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Strength In Struggle: Edna Pontellier In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening

3659 words - 15 pages

Strength in Struggle
Many readers see the actions of Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening as those of a feminist martyr. Edna not only defies her husband and commits adultery, but chooses death over life in a society that will not grant her gender equality. Although this reading may fit, it is misguided in that it ignores a basic aspect of Chopin’s work, the force that causes Mrs. Mallard’s happiness in “The Story of an Hour” upon the news of her husbands death, “that blind persistence in which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature” (Chopin 353). While it is true that when Chopin wrote, women were most likely to be denied the pursuit of individuality, analyzing her work through a strictly gender minded lens limits her impact. The importance of Chopin’s work is the portrayal of characters who are engaged in the pursuit of an idiosyncratic desire. The institution of marriage is one which is most likely to infringe upon individual rights. Thus, it is the basis for many of Chopin’s stories. Therefore, along the way we learn that while Chopin believes that although marriage often stifles individuality, it does not have to. In the work of Chopin we see men and women who will go to any length to pursue a strong enough desire. These characters are often unsure of the nature of their desire. The pursuit of these characters is strengthened when they perceive their desire to be futile. Chopin portrays characters who struggle with the institution of marriage or society’s expectations of them. In most cases, they choose to pursue their individual desire rather than fulfill society’s expectations. Chopin believes that individual desire knows no boundaries, is often uncertain and upon being opposed or ignored is strengthened.
Chopin herself knew the effect of marriage upon a young woman in her time, not because she was the victim of an overbearing husband, but quite the opposite. Her ideal marriage is not one of codependence, but mutual independence. In a situation where mutual independence cannot be attained Chopin asserts that remaining single is a superior alternative to marriage. Chopin’s husband reportedly, “adored his wife, admired her independence and intelligence, and "allowed" her unheard of freedom” (Wyatt). Chopin was no doubt aware of what would have been the anomaly of her marriage at the time. This is what made her sympathetic to peers in conventional marriages. Ironically, Chopin did not discover her ambition to write until the death of her husband. The joy that marriage afforded inspired her to adopt the idea that marriage should either be avoided or the stipulations of the union should be laid out beforehand. In her short story, “Wiser Than a God”, Chopin’s opinion that remaining solitary is better than a stifling marriage is clearly laid out. Paula, the main character who is a devoted pianist rejects a marriage proposal on the basis that “…it doesn’t enter into...

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