Social Classes and the Strains They May Cause in The Awakening by Kate Chopin
In the novel The Awakening by Kate Chopin, class structures are a significant key to some of the actions of three main characters. Leonce, who is married to Edna, is the character who goes along with the upper-class structure because he wants to be accepted by his peers. Robert, who falls in love with Edna, is too scared to go against the traditional thinking of the upper class. Finally, Edna, who is the main character in the novel, does go against her upper-class structure for her own happiness.
Leonce is the typical husband; he wants to please his wife, Edna, but he also wants to be recognized by his upper-class friends. He truly does love Edna, but he treats her as though she were a child. He also thinks of Edna as his chattel. For example, at the very start of the novel, while looking at his wife like a piece of property, Leonce says, "You are burnt beyond recognition" (24). Leonce looks at her as if she were a lower- class citizen since it would be those that labor in the sun who would be "burnt" (24).
During that time period, most upper-class husbands did treat their wives as if they were a valuable possession. However, Edna does not want to be looked at in a manner that gives her a sense that she is property. Edna wants to be her own person. She wants to have her own opinions about her life, without having her husband tell her whether she can or cannot think for herself. She basically ignores her husband. Margit Stange in her essay "Personal Property: Exchange Value and the Female Self in The Awakening" mentions that "what Edna Pontellier considers as her property is [. . .] her body" (277). Edna doesn’t see herself as property of her husband as he would like to think of her; she decides that she is her own property.
Leonce doesn’t see that he is slowly losing his wife because he wants to fit into the crowd of the upper class.
In addition, when Edna decides to leave their household, Leonce covers up for her. He doesn’t want his peers to realize that his wife has left him and his children to satisfy her own desires. Leonce never tells Edna that she could not move out nor does he try to stop her. In fact, Edna’s father gives Leonce advice that he should put his foot down because that is the only way that a man can manage his wife (94). In a way, this comment made Leonce feel obligated to make up an excuse for his wife, then she leaves and decides to live on her own. Leonce was too embarrassed to be in the position of admitting what his wife had done. Another reason why Leonce was also shy about telling his friends the truth about his marriage was because Edna was one of the few women at the time who even thought about leaving her household. Leonce just wanted everyone both in his social life and in his personal life to be contented.
Robert, on the other hand, is intimidated to fight against his upper-class traditional thinking in order...