Kate Chopin’s Liberated Women

May 9, 2019 by Essay Writer

Twenty-first century domestic statistics scream with divorce. Although the relationship between husband and wife is far more equal since the days of Kate Chopin’s “The Dream of an Hour,” rampant divorce and single-parent families still make it difficult for today’s children and teenagers to trust they will marry happily. While cases of marital infidelity, alcoholism, and abuse are all leading causes for separation, divorced women everywhere, to some extent, share the cry of Mrs. Mallard: “Free! Body and soul free!” In her novella The Awakening and short story “The Dream of an Hour,” Chopin advocates not only that the oppressed wives’ escape from marriage, but also the further removal from any potentially constraining influence.While Edna Pontellier’s affections for Robert and Arobin magnify the lack of spousal loyalty today, Chopin’s works condemn marriage more for the sake of preserving individual liberty than for sexual freedom. Mrs. Mallard delights in this newfound understanding; grasping the future, she embraces her own self rather than the prospect of new relationships: “There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature”(2). Similarly, Mrs. Pontellier shares this somewhat cynical realization about the triviality of human coexistence: “I’ll not be forced into doing things. I don’t want to go abroad. I want to be left alone” (111).Kate Chopin’s “The Dream of an Hour” and The Awakening are not only demonstrations of independence from marriage, but declarations of superiority to all human connection. Although Mrs. Pontellier’s passion for Robert speaks warmly of love outside a constraining marriage, the leading women in both works share in perceiving its extreme insignificance. In debating her love for her “deceased” husband, Mrs. Mallard resolves, “What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being” (2). Likewise, Edna Pontellier too easily exempts herself from the power of love and loss: “Today it is Arobin; tomorrow it will be someone else. It makes no difference to me…”(115).Edna Pontellier and Mrs. Mallard each become the epitome of the transcendentalist philosophy. From the confines of stifling marriages, each woman emerges with an overpowering sense of self-worth. Ironically, however, their transcendence of societal conformity yields as much radical aloofness as introspective thought. While their personal revelations are intense and inspiring, the characters underestimate life’s shared joys, particularly love. By misconceiving emotions as mere “impulses,” they reduce the complexity of life to one level – the soul. The reader must question: Are these women doomed in their cynicism? Their new transcendentalist ideals foster physical isolation as well as emotional freedom. Kate Chopin’s works beautifully illustrate the value of independence; her folly is in trivializing the embrace of a loved one.

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