Not Ready for Freedom in The Awakening
In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, the main character, Edna Pontellier makes a very long, painful journey into her inner self. At the end of this journey she discovers that she is not strong enough to adopt a life in which a woman is her own woman and lives for herself. This forces her to choose the only other option available to her.
I think the propriety with which Edna struggles (and most often gives in to) as she begins to discover who she is and what she wants creates a thick, almost suffocating atmosphere of tension. So much so that I was relieved that she decided to take her own life, as it had evolved into a torturous existence.
I thought it unfair that Edna was portrayed as a somewhat neglectful mother. It was clear that she adored her children, albeit a fondness that was in “...an uneven, impulsive way.” (p. 59)
It is important to focus on the time this story was written---the choices available to women in 1899 (the year The Awakening was printed) were extremely limited, and Edna Pontellier, all things considered, actually made a good life for herself, on the surface by making a marriage with Leonce. The material trappings in life that Leonce provided were comfortable, extravagant, actually, and the luxurious life of servants (quadroons), and more than one home appeared to be a life of perfection.
Buried within the text are a multitude of “hints,” “suggestions,” and in some cases blatant statements concerning the state of mind of Edna Pontellier. The reader is introduced to the possibility that Edna may have a healthy curiosity of the “absence of prudery” due to her fascination with the lives of Creole women. These women of French descent have far less misgivings concerning the intimate details of life. Their freedom of expression appeared at once exotic and enticing to Edna.
Edna has the “fortune” to be considered the “sole object” of her husband’s “existence.” This is at best confusing, since Mr. Pontellier spends the greater part of his time exiting: for work, Klein’s hotel, etc. It stands to reason that Edna would develop a resentment toward this man who claims to cherish her to the point of obsession, yet performs a ritual “leaving” as if it were second nature.It was interesting to note that Edna and Leonce had only been married six years---one usually perceives an “awakening” to occur in conjunction with a “mid-life” crisis of sorts, and Edna and Leonce were young, vibrant people with small children.
This story is set in New Orleans, Louisiana (and surrounding parishes), and although Louisiana is certainly...