Kate Chopin's The Awakening
Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening expresses the difficulty of finding a woman’s place in society. Edna learns of new ideas such as freedom and independence while vacationing in Grand Isle. Faced with a choice to conform to society’s expectations or to obey personal desires for independence, Edna Pontellier realizes that either option will result in dissatisfaction. Thus, Edna’s awakening in Grand Isle leads to her suicide.
Edna’s awakening occurs during her family’s vacation in Grand Isle. It is here that she learns to freely express herself and be unreserved in her behavior and speech. Through the Creole women, Edna becomes free from the chains that bind her to societal expectations. Adele initiates Edna’s arousing as does the local flirtatious man, Robert Lebrun. It is at Grand Isle that Edna feels most alive: engaging in idle talk, flirting unabashedly, receiving loving attention from a man, paints, learning to swim, an awareness of independence, and becoming conscious of her sexuality. Through the contrast of her experiences (depression when at home and joy when playing at sea), Edna recognizes an awakening, or a change, within her self. She discovers a part of herself separate from her husband, children, and previous life. This discovery fuels her incendiary rejection of her domestic responsibilities when she returns to her home in New Orleans. This ignites the passionate fire of her heart, causing her to shake previous responsibilities, open a house independent of her husband to quench her sexual desires, and liberate herself from domestic restraints. Conclusively, Edna’s vivification causes her to feel responsible for only her passions and urges, neglecting remaining responsibilities from her prior domestic life.
Edna suffers from feelings of solitude as she finds herself caught between two female figures, neither of which she can assimilate. The two main women in Edna’s life serve as foils of each other and static characters to which Edna can compare. Adele Ratignole presents the ideal, socially-accepted woman figure. She exemplifies all that is perfect: devoted wife seeking only to please her spouse, loving mother, knowledgeable, conventional, “mother-woman,” elegant, charming, simple, and servant to both her family and society. Completely opposite of the dependent woman is Mademoiselle Reisz who personifies all that Adele would disgust. Reisz remains isolated from society, shunned as a recluse for her passion of music. She is unpopular, solitary, unmarried, childless, but also courageous, passionate, independent, inspired, and free. The two figures rest on polar ends of a societal spectrum. This distance creates a horrific gap within which Edna finds herself. Edna identifies with both women, having qualities and tendencies of each. This dual connection complicates Edna’s identity; she cannot fully embody either woman type while she possesses qualities of the other. Edna remains in a...