Painting and Growth in The Awakening
In Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening Edna uses painting to mature and awaken. She has always loved painting, however, she has always been unconfident about her skill in painting. As time went on she became more confident with her skills which that helped Edna grow confidence in herself and also her sexuality as a woman. She starts to ignore her duties as a mother because she feels that it is pointless and starts pursuing in what she loves, painting. The transformation of Edna’s artwork, as her talent and passion grow, represents the transformation of Edna herself from the ordinary housewife to a passionate individual.
Edna uses painting as a form of self-expression. Before she is always very upset because she has not found something that could make her happy and she could not express herself freely. Also expressing how they truly feel is frowned upon in their society, making it difficult for Edna to truly express herself. She felt restrained, however, when she started painting: “She handled her brushes with a certain ease and freedom which came” (11). She is able to be free from the restraints of society, and that freedom comes with painting. She also first awakened when she picked up a brush because she “felt in it satisfaction of a kind which no other employment afforded her” (11). She did not feel like her duties as her mother was able to satisfied her, she has always longed for something more. However, she is not sure what that something is which is why she is never completely happy. Then, when she started painting she realizes that she is really passionate about it and she is quite skilled at it as well. She is able to use art as a form of self-expression which can also be seen as a form of rebellion against social norms. This also brought on her first awakening as she realizes that she has been living in a dream and not doing what she truly loves.
Edna disregards her duties as a mother to pursue her love for of painting. She starts out being an ordinary housewife, then when she discovered her love for painting she started ignoring her duties as a mother more and more. However, being able to find something that she loves is also helping with her duties as a mother, Leonce has noticed that “she was working with great energy and interest” (57). She is able to bring the happiness she gets from painting into her daily housework and even though “without accomplishing anything” (57) she is still able to enjoy herself, this “satisfied her even in the smallest degree” (57) she is also able to realize that it is ok for a woman to enjoy herself which brought on the next awakening. She is also showing self-possession by ignoring her duties as her mother. In the past the women in the family are seen as possessions that needs to work in the house and not have their own opinion, Edna is showing that she has her own pleasures and does not belong to anyone or any family. This is her form of rebellion against society’s expectations for a woman.
Edna has also discovered her sexuality and pleasures as a woman. She started spending “much of her time in the water since she had acquired finally the art of swimming” (45), by using “art” and “swimming” together it compares her love for painting with her discovering the sexual pleasures again. Swimming is where Edna discovered sex again, and this was also what freed her. By saying the swimming is an art gives art a sexual side, and shows that art is what made Edna truly free. When she discovered new sexual pleasure she became more confident as a woman and became more confident in her art work. People have also noticed the change in her, Robert started realizing that she is different than how she was and he “followed her work with close attention giving forth little ejaculatory expression of appreciation in French” (11). He admires her confidence in sex and finds her more attractive because of her confidence. The word “ejaculation” refers to male arousal which indicates that Robert is attracted to Edna in a sexual way.
As Edna’s skills for painting grows, she matures and awakens as well. Her growth in painting represents her growth. At first she is quite unconfident about her painting skills, after creating a painting she would draw “a broad smudge of paint across its surface, and crumpled the paper between her hands” (12). She thinks that she is not skilled and her paintings are not good enough for others to see, this represents her lack in confidence. She then has several awakenings that helped her become more confident and that is reflected in her painting as she is becoming more skilled. People around her were also noticing the change in her skills, her paintings “grow in force and individuality” (79) and is helping her realize her full potential. Her passion for artwork has also grown which represented her passion for living. She has also ended up selling her artwork to provide herself the financial support to buy a new house and move away from her husband. Not only did her paintings free her from society’s ideals it gives her the money needed to be truly free from her husband and society. She got encouragement as well from Mademoiselle Reisz, she told Edna that to become an artist she needs to have “the courageous soul” (63) which is what Edna is lacking. Mademoiselle Reisz helped Edna find her inner artist and become courageous and rebellious. This is what frees her from the ideals that binds her.
Edna has changed significantly as her talent for painting changed. She used her awakenings to improve her skills and develop more confidence. She has also become more confident as a woman and is starting to realize that she have her own pleasure and her role in society is not just to tend to her family. However, this awakening’s affect might not be completely positive as it is this freedom that brought her to her demise.
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