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Selfhood And Motherhood In The Awakening

1638 words - 7 pages

“By all the codes which I am acquainted with, I am a devilishly wicked specimen of the sex. But some way I can't convince myself that I am (216)”
Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin’s The Awakening depicts Edna Pontellier’s struggle to find and assert herself within the cultural constraints of late 19th century America. Like her name “Pontellier”, which means “one who bridges,” it implies that Edna is in a transition between two worlds but not fully embedded in either. Her intent is to bridge the limited world of the mother-woman to that of selfhood.
In The Awakening, the mother-women were “women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels (Chopin 19).” They readily relinquished their individual identities. Madame Ratignolle exemplified the role of the mother-woman as she was defined by and found pleasure in her roles of both wife and mother: she “played [the piano] very well, keeping excellent waltz time and infusing an expression into the strings that … inspired… keeping up her music on account of the children… because she and her husband both considered it a means of brightening the home and making it attractive (Chopin 61).” Although Edna revels in motherhood, she believes that there is an ideal truth beyond it. This truth, according to Dyer, cannot coexist with the social, the moral, or even the biological obligations of motherhood (105). Edna, therefore, finds that the life of the mother-woman fails to satisfy her desire for an existence free of definition. She’s not satisfied with devoting her life to her husband and children alone and pines for selfhood. Because she is unwilling to give up her individuality for her children, although she would give her life for them, Edna finds it challenging to express her revelation to Madame Ratignolle: “I would give up the unessential: I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself. I can't make it more clear; it's only something which I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me (Chopin 122).”
She sympathizes with Adele’s state of maternal self-definition “. . . a pity for that colorless existence which never uplifted its possessor beyond the region of blind contentment, in which no moment of anguish ever visited her soul, in which she would never have the taste of life's delirium (Chopin 145)”and finds herself unfitted for the lifestyle of the mother-woman: “It was not a condition of life which fitted her, and she could see in it but an appalling and hopeless ennui. She was moved by a kind of commiseration for Madame Ratignolle (Chopin 145).” Therefore, Edna's stance is the antithesis of the mother-woman: “Her marriage to Leonce Pontellier was purely an accident (Chopin 46)” and although she was ". . . fond of her children in an uneven, impulsive way (Chopin 47) … their absence was a sort of relief, though she did not admit this, even...

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