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.
The Long Road to Freedom
Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn share a number of parallels in terms of character and setting, namely between Edna Pontellier and Huck and Jim, and the significance of the sea and river to the aforementioned characters. Thematically, the two novels also carry the same concept of a great journey. In The Awakening, Edna’s journey, much like Huck’s, is one filled with excitement and is mostly unplanned. While Edna abandons her wifely duties—such as attending her husband Léonce’s weekly Tuesday receptions—to pursue a life that invigorates her, perhaps through her affair with Alcée, Huck makes a similar decision by forgoing his “sivilized” (2) life with Widow Douglas and Miss Watson. He not only fakes his own death, but also runs away from the civilization he was brought up in, in a physical act of rebellion against society. Edna’s acts of rebellion are comparably more subtle and limited, as her marriage binds her to more societal conventions than Huck’s situation does.
Regardless of this, both of these characters share a common sense of connection to different bodies of water; whereas Huck feels most at ease drifting along the Mississippi River, it is the open sea that allows Edna to discover her true purpose and feel reborn. Symbolically, the flowing element of water represents healing and discovery, opening doors that allow both Edna and Huck to develop further understanding of themselves. Although Edna successfully realizes her new passion of pursuing art and subsequently devotes her time towards attempting to achieve true artistry, Huck does not seem to reach any further character development past his great moral dilemma of sending Jim back to Miss Watson. Once he reunites with his friend Tom Sawyer, it’s as though Huck’s decision to “go to hell” for Jim was all for naught, as he reverts back to being Tom’s adventure-chasing, thrill-seeking accomplice instead.
What this also reveals is that Huck has no strong sense of self throughout the entirety of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is portrayed through Huck’s endless escapades in which he takes on false identities, such as “Sarah Williams” (58), “George Peters” (63), and “George Jackson” (99). Similarly, Edna desperately attempts to seek out her self-identity through spending great amounts of time with the pianist Mademoiselle Reisz and, her foil, the “mother-woman” Madame Ratignolle, two women who seem to be on opposite ends of a spectrum. Despite all these efforts made, it seems as though neither Edna nor Huck are fully confident in who they are as individuals, thus adding to how freedom and self-discovery are endless, repetitive pursuits, just as water seems to flow back onto itself in a ceaseless cycle that may one day bring about clarity.
As for Edna and Jim, both characters seek freedom from different societal conventions. Edna’s lackluster marriage has left her bereft of excitement and passion, while Jim’s status as a slave keeps him bound to his owner. This bars both characters from blossoming into full-fledged individuals, making them incapable of being in full control of their own lives and making their own decisions. Despite this, these two characters continue to persist as they feel as though they did not fit the roles they were assigned by society. Edna, though having married Léonce by choice in order to spite her parents, did not possess the mother-woman personality that was common among the married women of her time. She was not one who “idolized” (19) her children or “worshiped” (19) her husband, as Madame Ratignolle may have, but she was not as distant and detached a character, as fully devoted to her art, as Mademoiselle Reisz was. She was “different” (37), but in an indefinite manner.
Jim is similar in the sense that he was not the unintelligent, dutiful slave Huck expected him to be. He is capable of engaging in thoughtful conversation with Huck, and even delivers opinions that Huck cannot bring himself to argue against. Despite this, Jim’s goal was not to become a whistleblower for slave rights; all he wished was to travel north and free his family by any means necessary. This also presents another difference between Jim and Edna: while Jim has a clear goal set in his sights, Edna is, at times, obviously frustrated with herself and her own uncertainty towards pursuing freedom. She sees herself as the “bird with a broken wing” (300), one who sought to explore but did not have the strength to.
The Awakening ends ambiguously, with Edna swimming out to the sea and allowing herself to succumb to her exhaustion, leaving her suicide up to open interpretation. As for Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it is revealed in the final chapters that Miss Watson had set Jim free in her will after her death months ago, meaning he was a free man long before many of the novel’s events had transpired. Therefore, it can be said that both Edna and Jim’s journeys were a waste, as Edna eventually met her demise, while Jim was caught up in pursuing a freedom that had already been granted to him.
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.
Marxism in The Awakening
When some audiences read The Awakening by Kate Chopin, they perceive a feminist piece ahead of its time, or search for hidden metaphors and allusions. Some readers would be content to simply ponder the significance of the title. However, although each of those matters is present and pertinent in the novel, they are merely subtexts under the true focus of the book: Marxism. The Awakening centers on the main character’s digressions from societal norms, provides a narrow focus on social classes in the late 19th century United States, and provides thorough commentary on bourgeoisie values and their place in society.
The book opens with its main character, Edna Pontellier, basking in the wealth and status provided to her by her husband, Léonce, who is a successful businessman in New Orleans. Similarly, she bathes in the warmth of the sun at the island resort where she and her children spend their summer. While an extreme societal requirement and reverence of marriage is uncommon in today’s society, matrimony was a vital and central part of life in the 19th century. Thus, it it is unexpected for Edna to consider her husband, “a person whom she had married without love as an excuse” (Chopin 77). Her profligate and rebellious manner leads her to two perfidious escapades. It is clear that she has chosen to marry Léonce solely for the pecuniary freedom it grants her, and that she feels no remorse about having done so.
On a caprice, Edna resolves to move into a new abode while her husband is out of town. She justifies the decision to her friend, “The house, the money that provides for it, are not mine. Isn’t that enough reason?” (Chopin 79). She is conscious of her financial position, and willing to abuse it. This character is not one to approach the edge of societal norms with the slow and cautious step of a climber approaching a crevasse—she seems to truly delight in aberrant behavior. Only upon her first kiss with a man other than her husband are Edna’s emotions so vividly described, “It was the first kiss of her life to which her nature had really responded. It was a flaming torch that kindled desire” (Chopin 83). The main character’s deviant behavior is one of the most noticeable indications of the Marxist nature of Chopin’s novel.
Another reason The Awakening is classified as a piece of Marxism literature is its focus on the bourgeoisie, or working class. The Pontelliers and their acquaintances are not poor, as evidenced by their living situations, apparent disposable income, and servants; but nor are they wealthy enough to retire from their occupations. A New Orleans magnate, Léonce Pontellier’s business funds the entire setting of each scene in the book. Similarly, his and Edna’s friends rely on occupational income. The most modestly situated of the acquaintances, Mademoiselle Reisz, can afford a reasonably-sized apartment, while their doctor has a chauffeur for his personal car.
Little attention is paid to the servants, the narrative casually mentioning them as “the cook” or simply “Joe.” There are no primary or secondary characters in the lower class; servants are the only occurrences of such people. Although her husband’s success and wealth place him and his family in the upper echelons of society, Edna seems to be part of the bourgeoisie at heart. Raised in a middle class household in Kentucky, she ponders that “her marriage to Léonce Pontellier was purely an accident” (Chopin 28). There is less focus in the book on characters of great wealth; it concentrates almost entirely on this “middle class.” For example, Edna is far more intrigued by Robert Lebrun, a young businessman she meets during the summer, than by her wealthy husband. In a different type of book, this would be a skewed and incomplete description of society. However, the neglect and emphasis of certain classes is deliberately written and integral to the Marxist theme.
The concept of bourgeoisie is more than a prominent element in The Awakening; it propels the story. None of the scenes in the book would occur without the setting of a woman in bourgeois society. Léonce Pontellier is quite wealthy, but he serves as a poor representation of the characters in the book. There is a great contrast between him, an upperclassman, and the people whose company Edna prefers. Mr. Pontellier lectures his wife, “The way to become rich is to make money, my dear Edna, not to save it” (Chopin 53). Robert Lebrun demonstrates the opposite perspective when he chooses to save, rather than immediately smoke, an expensive cigar that, ironically, Mr. Pontellier gifted him.
A more specific focus is the emptiness of the life of a person trapped in bourgeois society. Edna is overwhelmed throughout the novel by a feeling of vacuity. As she relaxes at the table at her 29th birthday dinner, her emotions are described, “But as she sat there amid her guests, she felt the old ennui overtaking her; the hopelessness which so often assailed her, which came upon her like an obsession, like something extraneous, independent of volition” (Chopin 89). The inanity that so forcefully overcomes Edna stems from the lack of purpose she feels in her life. The only things asked of her are societal expectations, and her aspiration of becoming an artist is insufficient motivation to drive her forward. She is filled with nothingness.
As well as scrutinizing bourgeois life, The Awakening analyzes a choice character who lives on the edge of this society. Mr. Pontellier is part of an old-fashioned marital relationship, in which the husband works and provides for the family while the wife takes responsibility for raising the children and managing the household. When viewed at a more macroscopic level, this relationship is an analogy for a critical topic of Marxism: the place of capitalism in society. When the marriage fails between Edna, who signifies the middle class, and Léonce, who represents a stereotypical capitalist mogul, it demonstrates a theory supported by philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: that the struggle between classes in a capitalist environment will eventually cause society to deteriorate.
The collapse of the marriage begins when Edna refuses to perform her expected duty as housekeeper, and reaches a climax at her shocking and bizarre suicide. In this regard, the novel itself breaks as many social conventions as does its main character. The different segments of the book elucidate societal norms and social classes in the 19th century. Finally, the book’s focus on the bourgeoisie society and values is extensive and complex, and also considers the relationship of different social classes in a capitalist society. The concatenation of these elements culminates in a striking piece of Marxist literature.
The Experience of Gender Inequality in The Awakening, a Novel by Kate Chopin
Experience is everything when talking about a subject. If you have actual experience with the topic that you are talking about, it will be immensely helpful, as you will have had priceless insight on how and why things are happening. It is just not the same reading about something as opposed to actually being at the event, as you are reading a 2-D representation of the occurrence, while being there means that you know the ins and outs of everything personally, and have a connection to it. This is why Chopin would be a reliable narrator about oppression of women, because she experienced the injustice first hand.
In the book, “The Awakening”, readers learn about a woman named Edna who gradually escapes the oppression of her peers and tries to live life how she wants to. This does not work out in the end though, and she ends up killing herself because she thinks that no one will ever understand her. With books about aliens invading Earth and third World Wars, it does not sound too out of the ordinary, does it? Well, that is until you discover that the book was written in 1899, right before the biggest movement for women’s rights in U.S. history. With women having been persecuted for an extensive amount of time now, they were finally sick and tired of this treatment. This led to the highest tension for women’s change in history. Chopin knew exactly the injustices that were going on and how they felt because she was living with them at the time, when women were looked upon as possessions rather than human beings to form relationships with. When talking in the book, it makes sense that Chopin talked with hostility and disdain towards the social norms of the time, considering how restricting they were for Chopin in real life.
Men on the other hand would have had a hard time relating to the feelings that the women were feeling at the time. Men had been on top of the food chain for so long, that they did not know how it felt to be any lower. This is why it took so long for any changes to women’s rights to happen, because men thought that women were inferior and were just being petty. Men would make unreliable narrators because they did not really “experience” what was happening. They thought that there was nothing wrong with being able to control their wife’s whole life, even saying that they were doing their wives a favor by making decisions for them. Men found the lifestyle of the time wonderful, because it tailored around them. If a key part of the ideology at the time was that women were supposed to feel timid and weak and have the need for a protector, and men had no problem with this, then that kind of man will obviously have bias when talking of a woman breaking the social bonds and going away from her husband.
While both men and women experienced the gender inequality that happened, it is obvious that they did not experience it in the same way. While women had the short end of the stick and were restricted by harsh rules set by society, men did as they pleased and controlled their wives. And as said in the beginning, experiences are everything when talking about a subject. Therefore, if any person, not just a man were to narrate the story, they would all tell it differently. With how much bias and change can be shown when talking about the same topic from different perspectives, it makes one wonder what other events have we heard about from the wrong narrator?
Different Women Roles In The Awakening By Kate Chopin
In Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” there are three characters that represent the different expectations in their society. Reisz who represents independence and freedom, Edna who represents entrapment, and Adèle who represents the ideal female of society. Adèle is a mother who devotes her entire self to her husband and kids. She lives to serve her children and husband, and is the clear example of a mother woman. “Her name is Adèle Ratignolle. There are no words to describe her save the old ones that have served so often to picture the bygone heroine of romance and the fair lady of our dreams.” Reisz is divorced with no kids. She devotes her life to music and works as a living example of a completely self-sufficient woman. While Adèle path of life is what Edna should follow, Reisz’s path of life exemplifies the path Edna is looking for in order to find her true happiness.
Compared to Adèle, who is ruled by her kids and husband, Reisz is ruled totally by her love for herself, rather than by the social expectations of society. Edna is not happy with her life, and wants the freedom Reisz has. “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. I can’t make it more clear; it’s only something which I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me.” She wants to be free of the burden put on her by her husband and kids. Adèle’s life is controlled by her husband and kids.
There are many reasons that Edna should follow Reisz and her way of life. Adèle knows the life of being socially expected that Reisz gave up for isolation and independence, but that is not a life Edna would be happy with. Reisz is the exact model of what Edna wants to be in her life. Reisz is an independent, self-providing woman. On the other hand, Adèle is supposedly Edna’s best friend, but Madamoiselle Reisz is the only one who truly understands Edna’s struggle. Throughout the story Reisz becomes the most important role in Edna’s awakenings. While Edna is looking for some sort of freedom in her life, she turns to Reisz for help. Reisz tells Edna she must remain courageous, she must have a brave and defiant spirit. “I do not know you well enough to say. I do not know your talent or your absolute gifts-which have not been acquired by one’s own effort. And moreover, to succeed, the artist must possess the courageous soul.”
Edna sees from what her life would be like if she was independent from her husband and kids. She would be able to experience being self-sufficient, be able to engage in her passions and fulfill her dreams. Edna sees Reisz and her happiness. Reisz does what makes her happy, refusing societal expectations. Reisz’s happiness is more important to her than upholding societal expectations.
Edna’s suicide in the end was foreshadowed throughout the book. Her continuous hints at unhappiness was the biggest sign. She felt that death was the only way for her to be free of her husband and kids. Death was the only way she could escape her fate. She began to realize that she would never escape the life she had created for herself. She would never be satisfied with her place in life, and therefore would always be unhappy. She wanted to be free, in the way that Reisz was. While she was living, she would always have to take care of her husband and kids and would never escape her entrapped role. As long as she living she wouldn’t be free. Eventually in the end, Edna gives up. She goes out into the ocean and swims until she can’t go any farther. She finally gets to experience the freedom she had hoped for her entire life.
Edna felt that by marrying and having kids, she was doing what was expected of her, not realizing that would not be the life she wanted to live. She gets rid of the burden and guilt from her husband “I am no longer one of Mr.Pontellier’s possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose.” She escapes the constant need from her children. Edna fulfills her dream when she died. She is free and free is all she ever wanted to be. “Goodbye- because I love you. Perhaps Doctor Mandelet would have understood if she had seen him-but it was too late; the shore was far behind her, her strength was gone.” “She looked into the distance, and the old terror flamed up for an instant, then sank again. Edna heard her father’s voice and her sister Margaret’s. She heard the barking of an old dog that was chained to the sycamore tree. The spurs of the cavarly officer clanged as he walked across the porch. There was a hum of bees, and the musky odor of pinks filled the air.”
These words were Edna’s goodbye. With these words, she went for a swim she would never come back from. She left with the freedom she had always wanted. She finally had what she has wanted for so long. It took her death for her to achieve her dream.
Symbolism In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening
In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, specific settings, and details further explain Edna’s day to day struggle in Creole society. The symbols are used as carriers to give an understanding of Edna’s awakening journey beyond the surface. The textual comparison and use of birds, Edna’s home life, and Edna’s infatuation with the ocean provide a deeper meaning as oppose to what the text could offer on its own. Each unique symbol is used to represent Edna’s current progress in her journey towards independence and happiness. Symbolism in Chopin’s novel elaborates on the female role in society and providing intentional comparison to leave the reader with an imprint on oppression of women.
The ocean was Chopin’s way of bringing freedom to Edna. On vacation in Grand Isle, Edna decides to swim far beyond what she typically does for the first time, “A feeling of exultation over took her… she grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman has swum before”. This scene is important to Edna’s character because her new-found capability to swim gave Edna her first genuine feeling of freedom, from here she is left to contemplate how empty she feels and the constriction she faces. Edna’s realization of her independence aids in her in later encounters throughout the work and is the driving factor in what determined Edna’s new lifestyle. Edna’s wish to “swim far out” is her desire to escape the societal expectations. Edna feels that the ocean had allowed her to express her emotions in a way she was unable to before and escape from boundaries and ideals placed on her. Edna soon embarks upon the idea that no matter what she does to free herself she will never be free of the shackles placed on her by the society she was born in, and the people in which she is connected to. The sea’s role in Edna’s development was to lead Edna to her physical freedom, when she drowned Edna had escaped her internal misery leaving her being beyond her body to be free as well. Chopin’s comparison to the sea shows us how overwhelming societal standards can be to women trying to amount to their potential.
Multiple bird imageries throughout the novel symbolize women confinement. In the society Edna exists in, women are confined by gender roles. The caged parrot is representative of Edna’s experiences in the sense that, the bird has no way to communicate or way to be understood by those around her. An example of this comparison is Mr. Pontellier’s inability to understand Edna and is also symbolic of how Edna is isolated. Another way to interpret caged birds in the Awakening is how caged birds are used as decoration. This is an interpretation on how women were viewed as ornamental items without any substance, standards or needs in the Victorian Era. Just as Edna isn’t much appreciated by her husband, and is only there to fulfill the duties of a wife and mother in the Creole society. “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings”, suggests the difficulty women would have to encounter to break society’s ideals and to be looked at as more than a possession, or object to be held by expectation. In the quote “A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling, disabled down, down to the water”. The bird is representative of the state Edna was in. Edna began strong on her path to finding herself and as she progressed towards the end she was wounded (due to the realization she couldn’t ever live the life she truly wanted) and could no longer fly, ultimately succumbing to the ocean just as the bird did.
The final symbol used in the Awakening is the symbolism the places that Edna had choses to reside in. The houses are a mirroring reflection of Edna’s mental state throughout her character progression. In Grand Isle is the embodiment of the societal expectation for Edna to care more for her family more than herself. The narrator expresses “In short Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother woman. The mother woman seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them — they were women who idealized their children, worshipped their husbands and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grown wings as ministering angels”. Unlike the majority of woman on the island, Edna isn’t tied with her duties as a mother or as a wife. Edna is confined by expectation placed upon her, while surrounded by woman who completely resembles the societal standard. The key house during the novel is Edna’s pigeons house. The pigeon house gave Edna comfort and freedom that the previous houses never provided for her. While in in the pigeon house Edna has a newfound strength, this is shown when Edna had kissed Arobin, previously at her old home, she felt reproach. When Edna engages with Arobin at the pigeon house Edna is no longer is filled with regret with her infidelity. The freedom she experiences allows her to recognize the control she can have over her life, this is Chopin’s way of showing the audience that mental state is also dependent physical surroundings and reminders.
Edna’s transformation from submissive, to a rebellious woman of the Creole society is portrayed through the many symbolic notes in The Awakening. Chopin uses the novel to criticize the societal views placed on woman throughout the Victorian Era. Chopin uses Edna as a vessel to express how women are confined and held to standards that are constricting and provide women with a context of female revolution.
The Awakening By Kate Chopin: A Journey Of Self-Discovery
The Awakening by Kate Chopin, an 1899 novella, reenacts the tale of a young woman who undergoes a dramatic period of change as she “awakens” to the restrictions of her traditional societal role and to her full potential as a woman. The novel shares elements of the local colour genre. It was written between 1897 and 1899 when Chopin lived in St. Louis. The narrator is anonymous and mostly objective, although in many cases the reader feels sympathetic for the main character’s fight for independence. Chopin’s choice of diction and syntax makes the novella almost as if it were from her point of view. Throughout this novella, the protagonist, Edna Pontellier, awakens in situations that signify more metaphorical awakenings to new knowledge and sensual experience. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, deals with the sexual awakening of a woman who lives the reality of a wife and mother until the young age of twenty-eight. Edna finds herself feeling so subjected and sorrowful that she is willing to defy many aspects of Creole civilization to gain spiritual immunity. Edna gradually abandons reality, initiating a bohemian lifestyle to exercise freedom of choice in matters of sex. Edna’s process of finding herself in The Awakening by Kate Chopin takes place in a series of three significant stages that eventually lead to the death of Edna at the conclusion. Before Edna begins to discover herself, she is caught between her desires to explore herself and her desires more fully and the realities of Victorian womanhood and life. It is not until the first major event in her awakening; the merging of music and a swim in the ocean that she finally awakens to a much more realistic sense of self-awareness.
In a mechanical manner, various characters activate particular aspects of Edna’s awakening. The pianist Mademoiselle Reisz, characterizes an independent woman as artist, yet unconcerned with personal appearance or public perusal. She encourages Edna to sketch and cultivate her own creativity. Chopin intentionally fails to depict a woman who can be both an artist and a mother. Mademoiselle Reisz may even appear less “feminine” because she does not conform to society’s norms. Reisz, unlike Edna, lives her one-sided reality without question.
Venturing forward in the novella, Chopin incorporates two men as lovers in Edna’s sexual awakening. The way Robert Lebrun views Edna provides a more equal mutual assent than her failing marriage can. Edna credits Robert with awakening her that summer at Grand Isle. Chopin describes Robert in a manner the shows he loves Edna somewhat generously, yet his desires are tinged with a possessiveness that Edna cannot abide. She rejects the possibility of marriage, saying, “I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose. If he were here to say, ‘Here, Robert, take her and be happy; she is yours,’ I should laugh at you both.”
Chopin continues to elaborate on each of Edna’s individual awakenings, writing “As she swam she seemed to be reaching out for the unlimited in which to lose herself’ the narrator speaks volumes about the further elements of Edna’s awakening, while it also alludes her suicide because eventually she loses herself in her own reality. Following this, Edna no longer possesses the will to mirror her past self who is still a victim of Victorian demands (housework, raising the children, being a faithful wife, etc.), but is restored and reborn. Chopin writes, “Edna began to feel like one who awakens gradually out of a dream, a delicious, grotesque, impossible dream, to feel again the realities pressing into her soul’. These realities are her love for Robert, her responsibility, and the insatiable demands of Victorian society. Still, after this first awakening she is able to spend a glorious day away from the island with Robert and takes up painting with renewed spirits. She is literally and figuratively a new woman after this experience.
Near the climax of the novella, Edna has been sexually involved with Alcee Arobin, the town Casanova, who “detected her latent sensuality” and with whom she has a purely carnal, adulterous relationship. In contrast, she loves Robert and finds great comfort in him. Nevertheless, she no longer trusts in any sort of permanence in any relationship. Ultimately, only Dr. Mandalet, well acquainted with human affairs of the heart, seems to understand Edna and may possibly have led her to some alternate solution than suicide. She explains to him at the story’s end, “perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.” The kind doctor encourages her to confide in him saying, “I know I would understand, and I tell you there are not many who would – not many, my dear.” Edna’s suicide illustrates the result of her final awakening; that the woman cannot balance her essential self with her life’s demands. Edna forgoes, disregarding her best efforts, and two worlds. One world, which is that of a solitary artist, and the other that of the Victorian woman enamored with society and the home; the woman that conforms to society. “As a result of the lack of ability to develop a balance or allow herself to live two lives at once, Edna’s final way out is suicide”. Her awakening happened almost too quickly and her actions as a result of it were too drastic and mellow. The only way to cleanse herself of both realities was to enter the sea; the site of her baptism into awakening.
Kate Chopin’s The Awakening has become one of the classics of feminist literature because of its theme of sexual awakening and a woman’s right to freedom of choice in matters of love. Feminists believe that the sexual repression of women, which is still common throughout the world, illustrates a necessary precondition of the political repression and economic exploitation of women that live on every continent of the globe. Feminists believe that until women have control of their own bodies, they cannot hope to have control of their own lives. Upon its initial serial publication, this novella caused quite a stir because it presented a female protagonist who was so blatantly refusing the society she lived in and furthermore, because she was so sexually aware. This combination in Edna’s character made her a literary icon for feminist ideals. “Because of the way Edna chooses individuality over conformity, sexuality over repression, and art over entertaining she is acting as a feminist”— even at a time when this was not a common concept.