Edna Pontellier Character Analysis in ‘The Awakening’
From the start of the novel Edna is characterized as being different than those around her. Unlike the other women represented within the novel Edna does not follow the society norm of worshiping her husband and her family, Edna is not a ‘mother-women’ who would sacrifice herself for her husband and family. Edna is presented as having a rebellious past, and after marrying she believed that this rebellious stage would fade. In the summer where Edna and her family goes to Grand Isle, Edna begins to find herself and become her own person. Edna begins to find herself through her pursuing activities in which she is passionate about. Edna also seems to allow herself to follow her own desires and develop areas within herself that she had always lacked within her marriage.
One of the most important features in Edna’s Awakening is her relationship with Robert. Unlike her relationship with her husband, which always seems to bring out her depression, Edna develops strong feelings for Robert. Edna’s rebellious state that she had gone through in youth seems to return to her and she does not repress it. Edna and Robert become devoted to one another and spend most of the summer together, although it never becomes physical. Edna’s obsession with the idea of unfulfilled love is brought out through her relationship with Robert.
Another stage of Edna’s awakening is when Mademoiselle Reisz plays the piano. Unlike those around her Edna does not hear the music as just a form that is supposed to bring pleasure but she has an emotional connection to the music itself. In the past she had always had visual representations within her mind which connected to the music but while hearing Mademoiselle play, she allows herself to have an emotional connection to the music.
Edna also seeks to establish herself and find herself through art. As Edna becomes more and more engaged within her art she begins to fall away from the Societies standards. She begins to spend more time finding herself rather than spending her time caring for her family and her home.
Overall Edna never seems to look ahead to see what her actions will cause. Edna almost takes on a childish characterization which further emphasizes the idea of her going through a rebirth within the novel. Edna seems to be strong enough to rebel but not strong enough to continue the rebellious nature and to deal with the consequences.
Mademoiselle Reisz is an unmarried woman who does not have any children and devotes her time to her passion of music. Having talent for her musical abilities, especially for her piano playing, Mademoiselle Reisz serves as a source of inspiration for Enda during her awakening. When Edna begins her awakening, she seeks Mademoiselle’s companionship and Mademoiselle encourages Edna to continue and devote more of her time to her art. Mademoiselle also seems to be more excluded from the society as she does not follow the societies standards like other characters in the novel. As well, Mademoiselle Reisz is the only character within the novel who notices the growing relationship between Edna and Robert. Mademoiselle is also a character that seems to understand Robert and speaks to him about his growing attraction the Edna.
Neither character, Edna or Mademoiselle Reisz seem to be that fond of one another but are brought together through their mutual understanding of their passion for music. Edna also seems to become aware of herself as a woman who is able to be passionate about art through her mutual understanding of music with Mademoiselle. Mademoiselle represents the women that Edna could have become if she would have continued within herself awakening and ignored her family and household.
Mademoiselle Reisz can also be seen as a foil to Adéle Ratignolle as Adéle follows the societies standards.
The Mockingbird can also be seen as a symbol for Mademoiselle.
The Awakening – Student Choice Literature
Oh dear, I do not know whether to feel guilty or joy after everything I have done up until this point. The only thing could dare make things worse if Léonce would discover these confessions. I never quite imagined that all of these things would happen. I thought I would have never got to feel this way. From being married into a dull, uninteresting, marriage with Léonce, to majestically falling in love with Robert Lebrun, to swindling with Alcée Arobin, there is so much I need to free my conscience from. Somehow, someway, I feel awake.
Where do I begin? I think it goes as far as back as to our vacation in New Orleans. During that vacation, I began to think about how you show no concern for me at times but, somehow we still understand each other. I also remember certain people being there as well and some of them would go on to later influence my behavior in different ways. It is quite funny to me that I and Léonce have a rare relationship in which I feel as if he simply does not care enough for me even though I love Robert. This is where it all started.
Another thing that ultimately leads to my actions had to be the way I felt at times. I truly never mentioned my feelings at times. For a while now, I feel like I have been trapped. Not physically trapped, but trapped in ways that I feel as if I am not happy or, even free. Everything from feeling opposed, the truth, and even more. The way Léonce treats me at times as well as very unpleasant and makes me feel worthless. Even when it came to simple things, he would still criticize me when he himself could have done the task too. To make it even worse, I have to make myself responsible for things even though I know we both can be responsible. This is just one of the other things that held me back from having a sense of freedom.
One of the other things that have to lead me to be this way is the fact I do not want to be just like every other woman. What I mean by that is that I do not want to be like the other women who are wives that serve the husband and take care of the children. I want to have a form of freedom and being a wife that just serves and takes care of her family is not going to help me ever get this freedom I desire. I knew that wanting this freedom comes at a very big cost. Personally, I knew that if I wanted this freedom, I’d have to take the ultimate risk in order to be free.
One thing for sure that led to what I did, in the end, must have been the condition I was in. For a while, had not been happy because I was looking for this freedom. The way I saw women around me and how they were like gave me despair. Besides seeing the way they were, I felt as some of them could not comprehend my struggle and my wish for freedom. Some of them like Adele Ratignolle are some examples of women I aspire not be. On the other hand, Mademoiselle Reisz is sort of who I want to be but, I am not ready to give up big things though. I know what I want, yet I feel like there is not a single person that I could look to in order to help me find what I am looking for. Despite not finding anyone, I figured it would be best if I took it into in my own hands and, begin finding freedom on my own. I felt like no one would understand, I felt alone, so I took matters into my own hands and can now be seen what it has turned out to be in the very end.
Besides my actions that led me to the way things are now, I did some things behind the back of my husband. I never really felt free when with him at any time. At one point, I ended up falling in love with Robert Lebrun while with Léonce. Robert was away in Mexico during the happening of my awakening but, somehow still was a part of it. Even though Robert is younger than I am, he brings something out of me which makes me no longer want to hide at times. When he promised to write to me while he was away made me sad not because he was writing to me but, that I never got the letters. I had known about Roberts’s reputation with other women as well but, he just made feel a certain way. However, when he came back, things were not the same. He had changed in different ways but most significantly in his love for me. It seemed to have gone away. I will never forget that type of feeling ever again.
One of the other things I did behind the back of my husband was cheating on him with Alcée. I remember that I began fooling around with him when Léonce was away on that trip for something in New York. I had known that Alcée had fooled around with other women who had been married as well too. Oh, but there is just something about him that drove me in a such a sensual way. However, despite having an affair with him with such excitement, I was not going to let him get his way with me. I heard so many stories about the things with other women. Despite this, I did not allow him to get his way this time along with the fact that I felt no forms of emotion whatsoever. The affair is something I feel as if I must regret it for many reasons.
In the end, I ended up taking my own life. I had no other option. It was the only way I knew I could be free. I was never able to be free or love who I love. I am sorry for ever and ever.
The Free Edna
“The Awakening” By Kate Chopin
The Awakening, Kate Chopin
Novel, Fiction, Romance
The book best belongs to the romantic and realism movement, published around the romantic era. The author uses romanticism which focuses on emotion, inner life, and the appreciation of nature. The author also uses realism which emphasizes what is real (writing without metaphors, similes, and gets to point)
Kate Chopin 1850-1904: grew up in St. Louis without her father so women oversaw her house. She grew up learning the potential for independence and strength of a woman. Kate did not begin her writing career until the death of her husband. Her first novel was At Fault written in 1889. Most of her work was accepted by the public although people believed it held little to no importance in literature. Her most well-known book was The Awakening. The book held a lot of controversy and it has been said that Edna from the book is much like Kate herself. The book take place at both the Grand Isle and New Orleans during the late 19th century. In the Book Edna lives among the Cereol, which along with the vacation at Grand Isle plays a key part in her awakening.
-Edna and her husband vacationing at Grand Isle with their kids and other wealthy people from New Orleans. -Edna makes friends with the graceful and well respected Adele Ratignolle and her less wealthy friend Robert. – Edna drowns and in return felt awakened at the experience. – Robert leaves for Mexico with Edna deeply hurt. -Edna returns to New Orleans and begins to behave differently, neglecting her duties as a wife to take care of the household. -Her husband travels away to New York while her kids are at the country and she is left all alone. -Edna makes good friends with mademoiselle Riez a woman who was not widely liked. -She takes a liking to art – Edna develops a close relationship with a man named Arobin, .-Robert arrives back on New Orleans and admits his love for the married Edna. – Robert leaves a letter for Edna saying that because he loved her he must leave forever -A while later, Edna goes for a swim, thinking about society, her children, her husband, Robert, and her awakening.
Edna Pontellier-main character and protagonist, Leonce Pontellier-Edna’s Husband, Mademoiselle Riez- Edna’s friend and musician and widely not liked, Adele Ratignolle- Edna’s friend, and an ideal woman, Robert Lebrun-Man Edna falls in love with, Alcee Arobin-Man Edna has an affair with, Doctor Mandelt-family physician, The colonel-Edna’s father, Victor Lebrun- Robert’s younger brother, Madame Lebrun- widowed mother of Robert and victor, The Lady in Black-vacationer on grand isle, Mariequita-flirt who like both Robert and Victor.
Bird-the bird symbolizes strength in delicate forms and freedom. House-Houses symbolize the reflection and soul of the person living inside them Ocean- the ocean symbolizes freedom and in the book the change in Edna the became her awakening. Internal: Edna’s internal conflict with herself was about her guilt towards her relationship with her husband and children External: Edna’s conflict is with society and how it portrays woman’s roles. While Edna beliefs she is to be an individual, society wants women to live domestic lifestyles. The title “The Awakening” refers to Edna’s awakening in realizing that her life is trapped by her duty as a wife and mother. The awakening is her becoming conscious of who she is as she lives out the joys of freedom and passion. -men are often allowed to take passes for doing things that are deemed wrong for reputation, while women receive the full judgement of thing seen as wrong in the eyes of society. -finding out who you truly are can at times mean letting go of societies assumptions and barriers.
The Awakening is a novel about a woman’s hope and journey to live life as her true self while in fear and chained by societies judgement. -“In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her” (ch.6:describes the beginning of Edna’s awakening) -“she wondered if her husband had ever spoken to her like that before, and if she had submitted to his command” (ch.11: Edna begins to realize that she had put up to things that were wrong because according to the rules of society it was what she was meant to do.)-“I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself” (Ch.16: Edna in saying this is announcing how much her individuality means to her, how much being happy (herself) means) -“… looking at his wife as one looks at a piece of personal property that has suffered damage” (Ch.1- an example of how women were seen in society) -“The voice of the sea speaks to the soul.
The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.” (ch.6: symbolism of the ocean and an example of its significance in the book) -“… she was seeing with different eyes and making the acquaintance of new conditions in herself that colored and changed her environment, she did not yet suspect.” (ch.14 Edna is beginning see and relate to the world and her surroundings differently.) -“… he could not see that she was becoming herself and daily casting aside that factious self which we would assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.” (ch.19, example that even though Edna was becoming true to her self her actions where seen odd and wrong by society) -“I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose. If he were to say, ‘Here, Robert, take her and be happy; she is yours,’ I should laugh at you both.” (ch.36: Edna proclaiming she would never be caged again. She now understand who she really is and what she wants.
A Self-Discovery As a Providing Theme in The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Edna Pontellier’s Self-Discovery
Death is the ultimate sacrifice or the last act of rebellion. People die for their loved ones or for themselves, to better the world or to preserve ideals. In Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening, Chopin narrates Edna Pontellier’s journey of self-discovery that ultimately ends in suicide. Chopin’s purpose is to entertain the audience while questioning the discriminatory social standards of the early 1900s. Her impartial tone provides readers with a realistic plot, drawing the audience into the novel. Many literary critics note that Chopin also employs various writing styles to support this central idea, in addition to tone. Throughout The Awakening, Chopin expertly utilizes characterization, symbolism, and an objective point of view to emphasize the theme of self-discovery. During The Awakening, Chopin’s characterization of Robert Lebrun emphasizes the theme of self-discovery. Robert’s naïve nature drives his belief that the impossible is probable, of course within the conventions of society. In Chopin’s novel, Robert even declares his love for Edna and tells of his hope that Mr. Pontellier will liberate her (Chopin 178). Robert views Edna as her husband’s property, awakening her to the female social standard of family devotion. Once she comprehends society’s standards towards females, Edna rebels against civilization and begins her journey of self-discovery. In literary critic Carole Stone’s opinion, “Robert becomes cupid that awakens Edna to the force of Eros” (Stone 62). Once Robert causes Edna to question her current situation, her female companion Adele Ratignolle further illustrates Edna’s need for self-discovery.
Chopin’s characterization of Adele Ratignolle further emphasizes the theme of self-discovery. Adele, one of Edna’s closest companions, represents the stereotypical mother of society, unselfishly spending her time tending to her children, cooking, knitting, and cleaning. Adele’s view of the world greatly differs with Edna’s, sparking disagreements between the two on a variety of subjects. During one disagreement, Edna asserts that she would sacrifice her life, but not herself, for her children. Adele fails to comprehend the difference between these two concepts, declaring that people must sacrifice themselves when giving up their lives (Chopin 80). Adele thinks superficially, not pondering the symbolic meaning of Edna’s words, that people can unselfishly sacrifice themselves without giving up their souls. Through such arguments, Edna realizes that she is not meant to be a stereotypical woman, only “absorbed, defined by her social and biological roles and responsibilities,” as literary critic Suzanne Green notes (Green 61). Edna craves art, beauty, self-fulfillment, and other deep concepts, which Adele simply does not understand. Once Adele awakens Edna to her differences so that she feels the need for a self-discovery, Edna’s other female companion, Mademoiselle Reisz, aids in this voyage. Mlle. Reisz is the quintessence of an isolated and dedicated artist, as literary critic Carole Stone observes (Stone 61). Mlle. Reisz’s musical background gives her the knowledge to teach Edna about the soul-searching qualities of art. Mlle. Reisz first shows art as a means to self-fulfillment at a dinner party, where Mlle. Reisz’s piano skills “sent a keen tremor down Mrs. Pontellier’s spinal column” (Chopin 44). Mlle. Reisz encourages Edna to discover herself through art by illustrating the beauty of music. In addition, the other residents’ views of Mlle. Reisz (that she is an odd and disagreeable woman but a fantastic piano player) shed further light on the life of an artist (Chopin 43). Mlle. Reisz is self-fulfilled but is also isolated from the rest of society, exposing Edna to the benefits and consequences of an artist’s life. Through this knowledge, Edna discovers that she cannot abandon society to become just an artist and not a mother, since she requires companionship. In addition, Mlle. Reisz directly supports Edna’s self-discovery by providing her with soul-searching advice. In Chopin’s novel, Mlle. Reisz asserts that one must have natural talent and a courageous soul to become an artist (Chopin 106). Through Mlle. Reisz’s advice, Edna looks within herself for the various qualities of an artist generally, such as defiance, courage, and freedom. After learning about the benefits and consequences of becoming an artist, the qualities that an artist has, and the necessity of art for self-discovery, Edna then turns to the sea for guidance on this journey.
The symbolism of Grand Isle’s sea, which Edna visits often, also emphasizes Chopin’s theme of self-discovery. The sea’s deeper meaning is first highlighted through Edna’s childlike response when learning to swim, that she is like a “clutching child, who of a sudden realizes its power” (Chopin 47). The ocean symbolizes Edna’s vast potential and capacity, which she discovers through learning to swim. Near the end of her journey, when Edna feels wronged by the unbending standards of society, the ocean also provides her with a final resting place. The sea slightly changes forms from the beginning of the novel, becoming “seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in an abyss of solitude” (Chopin 189). Edna has discovered the limits of her potential and has thrown herself into this abyss, also known as death, marking the end of her journey. Many critics, including Carl Wade, have also interpreted the sea as such a symbol. Wade asserts that Edna’s swimming and the sea symbolizes an attempt by Edna to become one and whole (Wade 246). In general, the sea becomes a symbol of Edna’s self-discovery, since she is attempting to understand her potential. Though the sea’s symbolic nature is crucial in supporting this theme, an objective narrator is arguably more important for Edna’s personal growth.
The theme of self-discovery is further emphasized by Chopin’s use of an objective point of view. The author avoids loaded terms while describing her characters, neither aiding nor hindering Edna’s self-discovery. One such instance is in Chopin’s novel, when Edna refuses to go to her sister’s wedding and her father, the Colonel, yells at Edna for her lack of kindness (Chopin 119). Chopin describes the Colonel as fair when highlighting Edna’s flaws, so that Edna is more likely to take the blame for her actions, understand her flaws, and grow as a person. According to literary critic Ramos, this allows Chopin to then impartially critique Edna’s choices (Ramos). In this way, Edna is able to take the blame for other actions she commits, like her affair with Alcee Arobin. Chopin writes that Alcee’s and Edna’s first kiss “was a flaming torch that kindled desire” (Chopin 139). Edna is not portrayed as a victim to manipulation but as a willing participant in this affair, forcing Edna to take responsibility for her actions. Overall, Chopin’s impartial description of Edna’s affair and the Colonel’s yelling forces Edna to take responsibility for her actions and discover the flaws in her behavior. This detailed analysis proves that Chopin uses literary devices in The Awakening to support the theme of self-discovery. Robert’s love, created through characterization, and the symbolism of the sea “awaken” Edna, causing her to set out on a journey of self-fulfillment. Adele helps Edna realize that she is not a stereotypical mother, which further pushes Edna to discover herself. Mlle. Reisz then exposes Edna to the artist’s life, encouraging Edna to discover herself through art. Finally, an objective point of view allows for the unbiased telling of Edna’s journey, so that the reader is able to see the true consequences of Enda’s actions and watch as she grows as a person. At the end of Edna’s journey, Chopin utilizes the sea once again to symbolize death, concluding the novel. Overall, Chopin’s superb implementation of characterization, symbolism, and an objective point of view emphasizes the theme of self-discovery throughout The Awakening.
An Importance Of Environmental Protection in America
One of the most important periods in the history of American environmentalism lasted through much of the 1960s and early 1970s. The environmental movement during these years has been called the “second wave” of environmentalism (Shabecoff 2001, 7); it followed an earlier “first wave” environmental movement around the turn of the century, which was perhaps more accurately described as a conservation movement and which led to the establishment of national parks and forests (Shabecoff 2001, 2-3). The “second wave” went beyond conservation, becoming the first broad “environmental movement.” It arose after some people started bringing attention to environmental problems as early as the mid-1950s; the most prominent issue was pollution, but other ones received attention as well, such as the loss of natural land and depletion of resources. The idea of environmental protection gained support and eventually gave rise to an influential movement, especially from 1970 onward. This resulted in the passing of several laws that protected against environmental threats, especially pollution that could be harmful to people and ecosystems. These laws meant that the environmental movement of the period was, to some extent, a success. The environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s succeeded for a few reasons, including broad support for environmental protection among the American public and the personal dedication of certain officials.
By 1970, there was an “elevation of environment… to sacred status in American thought” (DiMento and Oshio 2009, 24). Several people had helped to encourage this cultural transition during the 1960s. According to environmental historian Adam Rome, “five groups were critical” in advancing the environmental movement in the 1960s, which were “liberal Democrats, scientists, middle-class women, young critics of American institutions, and conservationists” (Rome 2013, 10). People from these groups are still active as environmentalists today, although their advocacy likely has less of an impact because they are no longer publicizing a previously unheard-of cause. Scientists were some of the starters of the movement, playing a “critical role” in “the surge of concern about environmental degradation” (Rome 2013, 20). It was helpful that science had become a larger focus in politics in the 1950s, due in part to “the nuclear era” and “the Sputnik-initiated space age” (DiMento and Oshio 2009, 23). One such scientist was Rachel Carson, who published Silent Spring in 1962, a book “often credited with launching the modern environmental movement” (Woodhouse 2008, 59). The book raised concerns about chemical pollutants, and communicated that this now-widespread pollution could end up in organisms’ tissue and ultimately harm humans. She specifically addressed pesticides and radioactive materials released from the testing of nuclear weapons, both of which could be harmful (Rome 2013, 23-24). The book became a bestseller (Rome 2013, 24), and it inspired a sense of “fear” in many readers that contributed to the prevalence of environmental concerns (DiMento and Oshio 2009, 24). The book certainly made an impact on policy: after its publication, for example, “[President] Kennedy instructed his science advisers to report on the use of pesticides” (Rome 2013, 16).
Another important scientist was Barry Commoner, a biologist and activist who wrote the book Science and Survival in 1966. Commoner began in the late 1950s by raising awareness about the effects of radioactive materials from nuclear weapons testing (Rome 2013, 20-22); this threat was one of the common concerns that gave rise to the environmental movement in the 1960s (DiMento and Oshio 2009, 23). In the 1960s, Commoner went on to speak about other environmental issues as well, such as pesticides, air pollution, and risks from nuclear power (Rome 2013, 20-23). A third scientist was Paul Ehrlich, who wrote the book The Population Bomb in 1968; this book argued that Earth’s resources might not be able to sustain the human population if it continued to grow rapidly (Rome 2013, 26-27). The American Association for the Advancement of Science also encouraged its members to learn about environmental issues; the association’s meeting in 1966 had an environmental theme, and the association’s journal Science started containing articles about environmental science (Rome 2013, 28).
The environmental cause was associated with the Democratic Party since the mid-1950s, when some Democrats were considering new goals for the party’s ideology and decided that it should promote environmental protection (Rome 2013, 10). Two of the people most responsible for this idea were Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Kenneth Galbraith; these were both Harvard professors who wrote speeches for the Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson II, were co-founders of the liberal lobbying organization Students for a Democratic Society, and later served as advisers to John F. Kennedy. Democrats such as Schlesinger and Galbraith reasoned that, now that the U.S. was in a very wealthy period, the Democrats had to go beyond the simply economic concerns of their earlier New Deal-based liberalism. They believed that the government should aim to improve the quality of life instead of just the quantity of wealth, and that a clean environment was essential to a happy and healthy society (Rome 2013, 11-13).
These views were shared by many Americans, who started to observe that the economic growth since World War II had had “environmental costs” (Geary 2003). They cited problems such as water pollution, air pollution, and disappearing countryside due to suburban sprawl as evidence that the country should focus more on maintaining the quality of public goods. These concerns were raised by a number of prominent liberal figures around 1960, including the political scientist Clinton Rossiter, the urbanist Catherine Bauer Wurster, and the bestselling author Vance Packard (Rome 2013, 15). In the early 1960s, environmental concerns became more common among members of the government. One politician who was especially committed to the cause was Kennedy’s secretary of the interior Stewart Udall, who wrote a book called The Quiet Crisis that addressed pollution and disappearing nature. Another such politician was the Maine senator Edmund Muskie, who was called “Mr. Pollution Control” for his efforts (Rome 2013, 16-17).
Conservation groups, some of which had been around since the “first wave” conservation movement of the early 20th century, also contributed to the new movement. The National Wildlife Federation became more active in the 1960s, letting individuals join for the first time (instead of just state wildlife federations). The organization also started a magazine, National Wildlife, that discussed both conservation and pollution issues such as pesticides (Rome 2013, 48-49). It was also in the 1960s that the National Audubon Society changed from being a bird-protecting organization to one that proclaimed its focus on “the total environment”. It founded its own environmental magazine and spoke out against threats such as DDT (Rome 2013, 51-53). The Sierra Club also became more active in the 1960s; it used newspaper ads to advocate for the conservation of various places, published photo books that aimed to convey the value of the natural world, and admitted many (mostly young) members (Rome 2013, 53-55). These organizations were influenced by the growing wave of environmental consciousness of the time, and contributed to it themselves as well.
Many of the countercultural young people of the 1960s also took part in the movement. The counterculture of the period represented “broad questioning of traditional ideals and priorities”, such as monetary wealth (DiMento and Oshio 2009, 24). Hippies, today a symbol of the 1960s, were known for their affinity with nature and their efforts to live a way of life that was closer to nature. “Because the mainstream media gave tremendous attention to the counterculture, the hippie argument that the nation needed to find a less environmentally destructive way of life reached a wide audience” (Rome 2013, 40), which meant that their ideals contributed to environmentalist sentiment in the rest of American society. The college movements that made up what was called the “New Left” were also significant; in the late 1960s, the students in the New Left began to incorporate environmentalism into their “overall critique of modern, American society” (Woodhouse 2008, 73). The Vietnam War was one source of environmentalist views among New Left protesters; reports of the U.S. military spraying herbicides on forests and rice fields in Vietnam suggested that the U.S. was fighting a “war against nature” (Rome 2013, 43), which, like the human effects of the war, was reprehensible to many in the New Left. An oil spill in Santa Barbara in 1969 was another incident that prompted many New Left students to protest corporate pollution (Rome 2013, 42). This oil spill also received significant media coverage and raised awareness about environmental issues among the general public as well (DiMento and Oshio 2009, 26-27).
Middle class women, often housewives, also played an important role in the emerging environmental movement. This was mainly due to gender roles and the view of environmental protection as “a natural extension of their concerns as housewives and mothers” (Rome 2013, 34). Many of these women believed that it was their responsibility to look out for their children’s health and happiness, which could be threatened by pollution and a lack of open space. The League of Women Voters raised awareness about water pollution in the 1950s and lobbied the government for water protection in the 1960s (Rome 30). Many women also organized grassroots campaigns in their local communities towards various environmental goals; the goal was often the preservation of undeveloped land, but women in certain cities, such as New York (Rome 2013, 30) and Pittsburgh (Rome 2013, 36-37), also started groups that were against air pollution.
Some of the first environmental legislation of the “second wave” came during the 1960s. President Lyndon Johnson’s administration was responsible for the creation of the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration and the National Air Pollution Control Administration, as well as many minor pieces of conservation and pollution-related legislation (Rome 2013, 19-20). Johnson’s dedication likely came partly from a personal connection to environmental concerns, as “his wife had a keen interest in nature” (Rome 2013, 17). However, his action on environmental problems can also be partly attributed to his advisers, who encouraged him to address these problems in his “Great Society” program. These advisers were inspired by the same “qualitative liberalism” idea that the aforementioned Schlesinger and Galbraith had advocated (Rome 2013, 17). Another important piece of legislation was the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), passed in 1969, which “requires federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions” (EPA, 2015). The political scientist Lynton Cadwell, who served as a consultant to the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, wrote the original draft that became the National Environmental Policy Act. Cadwell’s desire to support environmental policy in the U.S. can be traced back to his work in international development in other countries. While working in Hong Kong in 1963, he had “realized that many of the places he had studied in the last decade, places like Hong Kong, suffered from severe problems—environmental problems—that governments felt fell outside of their concerns” (Robertson 2008, 582). Lyndon Johnson and Lynton Cadwell were two examples of individuals whose personal belief in the importance of environmental protection led to the passage of environmental legislation.
1970 was an important year for the environmental movement, and the first thing that marked it as such was the creation of Earth Day. Earth Day was founded by a senator from Wisconsin named Gaylord Nelson. He had worked on environmental causes before, such as by promoting conservation when he was governor in the early 1960s, and proposing legislation to ban certain pollutants and maintain clean bodies of water (Rome 2010, 196). His environmentalist views were related to his “faith that government could do good” (Rome 2013, 59), his personal love for nature, and his observation of contemporary issues such as water pollution (Rome 2013, 61-65). Inspired by the “teach-ins” that the contemporary anti-war movement had used, Nelson had an idea to promote discussion of environmental problems through teach-ins. In late 1969, he proposed the idea of a day of environmental teach-ins around the country, and the idea quickly gained a large amount of media coverage and became popular. Nelson hired a staff of young activists to lead the event and they helped local organizers prepare for teach-ins. In many cities and schools, however, people began organizing for Earth Day events themselves. These people included housewives, young professionals, science students, and teachers (Rome 2010, 197-198). When the time came, “millions of people took part in thousands of Earth Day teach-ins, protests, and celebrations across the United States”, in colleges, schools, churches, temples, parks, and “in front of corporate and government offices” (Rome 2010, 194-195). The “teach-in” events around the country had a diverse array of speakers; many of the speakers were professors, but Rome notes that many politicians, including “roughly two-thirds” of Congress, also gave speeches for the occasion in various locations (Rome 2010, 195), showing that the majority of the U.S. government viewed environmental protection favorably in 1970.
In his book The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-In Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation, Adam Rome argues that environmental activism had not added up to a single organized, integrated movement until the first Earth Day: as one piece of evidence, “commentators did not begin to speak about “the environmental movement” until the run-up to Earth Day” (Rome 2013, 9). He explains that while environmental organizations existed before 1970, most of them did not have a holistic focus on all environmental problems, with the notable exception of the Environmental Defense Fund. Instead, organizations focused on more specific problems, with some being the “old conservation groups” focused on “wildlife and wilderness”, and others being air pollution-fighting groups (Rome 2013, 9). This implies that although the environmental movement did exist before 1970, it was fragmented and not a united entity. One way in which Earth Day encouraged the united presence of an environmental movement was by prompting media coverage about the environment; for example, “Earth Day inspired more [news]papers to assign reporters” to write about environmental issues (Rome 2010, 201).
New environmental organizations were founded soon after Earth Day; one was the National Resources Defense Council, which was an environmental law firm and later took part in the environmental lobby. Other new organizations were Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, which “used direct action and public information campaigns to alert Americans to what was being done to the natural world that sustained them” (Shabecoff 2001, 6-7). Environmental activists like the ones in these groups were inspired by the other movements of the time period: “[t]he new environmentalism emerged out of the social ferment and activism of the 1960s”, such as the “anti-war, civil rights, and feminist movements” (Shabecoff 2001, 6). For example, Gus Speth, one of the founders of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a February 2015 interview that “[w]e had had been through the civil rights revolution, we had seen the importance of litigation, of demonstrating and protesting, of pushing your cause, of getting powerful legislation like the civil rights legislation of ’64 and ’65 and that was our model” (Speth 2015).
Environmental lobbying took off after Earth Day: “the “group of ten” environmental organizations—including the Sierra Club, Audubon Society, Wilderness Society, Environmental Defense Fund, and others—formed an influential lobby in Washington, D.C., to leverage federal power” in the early 1970s (Woodhouse 2008, 78). One lobbying organization was Environmental Action, which was founded by the federal Earth Day staff after the day (Rome). The environmental lobby was one reason for the passage of environmental legislation following Earth Day: for example, Rome states that Environmental Action’s lobbying was a significant factor in the passage of the Clean Air Act later in 1970 (Rome 2010, 200).
One of the main successes of the movement happened in 1970 after Earth Day when President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Two of the most important pieces of environmental legislation from the 1970s were passed soon after. One was the Clean Air Act, passed in 1970, which “requires EPA to establish national ambient air quality standards for certain common and widespread pollutants based on the latest science” (EPA 2013). The other was the Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, which “implemented pollution control programs such as setting wastewater standards for industry” and “set water quality standards for all contaminants in surface waters” (EPA 2015).
Although “Nixon was “no “green” radical”, he created the EPA because he was “keenly attuned to the political zeitgeist” (Shabecoff 2001, 5). Environmental protection was clearly supported by many Americans by 1970: William Ruckelshaus, the first Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said in a 1993 interview that “[p]ublic support… began to explode in the late 1960s” (Ruckelshaus 1993). The fact that groups as disparate as scientists, housewives, and hippies were all proclaiming the need for better treatment of nature shows that environmental concerns transcended demographics in 1970 and the preceding years, being a common factor of diverse segments of American society. In the view of many, “ecology was truly an issue that could unite the nation, bringing together those who had been bitterly divided on the issues of civil rights and Vietnam” (DiMento and Oshio 2009, 35).
It was also helpful that there were no major groups actively opposing the cause: the aforementioned Gus Speth noted in 2014 that “there was little organized opposition from the business community or anyone else” (Speth 2014). Shabecoff indicates that this lack of effective resistance from corporations was because they did not yet see the movement as a serious threat: “[t]he business community… originally viewed anti-pollution efforts as a temporary if annoying fad” (Shabecoff 2001, 8). He also states that corporations were “caught off guard” by the rise of environmentalism (Shabecoff 2001, 8), implying that they were not expecting the new movement and did not have time to build a strong resistance before policy was passed. Starting in the 1980s, the business community was more successful at uniting against environmentalism (Shabecoff 2001, 8); this is one factor that has impeded efforts towards environmental regulation ever since.
The media echoed the supportive stance of much of the public and likely contributed to it: Speth remembers that “[t]he media overall were powerfully supportive” (Speth 2014). Politicians are likely to take actions that have a broad base of approval among their constituents, and the widespread support for environmental protection that existed in the later 1960s and early 1970s was a major cause of the government’s environmental legislation during the period. According to William Ruckelshaus, public support “led to the creation of EPA, which never would have been established had it not been for public demand”. Ruckelshaus seems to view this demand as the main impetus for governmental environmental action both then and since, saying “you’ve got to have public support for environmental protection or it won’t happen” (Ruckelshaus 1993).
Some of the environmental concern among the American public resulted from current events in an increasingly interconnected world. In the mid-1960s, India experienced crop failures that led to food shortages. The crisis was publicized in the U.S., partly because it prompted Johnson’s administration to give large amounts of aid to India. Many environmentalists saw the situation in India as proof that a less healthy environment could threaten human well-being (Robertson 2008, 578-581). According to Thomas Robertson, “[t]he pessimistic biological models that emerged to explain the failures in India and other parts of the Third World can help… explain why the environmental movement exploded when it did” (Robertson 581).
However, public support was motivated mostly by the environmental situation in the U.S. itself. Pollution (the main issue of the “second wave”) could directly harm people’s health, which made the government more likely to respond to concerns about it: Ruckelshaus said in a 2008 interview that “the primary focus of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act back in the ’60s and ’70s was public health, and that really gets people’s attention” (Ruckelshaus 2008). Gus Speth made a similar statement in a 2011 interview when he referred to the pollution issues of the 1960s and 1970s as “backyard issues” and “acute issues”. He pointed out that, unlike the current problem of climate change, air and water pollution were not “remote in time and space from the everyday lives of people” (Speth 2011). After early voices in the movement (such as Carson) drew people’s attention to pollution, the problem was clearly visible to them, and it seemed urgently necessary to act on it. Ruckelshaus also contrasted the 1960s/early 1970s movement with later environmentalism, saying that “[w]hen [movements] first start, they tend to point up imperfections in the society which are almost universally accepted as problems… [and] that every fair-minded person agrees should be righted. It’s only in the subsequent phases of the movement that they begin to get into more controversial questions” (Ruckelshaus 1993). This implies that a major reason for the environmental movement’s success in the 1960s and early 1970s was that its demands during this period were limited and were generally seen as reasonable and unobjectionable. This was likely a reason that there was so much support for the movement’s goals not only among the public, but also among the politicians who spoke on Earth Day and passed environmental legislation.
Congress’s own support was of course an essential factor in the success of the environmental legislation that it passed. Some members of Congress simply had the foresight to call for environmental action themselves, without it necessarily being due to public support or lobbying. Speth wrote that laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Air Act “were driven more by far-sighted legislators like Edmund Muskie (D-ME) and John Sherman Cooper (R-KY) than by environmental lobbying or even public pressure” (Speth 2014). This again shows that the efforts of government officials themselves played a major role in the success of the environmental movement. Another factor of the legislation’s success was that environmental protection was not associated exclusively with either political party in the early 1970s: “[t]here was actual leadership in the Congress, and it was bipartisan” (Speth 2014).
To summarize, the driving forces behind the creation of environmental policy in the 1960s and 1970s included the efforts of various groups who championed environmental protection, widespread support for environmental protection among the American public and media, and the personal efforts of individuals in the government such as Lyndon Johnson, Lynton Cadwell, Gaylord Nelson, and other Congress members who advocated and voted for pieces of environmental legislation. Widespread support for environmental protection came mainly from the fact that pollution issues had a direct relevance to people’s lives and well-being. Later, Earth Day led to more support and united activism, new environmental organizations were created, and the environmental lobby used its influence to encourage environmental legislation. Circumstances are different today than during that period, as the current environmental movement attempts to address new issues and faces new obstacles. However, the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s continues to provide an illuminating example of a successful movement, one that can serve as an inspiration to activists – environmental or otherwise – today.
A Typical Victorian Women in The Awakening Of K.Chopin
“The greatest crimes in the world are not committed by people breaking the rules, but people following the rules” (Banksy). During the nineteenth century, men were the dominant figures of the household and women were simply there to cook, clean, and look after the children. This was the rule until women eventually began to break the standards in order to achieve a more satisfactory life. Without this crime, women would still be living an unhappy life wishing they could stray from society’s expectations. In the novel The Awakening, Kate Chopin demonstrates through her protagonist’s rebellious actions that during the Victorian period, women were expected to conform to society in an obedient manner, or they would face dire consequences.
The main character, Edna, is described as dutiful and subservient, willing to comply with society’s standards. Chopin displays Edna’s mannerisms and physical appearance in a reserved fashion. Throughout the novel, Edna is constantly portrayed as a conservative woman wearing innocent colors, such as white. At Grand Isle, “she wore a cool muslin that morning – white, with a waving vertical brown running through it; also a white linen collar and the big straw hat” (Chopin 21). During the nineteenth century, women were expected to be modest and conform to their husband’s requests, and they were often regarded as property. On the beach outside, Edna’s husband says, “‘You are burnt beyond recognition,’ he added, looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage” (Chopin 3). In this time period, people frowned upon women who showed any sign of independence or authority. Although Edna is first perceived as an obedient wife, in the course of the novel she seeks an awakening and sets out to fulfill her sexual and emotional desires.
Eventually, Edna gets time away from her controlling husband to break out of her shell and start making decisions on her own. She breaks free of this restraint by going swimming in the ocean for the first time. After awakening from her first swim, she transforms into a rebellious character, extremely different from her original self. Once viewed as an obedient wife that is willing to stay at home to care for her family, Edna is now awakened into an independent woman who rebels against nineteenth century ideals of separate spheres. The feeling of liberation overwhelms her as she plunges through the ocean waves: “she attained her newly conquered power and begins to swim out” (Chopin 42). The protagonist’s so-called “baptism” is a rebirth for her character that creates stronger feelings which overwhelm her, such as the concept of freedom and control over her own well-being. Immediately following her renewal, Edna starts taking on a more detached role at home, which is noticed in her behavior as she nonchalantly says “Nothing, I simply felt like going out, and I went out” (Chopin 77). Her once tamed shackles have now been disturbed by her newly donned rebellious lifestyle. Not only does Edna take a stubborn approach against society’s roles, she also takes on (and masters) more masculine activities. While there are some men “who knew the race horse as well as Edna, but there was certainly no one who knew it better” (Chopin 113). A significant turning point is when Edna goes out, because this proves that she is no longer conforming to the culture rules. Edna’s ability to swim transforms her old self-conscious mentality into that of a strong, independent individual.
When Enda becomes enlightened, she becomes a self-driven, headstrong woman. Right after the fact, her close friends and family notice this new form and begin to show a strong dislike for how disruptive she has become with regards to Victorian culture. Edna’s concerned husband, Léonce, is one of the first characters to pick up on her strange behavior. He explains to his doctor, “she doesn’t act well, she’s odd, she’s not like herself” (Chopin 100). Although Léonce is portrayed as a distant husband, it is in his nature to still care for his wife and look after her health. From this point on in the novel, he constantly worries about Edna because he knows he has lost his true love. Léonce also begins to pick up on her deteriorating social life when “Edna no longer attends the social dinners with the other wives” (Chopin 87). Instead of Edna making a presence at these weekly social gatherings full of gossip, she continues to strive for a self-pleasure and begins to paint. Since Edna’s awakening in the ocean, she has been drowning in her determination to reach self-satisfaction, but after coming to the realization that no one or thing will ever be enough to please her, she gives up, and so do the people around her.
Overall, Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening is very focused on the roles of women during the Victorian period. Chopin describes the typical female obligations in the nineteenth century American home and then dives into great depth on the emotions in store for women after they have been “freed.” As Stan Lee once wrote, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The power of becoming independent can be liberating, but if not controlled it may lead to one’s demise. Edna is unable to handle her new freedom and feels overwhelmed, which leads to her decision to commit suicide.
The Concept of the Love Triangle and Its Effects on the Choices of Edna in Robert Lee Mahon’s Article About Kate Chopin’s The Awakening
Beyond the Love Triangle: Trios in The Awakening is an article about Kate Chopin’s The Awakening written by Robert Lee Mahon. In this article, Mahon presents a new concept that had many major effects on Edna’s choices, including her choice to drown herself to death. Mahon points out to the fact that Kate Chopin constantly illustrates Edna’s position between two extremes, and is always in a triangle. This article could be very helpful to the readers, for it will show the difficulties Edna has gone through throughout her life by being put in an extreme position.
Mahon starts his article by providing the focus of his essay, which is to illustrate that the catastrophe which results in Edna’s awakening and death is a result of her being stuck between two extremes. The author successfully presents his concept by providing examples that supports his argument, one example he mentions is Edna’s birth order. She is in the middle of her two sisters, the eldest, “who is labeled as matronly and dignified” and the younger, illustrated as “something of a vixen”. (229). Another extreme Edna was stuck between according to the author is a two-females triangle. She is trapped between two females, Adele Ratignolle, a traditional and ‘typical’ female, who is depicted as a perfect mother and wife. And Mademoiselle Reisz who is far away from being “traditional and acceptable”. (230). Edna is expected by society to be either an angel or a devil. A traditional and typical mother like Adele or an independent woman like Madame Reisz. In addition, she was stuck in many more triangles, her two children, Robert and Mr. Pontellier and Iberville, New York and New Orleans. All of the triangles mentioned by the author demonstrates the dilemma Edna Pontellier is trapped in, and illustrates her indecisive power. This article, which is written by Mahon, has successfully tackled the focus of the essay, by presenting the triangle concept. The triangle concept, which has been presented to us by Mahon, is very helpful in order to understand the true reasons behind Edna’s various choices. As for the weaknesses, the article lacks transitional words and bridging sentences, for instance the author does not move from an idea to the other smoothly.
In summary, Beyond the Love Triangle: Trios in The Awakening presents a new concept that was thoroughly explained by the author. Edna’s position, which is being trapped between two extremes, has contributed to her tragedy. This article, even though it was written in 1998, could still help potential readers who are interested in knowing the actual reasons that led to the ending of Edna Pontellier.
Chopin’s Sea: Maternal or Mystical?
In The Awakening, author Kate Chopin offers a tale of self exploration and fulfillment in protagonist Edna, who finds herself at odds with the warped society that is her reality. Taking place primarily in Louisiana islands, the Gulf of Mexico is perhaps, the second most important character in the piece. There are countless aquatic descriptions, but they are difficult to analyze as a whole. Depending on the perspective you lend yourself, the sea could seem predominantly male or predominantly female. Given the feminist nature of the novel, I choose to adopt the latter view. That isn’t necessarily enough of a limitation, though. Given the setting and Chopin’s dedication to regional writing, it’s unlikely that she was not influenced or at least exposed to stories of Louisiana witchcraft or maritime witchcraft. While the sea mother characterization is more obvious, the witch helps account for the more sexual, phallic and alluring depictions of the water. Both personifications will be explored in this paper.
The scent of the sea comes up a few times in the book, as does the ocean breeze. Early references to the breeze coincide with discussion of the sensuous aroma of the sea, which could tempt an interpretation of the sea lover characterization. The following evidence is more suggestive of the female embodiment of the water. “The sun was low in the west and the breeze was soft and warm” (1262). The gentleness and warmth of the breeze is clearly maternal. The time of day at the status of the sun could imply a more mystical entity. The twilight is not something that the reader would likely associate with the sea mother figure, but instead with the sea witch.
Next, the sea is given a voice, another trait that continually entices Edna to take a swim and distracts her from her domestic obligations. “Her glance wandered from his face away toward the Gulf, whose sonorous murmur reached her like a loving but imperative entreaty” (1262). The act of murmuring has always seemed more feminine than masculine to me. And historically and culturally, the diminished volume of a murmur would also align itself more easily with the expected behavior of women. Of course, the varied definitions of “sonorous” complicate this reading of the sentence a bit. Despite that, this sentence is reminiscent of the maternal, with a caring and important request. Descriptions of the voice continue. “The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation” (1263). This quote, which returns at the novel’s end, shows how the seductive properties of the sea – though primarily thought of as indicative of a male lover – could be more a nod to a witch figure. Sirens, aquatic witches of sorts, have nearly always been portrayed as seductresses with beautiful voices used to lure sailors to their deaths. There are shared qualities in The Awakening. The sea, personified with a voice and seductive characteristics, is eerily similar to the classic siren description. While it is not a witch per se, the siren interpretation does correspond to a darker, mystical reading of the feminine sea. As we read on, there is another alluring description of both the sea’s voice. “The voice of the sea speaks to the soul” (1263). Many of the supporting quotes used in this paper have been quite ambiguous in their abilities to be interpreted as relating to the male lover, mother, and witch personifications of the ocean. This snippet seems to only really clearly align with the mystical. Something which connects to the soul in a transformative way and is struggled to be understood could suggest a paranormal power.
In the following two excerpts, Chopin portrays the sea as a reflective and mysterious thing that commands attention. First, “The moon was coming up, and its mystic shimmer was casting a million lights across the distant, restless water” (1272). This idea is repeated at the novel’s end, “The water of the Gulf stretched out before her gleaming with the million lights of the sun” (1343). This could be interpreted in many ways, though there are really only two perspectives in which I am interested. One, this is simply another way in which Chopin chooses to make the sea seem more enticing, luring Edna into its grasp, which is fairly evident. However, this focus on the water’s surface and its reflective properties combined with the novel’s awareness of self-fulfillment may not be coincidental. These two ideas are not mutually exclusive. The author could be forcing Edna’s attention to the sea so that the sea can teach her something about herself.
The fundamental reason that I struggle to read Chopin’s sea as strictly maternal is the repeated simile comparing wave crests to serpents. “The sea was quiet now, and swelled lazily in broad billows that melted into one another and did not break except upon the beach in little foamy crests that coiled back like slow, white serpents” (1274). This is seen at least twice in the novel. Serpents and snakes are generally ominous and, when described through the gender binary, phallic and therefore male. However, snakes often have significance in witchcraft, both in voodoo and other practices. The juxtaposition of sea and serpent also reminds me of the Hans Christian Andersen classic, The Little Mermaid. There, the sea witch is assisted and protected by sea snakes. Medusa, an icon of Greek mythology, also shares water and snake imagery. According to the myths, she lived on an island, had snakes for hair, and also had wings. Birds and wings are frequently employed as metaphoric tools in The Awakening.
The second to last page of the story is ominous. “All along the white beach, up and down, there was no living thing in sight. A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water” (1343). While this could simply be a foreshadowing tool to hint at Edna’s fate, the mangling of the bird and it’s attraction to the water being indicative of its imminent death again offer a darker, more sinister look at the sea. Also, birds were frequently used in voodoo practices in Southern Louisiana. Simply the use of an omen argues a mystical influence that does not fit with the sea mother ideal.
On the final page of the novel, there are aquatic references that are suggestive of both the sea witch and the sea mother characterizations. Again, the reader sees the more sinister and mystical snake imagery. “The foamy wavelets curled up to her white feet, and coiled like serpents about her ankles” (1344). This bewitching description is followed by the more welcoming mother evocations. After Edna strips away her clothes, there is a strong set of neonatal – maternal descriptions. “She felt like some new-born creature, opening its eyes in a familiar world that it had never known” (1344). Here we have Edna, the newborn babe, naked and vulnerable. “The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace” (1344). The softness and embracing nature of this sea offers a far more maternal disposition to Chopin’s sea. Once again, the water’s “enfolding” combined with the two aforementioned features suggests a safe, womb-like place for Edna to surrender herself to.
The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, offers a fascinating look at gender dynamics and expectations in coastal Louisiana in the late nineteenth century. While the primary issue of the novel is the self-discovery of Edna Pontellier, the ocean plays a crucial role in that journey and the protagonist’s demise. A close reading of the descriptions of the sea demonstrates that the sea is certainly not there merely for scenery, but as a personification of something, or someone. Many believe it to be an idealistic male lover, but a reading more focused on the feminine shows that it could personify a female entity. However, with a mixed bag of maternal imagery and similarities to darker myths, it’s difficult to determine what the intended nature of this character is.
Language Of Life
In Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening, Edna, the protagonist faces a dilemma of solitude and confusion in which no one can seem to grasp and understand, not even her. Taking place during the 1800’s, in a time filled with strict societal laws, women juxtapose to men were expected to take care of homely matters and focus on their households, limiting the opportunity for individual expression. However, Edna as a static character works to break away from this ideal and seek her own outward presence in the world. The people she meets on Grand Isle awaken desires and urges Edna would have never thought of before for sexual attraction, art, music and most importantly individual freedom. Like a child, Edna begins to view the world in a new light where as a result causes her to neglect her identity as both a mother and women to seek individual satisfaction. Where the events leading up to this awakening allow Edna to learn three new “languages”. These languages then in relation to the plotline is consequential to her overall character development as she faces a decision to either seek her own desires in life or conform to the outward projections of society like she always has. Aside from being a mother of two young boys, Edna Pontellier is an everchanging character who aspires to seek things through her own intentions.
For instance, Chopin writes about the uncaring personality of Edna, “It would have been a difficult matter for Mr. Pontellier to define to his own satisfaction or any one else’s wherein his wife failed in her duty toward their children. If one of the little Pontellier boys took a tumble whilst at play, he was not apt to rush crying to his mother’s arms for comfort; he wone else’s wherein his wife failed in her duty toward their children. If one of the little Pontellier boys took a tumble whilst at play, he was not apt to rush crying to his mother’s arms for comfort; he would more likely pick himself up,….and go on playing (4.10). Edna’s failure as a mother as defined by Mr. Pontellier, her husband, is a matter in which he cannot quite voice himself. He instead fully understands and observes his children’s actions expressive of this idea as it is written, “If one of the little Pontellier boys took a tumble whilst at play, he was not apt to rush crying to his mother’s arms for comfort;” (4.10) revealing how little relevance Edna plays in the lives of her children. Even after meeting Madame Ratignolle on Grand Isle, Edna can only admire Madame Ratignolle as woman who so perfectly embodies all the virtues of a family woman, who unlike Edna, can attest to loving her husband and children more than anything. Where because of Madame Ratignolle, the first language Edna discovers as a part of her gradual awakening is tenderness and affection. The language apart of a bigger picture express the struggles Edna faces as a woman in a conforming society. Where in neglecting her children, she finds herself better suited to other tasks such as painting and finding independence. Furthermore, inwardly Edna seeks to search a voice of freedom amidst what society believes, while in an unwavering battle outwardly struggles to go against them where they are tying her to things she feels no emotional attachment to, in this case, her children.
Considering Edna’s careless nature up until now, the struggle she feels against a conforming society begins to confuse her both physically and psychologically, being expressive of her sexual frustrations. To highlight this, Chopin writes to describe the experimental relations Edna explores: “Why?” asked her companion. “Why do you love him when you ought not to?”… “Why? Because his hair is brown and grows away from his temples; because he opens and shuts his eyes, and his nose is a little out of drawing; because he has two lips and a square chin, and a little finger which he can’t straighten from having played baseball too energetically in his youth. Because–” (26.110). Because Edna is finally realizing the few opportunities she has in such a limiting world, along with her neglection of her children, she also begins to pursue true love as a result of her gradual awakening. Although Edna is married to her husband Leonce, she is obviously unhappy with their marriage as she holds no sentimental value to the wedding ring which binds them together. Chopin writing, “Why do you love him when you ought not to?” is symbolic of Edna’s infatuation with men other than her husband, especially Robert, a man she met on Grand Isle. Even though she fully understands the consequences of her actions, she relies on her herself to dictate her own actions and punishments as she blames everything she does in the name of her awakening after being suppressed for so many years. In comparison, to her husband Leonce who embodies the values of hard work and persistence, Edna instead values her own satisfaction above all else, which conveys the second language she discovers, the language of intimacy and sexuality. Having never been at all in love with Leonce, caused Edna to “experiment” with different men in her life. The language of intimacy is one she learns quickly and truly values instead of tenderness through Madame Ratignolle. The language of love, however, is hard for Edna to pursue because even though she may be completely oblivious to the consequences, Robert, the figure of her infatuation completely understands it otherwise and separates himself from her, causing her to begin feeling emotions of solitude and hurt. Moreover, though Edna is able to break away from her family and win the battle against herself, she soon begins to observe a new struggle, a struggle of loneliness and solitude as she learns about the unwillingness of others in contrast to her’s when going against society.
Though Edna is now able to comfortability allow for her awakening to shape her life and dictate over her actions, she begins to abandon it reminding us of her role as a woman in a limiting society. To emphasize this idea Chopin writes of Edna’s remedy to her struggles coupled with her tragic ending, “But when she was there beside the sea, absolutely alone, she cast the unpleasant, pricking garments from her, and for the first time in her life she stood naked in the open air, at the mercy of the sun, the breeze that beat upon her, and the waves that invited her. How strange and awful it seemed to stand naked under the sky! How delicious! She felt like some new-born creature, opening its eyes in a familiar world that it had never known (39.156). Having been left to herself with the independence she had always sought, Edna realizes what a terrible idea this had been from the very beginning. After leaving her family to pursue her own desires, she is sadly left questioning the extent of other’s willingness to prevail against society, especially her lover Robert. Because of her infatuation with the notion of personal freedom despite being in an idealistic society, she became oblivious to the things around her, causing her to forget the things which mattered the most to her: her family, her children, and most her old life.
Thus, because Edna found it too late to possibly fix anything in her life now, the remedy to her incessant struggle between her inner and outward self was an ambitious act of swimming out to sea as far as she could. Chopin in describing Edna to be “strange” and “awful” hint to us there was more to Edna aside from just being stark naked on the beach. By swimming out to sea, “Her arms and legs were growing tired… It was too late; the shore was far behind her, and her strength was gone” (39.156-157) suggesting Edna dies out at sea in her courageous gesture. Ultimately, Edna’s fate as a result of her gradual awakening causes her to experiment with her own freedom, where as she came to a realization of its consequences in the end, it was too late for her to turn back on her actions. In closing, the three “languages” Edna learned as a part of her awakening reflect how much Edna personally struggles with solitude and independence in her life in which they were pretty much inseparable. As much as she wanted to seek individual freedom in a suppressive Victorian society, Edna serves as a perfect example to what denying society does to you in regards to seeking individual freedom. Because Edna was a woman, it also showed the upsides men had juxtapose to women back then in a society filled with many limiting laws pertaining to gender roles.
Edna’s Swim: The First Step in Her “Awakening”
The central conflict in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening is the self-discovery, or “awakening,” of the protagonist, Edna Pontellier. Throughout the course of the novel she transforms from the bored, submissive wife of Lèonce Pontellier to a vibrant, independent woman with a powerful will of her own. The episode that launches Edna’s awakening is her learning to swim. Edna’s swim is a fresh and exciting experience for her and stimulates feelings of realization. Chopin’s description of the event is a metaphor for Edna’s awakening as well as a foreshadowing of the consequences of her self-discovery.
Edna’s learning to swim is such an important event in the novel because she has accomplished something without outside help and solely for her own enjoyment. The observers of the phenomenon are surprised at the event; it was an “unlooked-for achievement,” and “the subject of wonder,” indicating that Edna’s family and friends underestimate her (p.27). Each of Edna’s friends who in the past had attempted to instruct her “congratulated himself that his special teachings had accomplished this desired end” (p.27). The other characters cannot accept that Edna has achieved something on her own; therefore, they attempt to give credit to themselves for the accomplishment.
The episode in the sea excites Edna and gives her a sense of power that is absent from her everyday life. The swim incites in Edna “a feeling of exultation,” causing her to grow “daring and reckless” and to feel “intoxicated” (p.27). These are emotions which she does not usually experience, and which would not be considered appropriate for a woman of her status to be feeling. In addition to these thrilling sensations Edna also feels empowered. Her “newly conquered” skill causes Edna to feel “as if some power of significant import had been given her soul” (p.27)
While this passage marks the first step of Edna’s awakening, it also serves as a metaphor for the various stages that she goes through during her transformation. When Edna laments the time she has lost “splashing about like a baby!” she may also be lamenting the years she has lost leading the dull life of a bored, submissive wife; the years lost sleeping before her “awakening.” Next, Edna turns “her face seaward,” a metaphor for her turning to face her future (p.28). The “vast expanse of water” represents the endless possibilities Edna now sees in her life (p.28). Edna swims and reaches out for “the unlimited,” just as she will do in her everyday life from this point onward (p.28). At the conclusion of her swim, Edna’s adventure suddenly becomes frightening. Having overestimated her strength, Edna grows tired and “[A] quick vision of death smote her soul” (p.28). This image foreshadows Edna’s eventual suicide by drowning at the end of the novel as the final step of her awakening.
While the implications of Edna’s accomplishment are for the most part positive, Chopin suffuses this passage with references to the unfortunate solitude which will result from her self-discovery. The author says that Edna wants to swim “where no woman had swum before” (p.27). This desire shows Edna’s need to be different from the other women around her; she is no longer content to be only a mother and wife—she wants to be a woman first. She faces away from the beach in order to feel more alone and swims out in an attempt to “lose herself,” another hint at her imminent suicide (p.28). Even at this stage in her awakening, Edna is beginning to feel isolated from her friends. She looks back at the shore at “the people she had left there” (p.28). The water is “a barrier which her unaided strength would never be able to overcome.” Edna’s friends do not understand her need to be more than simply a mother and a wife; Madame Ratignolle and the other Creole women are content to devote themselves entirely to their children and husbands. Edna is absolutely alone in her awakening and, once it has begun, she will never again be satisfied with her previous existence.
Kate Chopin’s The Awakening is a novel about a woman’s self-discovery. In the passage describing Edna’s swim Chopin describes Edna’s feelings as she learns to swim and deftly reveals her frustrations with her current situation. Edna feels empowered by her newfound-skill and thus is launched on her path to her self-discovery. Chopin uses metaphors and descriptive language to foreshadow the consequences, both negative and positive, of Edna’s first step in her awakening.