The Struggle to Be a Womyn”Every step which she took toward relieving herselffrom obligations added to her strength and expansion as anindividual” (93)The Awakening by Kate Chopin introduces the reader tothe life of Edna Pontellier, a woman with an independentnature, searching for her true identity in a patriarchalsociety that expects women to be nothing more than devotedwives and nurturing mothers. In this paper I will describeEdna’s journey of self-discovery and explain why herstruggle for independence is no easy task. I will alsodiscuss the relationship Edna has with two other main womencharacters and describe how these women conform or rebelagainst a society with many social constraints. Finally Iwill discuss how the issues brought up in Chopin’s novel arestill relevant today.The JourneyThe Awakening begins in the vacation spot of GrandIsle. At first we believe that Grand Isle is a utopia,wealthy families relaxing at oceanside, but it is here whereEdna first begins to realize her unhappiness. The first signof dissatisfaction is when Edna allows herself to feel thather marriage is unsatisfying; yet she must agree with theother women that Leonce Pontellier is the perfect husband.
Edna can now ask herself if she has a good husband and isnot happy than should marriage be a component of her life.Edna has two close relationships with other males in thebook but both prove unsatisfying, and a block to herindependence. The first relationship is with Robert Lebrun.They swim, they chat on the porch and offer each othercompanionship. This is a flirtatious relationship; arelationship similar to those Robert has had previoussummers with other married women; but different becauseEdna, being a “foreigner” allows herself to take Robertseriously and she falls in love with him. This proves tragicbecause during the course of the novel the two will pine foreach other but Robert not wanting to mar his reputation as a “gentleman” moves to Mexico.
Even after his return the twomeet for a short time and then again Robert flees beforeanything happens.The second role Edna begins to question is her role asmother. Edna’s husband scolds her for her unattentiveness toher children. Although Edna is fond of her children she,unlike the other women on Grand Isle, would rather have anurse look after them. Edna says that she would “give up theunessential; I would give my money, I would give my life formy children; but I wouldn’t give myself.
” Edna needs more out of life. She is moved by music.During that summer Edna sketches to find an artistic side toherself. She needs an outlet to express who she is. Ednasees art as important and adding meaning to her life. “Shefelt in it satisfaction of a kind which no other employmentoffered her.
“After the summer is over and they are back to the cityEdna is a changed woman. She makes many steps towardsindependence. She stops holding “Tuesday socials;” she sendsher children to live in the country with their grandparents;she refuses to travel abroad with her husband; she moves outof the Lebrun house on Esplanade Street; and she startsselling her sketches and betting the horses to earn her ownmoney. She also starts a relationship with another man AlceeArobin. He meant nothing to her emotionally but she used himfor sexual pleasure. Edna evolved above her peers she didnot believe that sexuality and motherhood had to be linked.The last step of her “awakening” is the realization that shecan not fulfill her life in a society that will not allowher to be a person and a mother.
Edna commits suicide in theocean at Grand Isle.Analysis “To a certain extent, The Awakening shows Edna at themercy of a patriarchal husband, a hot climate, a Creolelifestyle, and the circumscribed expectations of aparticular class of Louisiana women.”(Taylor,p.195) Ednaquestions these wife and mother roles because they are rolesshe was forced into. She married Leonce not because sheloved him but because she could not refuse his admirationand persistence.
This marriage thrusts Edna into a foreignculture. She questions her role as a mother because she isdifferent from the typical Creole “mother-woman.” Ednadefies “the central perception of her century that women aremothers first and individuals second-or not at all. Shenever denies the value of motherhood…But she does deny itssupremacy over larger truths of human existence.
“(Dyer,p.106) This is what leads to her suicide. “Edna refuses toreturn to a world that values only her performance as amother, whose highest expectations for women areself-sacrifice and self-effacement. She refuses to return toa world in which this idea is pervasive and inescapable-andunavoidably colors even her own thinking. For Edna, thereis, ideally, a truth greater than that of motherhood.Motherhood, compared with it, becomes yet another illusionthat Edna must dispel. That final truth, that greater truth,can not coexist with the social, the moral, or even thebiological obligations of motherhood.
(Dyer, p.105) Edna’ssuicide is tragic and victorious. Tragic, because Edna couldnot become the person she wanted to be because of therestrictions society placed on mothers; victorious, becauseEdna did not conform to a patriarchal society. Women CharactersIn The Awakening two women characters are presented insharp contrast to each other. These women introduce Edna tonew ideas and influence Edna’s perception of womanhood.First we are introduced to Madame Ratignolle, the perfect”mother-woman”. Adele is perfectly content and happyconforming to society. Adele keeps up her piano playing notfor her own artistic outlet but for her children.
She livesfor her husband and her children and encourages Edna to dothe same. Adele introduces Edna to female love. Edna wasenamored by Adele, “She had long wished to try herself onMadame Ratignolle. Never had that lady seemed a moretempting subject than at that moment, seated there like somesensuous Madonna,”(14) Adele is the first woman Edna feelscomfortable with confiding in and being caressed by. “Insome respects, the motherless Edna seeks a mother surrogatein Adele and looks to her for nurturance. Adele providesmaternal encouragement for Edna’s painting and tells herthat her talent is immense'(18).
“(Showalter,p.74)Mademoiselle Reisz is the opposite if Adele. She is anunmarried musician and she is considered eccentric for heroutspoken views.
She is very fond of Edna. She introducesEdna to the world of art. Mademoiselle Reisz’s piano playing”sent a tremor down Mrs. Pontellier’s spinal column.” As Edna compares herself to these women she is notfully satisfied with either of them as a role model.
Adele,although loved, lacks an independent life. Reisz isindependent but she lacks love. Edna is searching for amiddle ground between the two.Relevance todayThe main question Chopin ponders in this novel is can awoman have both a marriage and children and a fulfillingindependent life outside of that realm. That is a questionstill relevant today.
Today a woman can have both a careerand a family. The question is will a woman with childrenexcel in her career as far as she would have if she waschildless. Also, will her children suffer if her career isher first priority. I have witnessed two scenarios thatexemplify these questions. My Aunt Cathy quit a fulfillingcareer that offered her travel, excitement , and a goodsalary to be a stay at home mom. She is happy but she admitsto often wondering “What if?”. She also cautions me topostpone marriage until I have accomplished my goals.
MyAunt Michele barely took a breath after giving birth beforereturning back to work. My grandmother raised her daughterand now at age seven her daughter is much closer with mygrandmother than her own mother. I often wonder what thelong term affects are going to be.Edna’s journey is one that everyone goes through.
Ednaattempts her journey of self discovery after she assumes theunsatisfying roles of wife and mother. I am on that journeynow, at twenty-two, childless, husbandless, and inschool-trying to give my life direction. The journey wouldbe more difficult if I had the responsibilities that Ednahas.
Edna’s journey is also more difficult because itoccurred during the time period where a woman was a secondclass citizen. ConclusionI enjoyed and connected to The Awakening. I am at aperiod in my life where I want to start moving towards agoal. When I weigh my career choices I often ponder how afamily will fit into that choice. Edna’s struggle made merealize the universality of this dilemma and I realize howlucky I am to have women like Kate Chopin come before me andmake my struggle a little easier.Works CitedDyer, Joyce.(1993).The Awakening A Novel of Beginnings.
New York:Twayne Publishers. Elfbein, Anna Shannon.(1989).
Women on the Color Line.Charlottesville:University Press of Virginia.Papke, Mary E.(1990).
Verging on the Abyss The SocialFiction of Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton. Newyork:Greenwood Press.Showalter, Elaine.(1991).Sister’s Choice Traditionand Change in American Women’s Writing.Oxford:Clarendon PressTaylor, Helen.(1989).Gender, Race, and Religion in theWritings of Grace King, Ruth McEnery Stuart, and KateChopin.Baton Rouge:Louisiana State Press