it a means of brightening the home and making it attractive”(405).

Further exemplifying Edna’s quest for independence as well as her burgeoning feminism is her relationship with Robert. It becomes clear that Edna cannot be bothered with her husband as her love for Robert grows. She is consumed by her path to self discovery brought about by her relationship with Robert. As already discussed, women were expected to live much like Mme. Ratignoll. This began to change only in recent times. According to controversial sexuality expert Robert T. Francoeur, “Women’s liberation, geographic mobility, birth control and even penicillin (as a treatment for sexually transmitted diseases) have radically altered our society, creating a totally new environment, Francoeur says. The old ethic was based on the nature of genital acts, their reproductive function and marriage. The new sexual ethic, Francoeur asserts, will be more holistic and will emphasize such qualities as mutual responsibility, growth, love, joy, honesty, self-fulfillment and transcendence.” Medoff, Theresa. “Marriage in the 21st century: A revolution in progress.” UD Messenger. 9.4 (2000): Print. This quote demonstrates how many social values surrounding roles within a marriage have only changed recently, during the 20th century. It was clear at the start of “The Awakening”, that feelings would develop between Robert and Edna. We see an innocent dialogue that represents the beginnings of dissention from her wifely roles. She is not accustomed to feelings of attraction and desire outside of her marriage (or inside her marriage for that matter). After meeting Robert, it is very soon that Leonce recognizes the change in his wife’s behavior. “He thought it very iscouraging that his wife, who was the sole object of his existence, evinced so little interest in things which concerned him, and valued so little his conversation” (85). It can be concluded that Leonce did love Edna, but the mores and culture that the marriage offered her, held no appeal.

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A curious theme in this novel is that woman who seeks satisfaction in herself, and outside the confines of marriage must be mentally unstable. Throughout “The Awakening”, we see others look on with wonder at Edna. Her husband is thought to be a fine man, and to avoid the marital norms does not make sense. Leonce tells the doctor that “She’s got some sort of notion in her head concerning the eternal rights of women” (1104). The doctor then questions whether she had been associating with “pseudo-intellectual women”. The very dismissal of any possibility that women could be intelligent (rather than pseudo-intelligent), and that marriage may not be for everyone, was incomprehensible, even to the more evolved characters in the novel.

Some debate exists regarding Edna as feminist. While her journey of exploration was unprecedented, or at least undocumented prior to her, there are some points which work against the feminist aspect of “The Awakening”. At many points during the story, Edna is consumed with her feelings for Robert and her desires for exploring sexuality with other men. When Robert leaves for Mexico, Edna expresses that his “going had some way taken the brightness, the color, the meaning out of everything…her existence was dulled” (767). She focuses intently on Robert, and temporarily lacks attention to her own needs, which is arguable the point of her journey. Additionally, Edna’s story culminates her suicide, as she believed her struggles were ineffectual, because change was slow in those around her. Some might argue that viewing oneself through the eyes of others, and allowing it to dictate one’s sense of self, is decidedly un-feminist. In some ways, the suicide undermines the theme of the novel. That said, the exploration that Chopin credits to Edna is a brave leap away from the Victorian culture of the time.


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