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Female Characters In CHOPINS AWAKENING Essay

The Struggle to Be a Womyn
“Every step which she took toward relieving herself
from obligations added to her strength and expansion as an
individual” (93)
The Awakening by Kate Chopin introduces the reader to
the life of Edna Pontellier, a woman with an independent
nature, searching for her true identity in a patriarchal
society that expects women to be nothing more than devoted
wives and nurturing mothers. In this paper I will describe
Edna’s journey of self-discovery and explain why her
struggle for independence is no easy task. I will also
discuss the relationship Edna has with two other main women
characters and describe how these women conform or rebel
against a society with many social constraints. Finally I
will discuss how the issues brought up in Chopin’s novel are
still relevant today.

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The Journey
The Awakening begins in the vacation spot of Grand
Isle. At first we believe that Grand Isle is a utopia,
wealthy families relaxing at oceanside, but it is here where
Edna first begins to realize her unhappiness. The first sign
of dissatisfaction is when Edna allows herself to feel that
her marriage is unsatisfying; yet she must agree with the
other women that Leonce Pontellier is the perfect husband.

Edna can now ask herself if she has a good husband and is
not happy than should marriage be a component of her life.

Edna has two close relationships with other males in the
book but both prove unsatisfying, and a block to her
independence. The first relationship is with Robert Lebrun.

They swim, they chat on the porch and offer each other
companionship. This is a flirtatious relationship; a
relationship similar to those Robert has had previous
summers with other married women; but different because
Edna, being a “foreigner” allows herself to take Robert
seriously and she falls in love with him. This proves tragic
because during the course of the novel the two will pine for
each other but Robert not wanting to mar his reputation as a
“gentleman” moves to Mexico. Even after his return the two
meet for a short time and then again Robert flees before
anything happens.

The second role Edna begins to question is her role as
mother. Edna’s husband scolds her for her unattentiveness to
her children. Although Edna is fond of her children she,
unlike the other women on Grand Isle, would rather have a
nurse look after them. Edna says that she would “give up the
unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for
my children; but I wouldn’t give myself.”
Edna needs more out of life. She is moved by music.

During that summer Edna sketches to find an artistic side to
herself. She needs an outlet to express who she is. Edna
sees art as important and adding meaning to her life. “She
felt in it satisfaction of a kind which no other employment
offered her.”
After the summer is over and they are back to the city
Edna is a changed woman. She makes many steps towards
independence. She stops holding “Tuesday socials;” she sends
her children to live in the country with their grandparents;
she refuses to travel abroad with her husband; she moves out
of the Lebrun house on Esplanade Street; and she starts
selling her sketches and betting the horses to earn her own
money. She also starts a relationship with another man Alcee
Arobin. He meant nothing to her emotionally but she used him
for sexual pleasure. Edna evolved above her peers she did
not believe that sexuality and motherhood had to be linked.

The last step of her “awakening” is the realization that she
can not fulfill her life in a society that will not allow
her to be a person and a mother. Edna commits suicide in the
ocean at Grand Isle.

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“To a certain extent, The Awakening shows Edna at the
mercy of a patriarchal husband, a hot climate, a Creole
lifestyle, and the circumscribed expectations of a
particular class of Louisiana women.”(Taylor,p.195) Edna
questions these wife and mother roles because they are roles
she was forced into. She married Leonce not because she
loved him but because she could not refuse his admiration
and persistence. This marriage thrusts Edna into a foreign
culture. She questions her role as a mother because she is
different from the typical Creole “mother-woman.” Edna
defies “the central perception of her century that women are
mothers first and individuals second-or not at all. She
never denies the value of motherhood…But she does deny its
supremacy over larger truths of human existence.”(Dyer,
p.106) This is what leads to her suicide. “Edna refuses to
return to a world that values only her performance as a
mother, whose highest expectations for women are
self-sacrifice and self-effacement. She refuses to return to
a world in which this idea is pervasive and inescapable-and
unavoidably colors even her own thinking. For Edna, there
is, ideally, a truth greater than that of motherhood.

Motherhood, compared with it, becomes yet another illusion
that Edna must dispel. That final truth, that greater truth,
can not coexist with the social, the moral, or even the
biological obligations of motherhood.(Dyer, p.105) Edna’s
suicide is tragic and victorious. Tragic, because Edna could
not become the person she wanted to be because of the
restrictions society placed on mothers; victorious, because
Edna did not conform to a patriarchal society.
Women Characters
In The Awakening two women characters are presented in
sharp contrast to each other. These women introduce Edna to
new ideas and influence Edna’s perception of womanhood.

First we are introduced to Madame Ratignolle, the perfect
“mother-woman”. Adele is perfectly content and happy
conforming to society. Adele keeps up her piano playing not
for her own artistic outlet but for her children. She lives
for her husband and her children and encourages Edna to do
the same. Adele introduces Edna to female love. Edna was
enamored by Adele, “She had long wished to try herself on
Madame Ratignolle. Never had that lady seemed a more
tempting subject than at that moment, seated there like some
sensuous Madonna,”(14) Adele is the first woman Edna feels
comfortable with confiding in and being caressed by. “In
some respects, the motherless Edna seeks a mother surrogate
in Adele and looks to her for nurturance. Adele provides
maternal encouragement for Edna’s painting and tells her
that her talent is immense'(18).”(Showalter,p.74)
Mademoiselle Reisz is the opposite if Adele. She is an
unmarried musician and she is considered eccentric for her
outspoken views. She is very fond of Edna. She introduces
Edna to the world of art. Mademoiselle Reisz’s piano playing
“sent a tremor down Mrs. Pontellier’s spinal column.”
As Edna compares herself to these women she is not
fully satisfied with either of them as a role model. Adele,
although loved, lacks an independent life. Reisz is
independent but she lacks love. Edna is searching for a
middle ground between the two.

Relevance today
The main question Chopin ponders in this novel is can a
woman have both a marriage and children and a fulfilling
independent life outside of that realm. That is a question
still relevant today. Today a woman can have both a career
and a family. The question is will a woman with children
excel in her career as far as she would have if she was
childless. Also, will her children suffer if her career is
her first priority. I have witnessed two scenarios that
exemplify these questions. My Aunt Cathy quit a fulfilling
career that offered her travel, excitement , and a good
salary to be a stay at home mom. She is happy but she admits
to often wondering “What if?”. She also cautions me to
postpone marriage until I have accomplished my goals. My
Aunt Michele barely took a breath after giving birth before
returning back to work. My grandmother raised her daughter
and now at age seven her daughter is much closer with my
grandmother than her own mother. I often wonder what the
long term affects are going to be.

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Edna’s journey is one that everyone goes through. Edna
attempts her journey of self discovery after she assumes the
unsatisfying roles of wife and mother. I am on that journey
now, at twenty-two, childless, husbandless, and in
school-trying to give my life direction. The journey would
be more difficult if I had the responsibilities that Edna
has. Edna’s journey is also more difficult because it
occurred during the time period where a woman was a second
class citizen.
I enjoyed and connected to The Awakening. I am at a
period in my life where I want to start moving towards a
goal. When I weigh my career choices I often ponder how a
family will fit into that choice. Edna’s struggle made me
realize the universality of this dilemma and I realize how
lucky I am to have women like Kate Chopin come before me and
make my struggle a little easier.

Works Cited
Dyer, Joyce.(1993).The Awakening A Novel of
Beginnings. New York:Twayne Publishers.
Elfbein, Anna Shannon.(1989).Women on the Color Line.

Charlottesville:University Press of Virginia.

Papke, Mary E.(1990).Verging on the Abyss The Social
Fiction of Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton. New
york:Greenwood Press.

Showalter, Elaine.(1991).Sister’s Choice Tradition
and Change in American Women’s Writing.

Oxford:Clarendon Press
Taylor, Helen.(1989).Gender, Race, and Religion in the
Writings of Grace King, Ruth McEnery Stuart, and Kate
Chopin.Baton Rouge:Louisiana State Press

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Female Characters In CHOPINS AWAKENING Essay
The Struggle to Be a Womyn
"Every step which she took toward relieving herself
from obligations added to her strength and expansion as an
individual" (93)
The Awakening by Kate Chopin introduces the reader to
the life of Edna Pontellier, a woman with an independent
nature, searching for her true identity in a patriarchal
society that expects women to be nothing more than devoted
wives and nurturing mothers. In this paper I will describe
Edna's journey of self-discov
2018-12-27 03:15:55
Female Characters In CHOPINS AWAKENING Essay
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