Feminist Perspective in “The Awakening”
In The Awakening, Chopin describes how the perfect man or woman should look according to society. The Awakening was published in 1899 which “aroused a storm of controversy for its then-unprecedented treatment of female independence and sexuality, and for its unromantic portrayal of marriage. ” Women were expected to be obedient housewives and a doting mother to their children. The statement; “If it was not a women’s place to look after children, who are on earth was it? Denotes what the woman’s responsibilities are in a marriage. Chopin uses the characters: Edna, Leonce, Madame Ratignolle, and Robert Lebrun to show how marriage, independence, equal rights, and freedom are portrayed in the novel, The Awakening. Leonce Pontellier was a forty-year-old, slender, medium built man with straight brown hair parted to one side. When Chopin describes, “since it seemed to be the law of society that hair must be parted and brushed” it shows how society expects a man’s appearance to be.
Leonce was away on business often and would send a box full of fruits, bonbons, and delicious syrups in abundance. Mr. Pontellier was often away from home on business trips. To make up for the time spent away from home he would send these luscious treats. The women were envious of how much Mr. Pontellier cared for Edna. Chopin best describes how other women see Mr. and Mrs. Pontellier’s relationship when she states; “selecting with dainty and discriminating fingers and a little greedily, all declared that Mr. Pontellier was the best husband in the world” while sharing the tasty treats sent. Mr. Pontellier was a very materialistic man and even when he looked at his wife after being in the sun states “you are burnt beyond recognition, he added, looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of property which has suffered some damage. ” Shows how men view their wives in that era. Men liked their women to be flawless and devoted to their families. In today’s society that would be considered a “trophy wife”. Leonce is great at providing for his family but disregards his wife’s feelings. One example of how Mr.
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Pontellier is inconsiderate of his wife’s feelings is when she asked him if he would be coming home for dinner and his response was; “he halted a moment and shrugged his shoulders. He did not know; perhaps he would return for the early dinner and perhaps he would not. ” However, when Edna “abandoned her Tuesdays at home, and did not return the visits of those who called upon her. ” Begins painting, he views her as mentally unbalanced, which he seeks advice from a doctor. “
Mr. Pontellier had been rather a courteous husband so long as he met certain tactic submissiveness in his wife. ” In other words as long as Edna does what is expected of society he would be happy. In the late 1800s, the man’s job was to provide for the family and the woman’s job was to care for the house and children. Mr. Pontellier was your typical man of that era. Edna Pontellier was a young woman of twenty-eight, whose “eyes were quick and bright; they were yellowish-brown, about the color of her hair. She was rather handsome than beautiful. In the story, The Awakening Chopin describes Edna as “an American woman with a small infusion of French” , however, it was “lost in dilution. ” Edna was in an unhappy marriage with Leonce and throughout the story begins to find her inner self at the Grand Isle. Chopin uses different symbols throughout the story to help us understand Edna’s state of mind. Edna did not fit in with the rest of the Creole women. Chopin describes Edna as “not a mother-woman” indicating that she is not a dedicated mother like the other Creole women. Mrs. Pontellier, though she had married a Creole, was not thoroughly home in the society of the Creoles. ” The Creole women were known for; “fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. ” Edna has a quadroon nurse, who looks after the children who “was looked upon as a huge encumbrance” leaving one to believe that because of the time period that the quadroon nurse is black.
In this era women were dedicated to their children and husband, however, Edna defies the norms of society when she doesn’t obey these rules. Edna is fascinated by the beauty and mothering portrayed by Madame Ratignolle and forms a bond with her in the summer at Grand Isle. “Madame Ratignolle was very fond of Mrs. Pontellier and often she took her sewing and went over to sit with her in the afternoons. ”Mrs. Pontellier liked to sit and gaze at her fair companion as she might look upon a faultless Madonna. Madame Ratignolle was the perfect Creole woman and Edna looked to her for guidance. Madame Ratignolle is an example of an acceptable woman in this time period. However, Edna realizes she is not like the other Creole women and searches within herself for independence. As a woman in the late 1800’s early 1900’s life had many challenges, especially for those who seek independence. It was unlikely for a woman to neither voice her opinions if she were unhappy in marriage nor choose who to marry. In The Awakening, Edna’s father pushed her into marriage with Leonce.
She describes her marriage as “purely an accident”, and with “the violent opposition of her father and her sister Margaret to her marriage with a Catholic, and we need seek no further for the motives which led her to accept Monsieur Pontellier for her husband. ” In this era, women had very little equal rights and were unable to stand their grounds on their beliefs in fear of rejection from society. In the summer at Grand Isle Edna begins to develop a negative attitude towards marriage. During the summer at Grand Isle, Edna learns how to swim, which begins her “awakening”.
Edna views the sea as calming and way to escape from reality. Even when Edna isn’t at the beach she thinks about the sounds of the waves to comfort her. As Edna looks at the sea she thinks about the “motionless sails against the blue sky, made a delicious picture I just wanted to sit and look at. The hot wind beating in my face made me think – without any connection that I can trace -- of a summer day in Kentucky, of a meadow that seemed as big as the ocean to the very little girl walking through the grass, which was higher than her waist. The sea reminds Edna of being a little girl without having to carry the heavy load of society. She felt freedom through the waves as they hit the shore. After Edna goes for her first swim, she is overjoyed and yells: “Think of the time I have lost splashing like a baby! ”. This was the beginning of the end for her. This night is the first night that Edna stands up to her husband when he asks her to come in for the night while she was resting on the hammock. Edna replies; “No; I’m going to stay out here. ”
Mr. Pontellier wasn’t used to Edna not doing what is asked. Edna hears Leonce moving about the room; every sound indicating impatience and irritation. ” Which signifies Leonce is frustrated that Edna wasn’t submissive as usual. Edna had spent some time with her father which stirred up the feelings as to why she didn’t want to attend her sister’s wedding. Following the advice given to Mr. Pontellier by the Dr. Mandelet’s declined to intervene in her decision. As her father left Mr. Pontellier was not far behind and began talking to her father about Edna’s behavior.
Edna’s father told him “You are too lenient, too lenient by far, Leonce Authority, coercion are what is needed. / Put your foot down good and hard; the only way to manage a wife. Take my word for it. This statement shows how men view women with little respect and freedom. It had to of taken a lot for Edna to stand up to her father and tell him no, when he was such an authority to her in life. Edna’s newfound freedom has found her venturing out and doing things she enjoys. She goes to a horse race with Mrs. Highcamp at Arobin’s drag. This is where she meets a man named Alcee Arobin. She begins to spend a lot of time with sharing her interest of horse racing. Through their constant visits Alcee begins experiencing feelings for Edna. Alcee kisses her hand as he leaves her house in the evening. After he is gone she looks “mechanically at the back of her hand which he had kissed so warmly ”. As Edna looked at her hand “she felt somewhat like a woman who in the moment of passion is betrayed into an act of infedility, and realizes the significance of the act without being wholly awaken from its glamour. When Edna is thinking this she is not referring to her husband, but of Robert whom she fell in love with at the Grand Isle. During this time period divorce wasn’t a choice. Edna continues to fall into the arms of Alcee as they spend time together. Chopin describes the relationship developing into more than just a friendship; however Edna love and sexual desires for Robert are being portrayed with Alcee. Affairs were a forbidden and inexcusable act in the eyes of society.
After this night Edna cried which “was only a phase of the multitudinous emotions which assailed her. There was with her an overwhelming feeling of irresponsibility. ” This signifies that she is feeling remorseful for her doings; however her feelings for Robert are still strong. She then makes a big step and moves out into the pigeon house around the corner. Edna moves out of her home to the pigeon house and begins to support herself through her paintings. This was absurb of a woman moving out of her home away from her husband. When Mr. Pontellier learned of his wife’s intention to abandoned her home and take her residence elsewhere, he immediately wrote a letter of unqualified disapproval and remonstrance. ” He was worried about “what people would say. ” so he put their house under construction to hide the fact that Edna moved out. For the time being Leonce remains away on business while Edna is living in the pigeon house. “No longer was she content to “feed upon opinion” when her own soul had invited her. Edna feels independent and full of life. During this time Robert returns from Mexico and Edna reveals her love to him, “I love you”, she whispered, “only you; no one but you. It was you that awoke me last summer out of a life-long stupid dream. ” She defies the rules of society by loving one other than her husband, whom she was supposed to love and adore forever. However after revealing her love to Robert she leaves the house to attend to her friend who has become ill and asks him to wait for her to return.
When Edna returned home there was a note left from Robert stating; “I love you. Good-by – because I love you. ” Robert did what was the right thing to do in society by leaving because they both would have been shunned for their affair. After reading the letter it appeared as though Edna went into shock. Chopin describes her as she “grew faint when she read the words. ” The next day she decides to go for a little swim and as she was walking she said to herself over and over again, “To—day it is Arobin; to—morrow it will be someone else, and was also thinking about words shared with Adele Ratignolle, “she would give up the unessential, but she would not sacrifice herself for her children. ” She wasn’t going to sacrifice her life any longer for anybody. Edna interprets the sea as being, “seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in abysses of solitude. ” As she continues to walk along the beach doesn’t find anything living except for a “bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water. The bird symbolizes Edna, broken. She strips away her clothing and walks into the cold ocean naked like a new-born creature, never looking back. In conclusion, it is clear throughout the novel society portrays how men and women should look. The men with their perfect hair and the women doing as they should when directed by their husband are the perfect people in that era. However Edna goes against all the rules of society when she begins going against all of her husband’s wishes and gains confidence along with independence. Society was not ready to face the strength of a woman yet. Therefore, Edna felt very alone in the world with nowhere to turn. She took her life in the very place she discovered her soul because it was the only place she truly felt alive and free.
- Chopin, K. , (2005).
- The Awakening, (1899).
- Published by Hayes Barton Press, a division of Vital Source Technologies, Inc. , Retrieved from digital library, September 16, 2011.
- http://digitalbookshelf. southuniversity. edu/#/books/L-999-70979/pages/17443484.
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