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The Awakening

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Feminism and The Awakening
Gender discrimination and feminism played a great role in the novel The Awakening by Kate Chopin. This novel was highly controversial when it was first published. “The Awakening deals with the condition of the nineteenth century woman in marriage, and has been more recently rediscovered and recognized as an overtly feminist text for these same reasons.” (Marquand) This novel was written during a time where a women’s place in society was at home taking care of the children and providing for the husband. This novel, contains the obstructions, the victories and the defeats that Edna dealt due to the demanding requirements of society. Society placed a lot of emphasis on women and in Edna’s case she was expected to be the perfect wife, perfect mother and bow her husband’s every need. Some women in The Awakening are complying with what society expects of women, characters such as Adele plays right into what society believes women should be. Adele is a woman who embodies what society all the qualities of what a woman-mother should be. Edna defies the expectations of society to find her own freedom. Although Edna's suicide seems to be a waste of her time and energy for her tussle against society and the status quo. The Awakening by Chopin is known as one the first feminist novels and it led the way for future feminist novelist. The Awakening lays the foundation and inspires women to take charge of their lives to get whatever they want out of life and to find their own identity, which agrees with the guidance of feminism.
Feminism is advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men (Webster Dictionary). Feminism teaches that women are equal to men in every way. Many feminists attempt to challenge the ideals of stereotypical women and not deal with the one’s that believe in these values. Feminists live to end biases across the world laden with narrow-minded men that only see women as inconsiderate objects and not equals in the least bit. The feminist movement wanted to abolish the unfair treatment of women and minorities. “The differences between men and women in order to enforce that women need their intellectual and spiritual resources strengthened.” (Fuller) Many feminist believe that men and women are the same, even with differences in masculinity and femininity. The differences are not between men and women, since both men and women have the similar traits, but are between individuals: “There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman.” (Fuller) Feminism can be seen in many ways. It can be seen as something liberating or rebellious. Edna’s defiance represents a feminist in many ways. She tells Madame Ratignolle that "she would never sacrifice herself for her children, or for anyone. . . . I would give up the essential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself" (Chopin 47). This shows that Edna feels that if she gave her soul or what she stood for, her life would not be worth it. Edna represents women during this time where they were suppressed. Women were not allowed to give their opinion and were seen as positions. "You are burnt beyond recognition, he added, looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered great damage" (Chopin 8), as her husband stated. He treated her as if she was just a piece of meat and not that she was sun burnt. Later in the novel, Edna starts the search in her mind and in her actions for what does it mean to be a woman and to exist as a human being; both sexually and emotionally. Edna’s ability to be out on her own and live her life as she always dreamed it was quite impressive. A well-timed inheritance made it possible for her to put some distance between her husband and her former life. Her husband was a business man whose life revolved around what other people thought of them. He was too busy with his own affairs to notice that his wife was not happy and that’s is one reason she left. Léonce’s expectation was for Edna to continue to live her life-like New Orléans women regardless of her dislike for them. His relationship with Edna is very strained due to her withdrawal, and he knows nothing about how his wife is feeling emotionally. “Leonce is convinced that fulfilling monetary needs excuses the paucity of time he spends with the children, never presuming that some needs cannot be monetarily satisfied: {“He has his hands full with his brokerage business …making a living for his family on the street.” (Chopin 12)} He felt that as long as he was providing for his family, he do not have to address the needs of his wife but she had to address his. She did not feel the same way that society or her husband felt about her responsibility as a woman. So, over time she pulled away for society and her past life. With her release to the self-govern lifestyle, it renewed her love for art and she started to paint again. She did not have to rely on anyone else other than herself. She found independence both in sexuality and the right to make her own decisions, which made it worth the consequences that society may have put in her way. She was like a red balloon on a black and white picture-bright and vibrant, lifting away from society and it biases. Her freedom was a great accomplishment in her life but it did not come without its problems. These problems would eventually lead Edna to removing herself completely from society and to an eventual suicide. But however, you can make the argument that it is her own fault that she is in the life she so much despise. Chopin wrote that "her marriage to Léonce Pontellier was purely an accident... He fell in love...and pressed his suit with an earnestness and an ardor which left nothing to be desired. He pleased her; his absolute devotion flattered her." (Chopin 29) This flattery should not make someone want to get married. Basically, she should not have married someone the she did not love. But, I do not think that it would make for a good novel if she married someone who made her happy.
In this novel, birds seemed to symbolize the confinement that society has on women’s lives. Edna’s life is like a caged bird that is mentioned in The Awakening. The caged birds symbolizes society and the way it traps women in cages to keep them from finding their own way in life. Women during this time were limited by society on what they can and cannot do or say. They are just like birds in a cage, they can sit and look beautiful but they can never fly and express themselves or grow as people. Edna tried many of times to fly away from what society wanted but just landed in another cage. “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings” (123) said Madam Reisz. It was not easy for Edna to break away and expand her wings because she had to be strong, not break under the pressure of her husband and what society expects. The statement, “A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water” (Chopin172) symbolizes the life that she had created for herself. She was like a bird with a broken wing spiraling down to earth to finally meet its demise. Her effort seemed to be met with more walls to break through. Even after all the freedom she had gained, her efforts were not enough to live with, without love.
Edna’s love for Robert and her newly found individualism is a crucial part of her feminist ways in The Awakening. The author shows through Edna that she believes in love and without love there can be no relationship or marriage. Her husband believed that a woman should follow, love, and do whatever their husbands told them to do, from taking care of the children to cleaning the house. Society also had the same concept as Edna’s husband. They both believe that women are supposed to cater to the husband needs. Edna’s feminist way’s told her husband to “Go away” which greatly contradicts what society expects from a wife or any woman. Her feminist qualities manifest greatly as she put distance in her relationship with her husband and closer to what she really wants, Robert.
Robert is the charming young man who spent time with Edna at Grand Isle. He showed compassion and the attention that her husband has never shown her. Edna started to feel free when she was with Robert. The time at Grand Isle changed Edna. She fell in love with Robert and Robert felt the same the same way but he could not deal with the fact that she was married. Edna and her family went back to New Orléans but things were different. She began to display more freedom of expression than she did before. She had changed so much, that her husband thought she was sick and talk to a doctor. Her relationship with Robert contradicts with what society deems as acceptable. Robert’s feelings were in deep turmoil with what his heart desires and what society would think of their relationship. Unfortunately, the love that Roberts has for Edna was not strong enough to keep them together. The letter that Robert leaves Edna makes it clear that she is on her journey to independence alone as he said “Good-bye- because I love you.” (Chopin 168) It seemed as if Robert and Edna wanted different things out of life. He wants her hand in marriage and she wanted her independence. Even after he confessed his love for her, he cannot sever the ties that society has wrapped around him, so he has to let her go. As Robert leaves her life, she sadly falls into depression that would led to her suicide.

The images of children and written mentions to them, occurred quite often throughout this book. Edna is something like a child herself. It is like she was being reborn into a new world and she discovering her new world from a childlike perspective. Edna’s childishness is less commendable. Edna becomes very selfish as she is going through these life changing moments. She does not care about anyone’s feelings other than her own. She turned into a person that did not take her life very seriously or the magnitude of her actions. You could honestly say that this could have possibly lead to the demise of Edna. She feels like her own children will be judged by society because of her actions and that they would not be able to live up to expectations of their parents. Moreover, her responsibility to her children is unlike her responsibility to her husband. Her husband believes that her world should revolve around the children. Because her children are linked to Edna’s unfortunate suicide, her mentions of “the little lives” of her children accompanied her tragic end.
Edna’s suicide is a sad spiral of events in other wise a great feminist novel. With this action, it discredits the group of feminism. Even though she was able to venture out on her own, leave her husband, and start a new life, she was missing one important feminist action. That action is to put one’s self before anyone else. When Robert takes off for Mexico, Edna feels as if his "going had some way taken the brightness, the color, the meaning out of everything" (Chopin 46). Even after Edna's independence, she still feels the need to hold on to something other than empowering herself. Feminist most often put themselves first and not bombard themselves with the affairs of others. You could almost say that Feminist are selfish and they only think about themselves. This trait is not the trait Edna had to let herself get over the hurt and pain that eventually led to her suicidal impulses and tendencies. "She felt no interest in anything about herself" (Chopin 53), mainly due the fact that she could not totally accept the feminist lifestyle. This caused her to think negatively about her life and the thought of constantly being disappointed. As the novel continues, you can tell that she is slowly getting more and more depressed even though her efforts to become free are commendable. “There were days when she was happy without knowing why. She was happy to be alive and breathing” (Chopin 87) symbolizes the stages of depression since there was also “days when she was unhappy, she did not know why” (Chopin 87). Her outstanding attempt to set herself apart from what her husband and society expected from women during this time deserved an applause. Her unfortunate demise seems like an appalling waste of self-induced pain and struggle for the freedom that she fought so hard to acquire.
In summary, Edna’s decision to commit suicide is because her independent life ended up in feelings of hopelessness. She came to a point in her life where nothing was getting better and if she continued to live she would be stuck in this vortex forever. She had seen how good life is without the constraints of society but still felt alone because everyone around her were still living up to society’s expectations. The love she had for Robert seemed to grow into a fascination and she could not go on without him in her life. Even though her children were important to her, she felt that it would not let her be as free as she wanted. I know that some people may think that she took the easy way out, just to escape the problems she created with her family and society. But however, I believe that she came to grips with what she really wanted in her life. But what she wanted, she could not have. Love is all she wanted in life and he made her feel free. The life that she always wanted was still hampered by society. The life she created for herself had everything she want but yet she was not free. During her awakening Edna had times of joy and times of sadness. When she got into the water at the beach where the story began, it brought back memories of joy and the times where she felt at peace. At least she could be happy in death, than in her life living. The Awakening, Chopin shows us how relationships can collapse over time when someone in the relationship is truly not dedicated to that connection. The treatment that women receive during this period is not fair at all. Women during this period deserved to be treated better and not treated how society expected them to be. The novel The Awakening can be looked at in a literary sense. This novel not only about Edna’s awakening but the awakening of society as a whole. Society did not like this book or the author after this book was published. It made society take a long look at itself and gave feminist a manuscript to rally behind.

Works Cited

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. 1899. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1993.
Meyers, Diana, "Feminist Perspectives on the Self", the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
(Spring 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.) Web. January 27, 2010
Marquand, Jane L. "Kate Chopin as Feminist: Subverting the French Androcentric Influence." Deep South. Web. 5 Dec 2001.
Head, Tom. “Feminism in the United States.” Web. April 27, 2014.
Fuller, Margaret. Wikipedia. “Women in the 19th Century.” Web. March 5, 2014…...

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The Awakening

...Roles of the Woman at the late 19th Century The book, The Awakening, portrays the routine daily life of women and men during this era.. The men always provided the bread and butter for their whole family. The women where seen mainly as an item on a peddle stool that the men had possession of. Plenty of women during this time just put up with how they where treated but many also formulated another idea of what their role should be. These types of women were portrayed by the character Edna Pontellier in the book. She went through the book exploring her idea and it was the death of her at the end. In the beginning of The Awakening, Edna was in the full role of the idealized women. She obeyed her husband and did things for her kids. You find that she doesn’t like how she lives and then adopts the idea that women can be fully independent. She breaks off from the path that is expected from a woman and starts to rebel. She falls in love with another man while still married, where it is the custom for women to just stick to insignificant flirting, Edna takes the flirting seriously. The other women in this book are said to just participate in a modest flirting but to where it won’t give them looks. People soon start to become aware of that she is acting a bit out of the ordinary for a woman and start to become suspicious of her. In the book, it also shows a little of the typical daily routine of a woman. As we look back on how 19th century women lived, we see that they were......

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