The Metaphorical Lesbian in Chopin’s The Awakening
In “The Metaphorical Lesbian: Edna Pontellier in The Awakening” Elizabeth LeBlanc asserts that the character Edna Pontellier is an example of what Bonnie Zimmerman calls the “metaphorical lesbian.” It’s important to distinguish between Zimmerman’s concept of the “metaphorical lesbian” and lesbianism. The “metaphorical lesbian” does not have to act on lesbian feelings or even become conscious of herself as a lesbian. Instead, the “metaphorical lesbian” creates a space for woman-identified relationships and experiences in a heterosexually hegemonic environment.
In LeBlanc’s words, “I am suggesting…that the presence of lesbian motifs and manifestations in the text offers a little-explored position from which to examine the strategies and tactics by which Edna attempts to establish a subjective identity.” (237) LeBlanc’s support for this analysis comes from a variety of sources including Adrienne Rich’s article “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Experience, Teresa de Lauretis’s, Monique Wittig’s and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s work, and “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” by Audre Lorde.
Le Blanc first demonstrates how The Awakening functions as a critique of patriarchy, acknowledging previous feminist writing about ways that women, and female characters, were defined by motherhood. She looks at the ways that Edna associates with Adele Ratignolle and Madesmoiselle Reisz differently, but towards the same purpose. In this case, Mademoiselle Reisz represents the actual lesbian and one possible way of life for Edna while Adele represents what she is leaving behind. She examines how Adele Ratignolle is constructed as an ideal woman-mother, but that she becomes an individual subject when she relates to Edna through woman-identified contact. Edna finds no solace in the literal spaces in which her “metaphorical lesbian” identity can reside. Neither can other heterosexual options fulfill her desire as the “metaphorical lesbian.” The reason why Edna eventually rejects her fantasies...