Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” Essay
In the novel “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin, the author depicts Edna as a woman who is unable to hide sexual desires. Moreover, Edna juggles her private life with the life she is expected to lead by the society. According to Baym (2008;10-12), Edna struggles to assert the individual identity of a woman beyond the limits set by the patriarchal society.
The novel cannot reconcile the public and the private self because of societal expectations that severely curtail freedom of choice. Edna’s sexual escapades are synonymous with the art experiments, which remains a vital part of her life.
The changes articulated in Chopin’s novel elucidate the confusion and lack of reconciliation between the role of Edna as a female artist and her sexual inclination. This conflict culminates in the death of Edna.
Conflict between Public and Private Life
The start of “The Awakening” depicts Edna as an epitome of the American ideals of the 19th century. She is a young woman married to an attentive and wealth husband. By the social standards of the 19th century, Edna is leading a perfect life. The social picture of this woman is that of a perfect mother and a happy woman.
The marital tag “Mrs. Pontellier,” introduces the reader to the picture formed by Edna’s husband and the society that expects every woman to be respectful. This picture comes with responsibilities that curtail Edna’s freedom. Henceforth, she is referred to as Edna after casting aside the fictional role of the woman to lead a carefree life. Edna has a love for the arts, although her main interest is in accomplishing a woman’s dream.
Edna is not fully committed to the societal role of a wife, which is against the expectations of the public. Moreover, she undertakes motherly duties with discontent and constantly asserts her position. She thinks that women have no choices in their private lives. Moreover, they are compelled by the patriarchal society to assume their responsibilities of bearing and rearing children (Baym 15).
Edna cares for her children although she cannot match the prowess with which Adele performs her societal duties. Edna’s husband reprimands her for her laxity in taking care of their sick son. Moreover, her response on the issue evokes fury and the husband is on the blink of insanity.
The husband does not expect such a response from the wife and rebukes Edna for neglecting children, a feat unheard in a perfect patriarchal society, where the woman is supposed to be submissive and attend to the needs of the husband and the children (Baym 105).
Edna’s husband was attentive and loving as any American husband in the 19th century. The century depicts women as objects for the gratification of the men rather than subject determining their free will as would be the wish of Edna. Edna embraces modernity in a peculiar way by failing to settle into the designated societal roles that she deems inappropriate and a form restriction.
Edna offers a satirical description of her friend’s predicament as a perfect assimilation into the mother role. To Edna, Adele’s situation depicts colorless existence, which fails to emancipate the possessor from the domain of blind contentment (Baym 257).
When Edna starts to experiment with art, painting surpasses important activities. Painting sparks Edna’s repressed desires to purpose beyond the societal and public roles given to her. Concisely, she wants her private life to be devoid of any form of interference.
This forms the genesis of Edna’s awakening. Edna has realized realizes the position she has in the Universe as a human being. She also recognizes that her relationship with others as an individual is preceded by painting. Edna attempts to decipher the lifestyle led by Adele via painting (Baym 280).
Ironically, Edna feels the need to connect with the maternal figure notwithstanding that she is determined to dismiss her maternal role of supporting her children. Her art depicts connotations reserved for the private life, which should not enter into the public domain. She focuses on women in a sensual manner. The desire evokes argument that she has a homosexual-maternal aspect.
Edna is oblivious that such private matters are not encouraged in the public but she admits that her art is socially acceptable as it depicts the life of Adele. Edna’s art is disrupted by her romantic ardor. She burns with desire when painting Adele. This desire is homosexual and is opposed in such a society. Edna strips away from restrictive aspects in her life. These aspects are social rules, marriage, and clothing (Baym 145).
The Conflict Between Private and Public Life
After fuelling sexual desires through exploration of painting, Edna recognizes another life. She is conscious of the lack of satisfaction her domestic and social relationships provide her with. Her friends and the family physician fail to recognize what may be happening to her. The doctor claims that the cause of Edna’s unhappiness is her sexual escapades with men.
Despite being inscribed with maternal instincts unavoidable after pregnancy, she cannot subject herself to the life led by Adele. Adele is obsessed with her social and maternal duties and can only get fulfillment after caring for the children.
Nevertheless, in the attempt by Edna to forge a different life with different roles, Edna leads a life that is different from that of her friend. Moreover, the desire to create a different role and life for herself, emanates from the struggle against social stereotypes (Baym 487).
Edna’s aims at becoming conscious of the full potential she has. Notwithstanding that emotional satisfactions are requisites to a full life, the society in which Edna lives in is marred with chauvinistic tendencies. In the light of this, the women are not expected to be self centered. This simply means that the women cannot focus on their happiness and the first priority is family preservation.
Edna voices her dissatisfaction with her husband’s views on Victorian ideals. She views the ideals as a form of oppression because her husband determines her choices. She distances herself from the husband through art. The income from these sales gives her a feeling of independence. On the other hand, this move gives the husband a feeling of threat (Baym 452).
As opposed to many respectable women who are shy around a doctor, Edna is comfortable. She does not gesture or glance when touched by the doctor. Edna also shows no emotion when she refuses to attend the wedding of her sister. She insists that her husband should attend the function alone because it reminds her of her own marriage.
The refusal to attend the wedding reveals that Edna is determined to distance herself from all possible societal roles. By watching her sister become a subservient wife meant for serving her husband, she cannot think of a worse experience. Edna’s father reminds her of the bad experiences she has had in life. Edna’s father and Margaret’s life are perfect examples of patriarchal forces dominating the life of Edna.
As she extends the distance between the husband and her, her art increases in force and reality. Edna goes against the societal norms by moving into a house away from their matrimonial home. She does this thinking that she will evolve from an amateur artist to a professional artist (Baym 278).
In summary, Edna is a hard working woman torn between leading a public or a private life. She uses Adele as a perfect example of the effects of a patriarchal society on the freedom of a woman. This is because Adele is a loving and caring mother. Moreover, Adele is a model of in the 19th century’s woman.
The submissiveness of Adele is a source of concern for Edna who views that the woman should emancipate herself from the societal and familial roles and pursue a free life. Edna has no stand. She admires Adele but ridicules her submissiveness.
She cannot be like Adele but she worships and idolizes Adele’s children. Through her awakening, there is a further conflict between her personal choice and the choices determined by the public. Beauty, social, and sexual issues also characterize this awakening. This is a difficult way of trying to bring out the private life of an individual in a patriarchal society.
Baym, Nina. The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Beginnings to 1865. New York: W W Norton & Company Incorporated,2008.
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