This year in English class we read many stirring novels, two of which being The Awakening by Kate Chopin and Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. On the surface, these books may look like they don’t have much in common due to their dissimilar plots. However, there are a few noticeable similarities between them; both protagonists in the novels, Edna Pontellier and Ethan Frome, are fighting a constant internal battle. They want things they can’t have, and the potential serenity they yearn for goes against the principled norms of the time periods and would taint their societal reputations forever.
Edna Pontellier is an ordinary wife and mother, but craves for so much more. As a woman living in the late 1800s, she wants to be free to express herself however she wants, even if that includes pursuing her forbidden love, Robert. Likewise, Ethan Frome is a quiet man living in the early 1900s who feels beleaguered by Zeena, his sick and irritated wife. As the story progresses, he realizes he is falling in love with Mattie Silver, the youthful and energetic girl who moves in with the Fromes to help care for Zeena. The second noticeable similarity between the two novels is that both protagonists attempt suicide at the climax of the story. Whereas Edna succeeds in her attempt, Ethan does not. As a result of this, he is forced to live the rest of his life in misery with Zeena and the consequences of his impulsive actions. Despite the unalike outcomes of each book, The Awakening and Ethan Frome are equally poignant stories that show how many people of these time periods are conflicted between being who they want to be and being who society expects them to be. However, both stories show this in a different way; while Edna Pontellier reflects what is going on during this historical time period, Ethan Frome contradicts it.
Edna Pontellier in The Awakening is portrayed as a confused housewife who feels burdened by her husband and children and thwarted by life. During this time period, called the Progressive Era, women are supposed to only take on roles such as housekeepers and mothers. They are expected to cook family meals, clean the house, and care for the children. Although this is the social norm of the time period, many women disagree with it and want equal rights and opportunities as men. This idea is reflected in The Awakening. Although Edna does care about her family, they do not satisfy her desire for happiness. She feels as though it is impossible to be a unique individual in this judgmental society and lives every day with an “indescribable oppression” (Chopin 44). This is why she begins rebelling against the norms of humanity and everything it has taught her to be.
The Awakening was alarming to many people when it was first published. In fact, the novel went unread for decades. According to Anna Elfenbein, The Awakening “shocked its nineteenth-century readers by presenting without comment the adultery of Edna Pontellier, a wealthy, white American wife and...