Kate Chopin's novel, The Awakening, is a look at the society and expectation a woman must go through to be accepted as a mature women and remain true to herself. The setting is in 19th Century Creole New Orleans. Most write about The Awakening, which would include Edna Pontellier's awakening to her sexual self. Edna struggles against society, which pressures her to stay within acceptable social behavior. This is conflicting with her new found independence. The character of Edna Pontellier, is an insightful study of the weaknesses that prevents a woman from progressing toward self actualization.
The author's personal experiences and astute observations are reflected in the themes of ...view middle of the document...
Chopin traveled this road and acquired certain insights during her "pursuit of solitude, independence and an identity apart from her children and apart from the men who always admired her." She acknowledged that in her writing she "drew on real life for most of her inspiration" (Toth 114) this leaves many to believe that the story of Edna Pontellier was in fact about Chopin's own life.
Edna lives in a time and place which discourages growth and fulfillment in women. In the late nineteenth century, particularly in the American South, the Victorian ideal of "True Womanhood" still existed within the middle classes. True womanhood was the idea that all women were subservient, cared for their children, and kept house.
At the time The Awakening was written, the Victorian era was drawing to a close, but it had not yet disappeared. Women were beginning to stand up for equal rights, but many women were still tentative about the" New Woman” who was emerging. The dilemma of choosing between old and new ideas of womanhood, and the conflict it causes is portrayed in the novel.
Edna Pontellier cannot escape the moral values of her strict Presbyterian upbringing. Her conservative morals continually conflict with her desire for sexual exploration within the sensual Creole society of Louisiana, into which she has married. For example, Edna is uncomfortable with "Creole ease in sexual topics" (Jacobs 86) which is often the case amongst the vacationers on Grand Isle. The extent of her discomfort is evident when her Creole friend, Adele Ratignolle, describes the birth of her child in vivid detail to old Mr. Farival. Edna becomes extremely embarrassed and "could not keep the mounting colour back from her cheeks." On another occasion, Edna wants to read a controversial, presumably sexually explicit book, "which had gone the rounds of the pension," but feels compelled to do it in secret, subsequently reacting to its contents "with profound astonishment" (Chopin, The Awakening and Selected Short Stories 53). This again shows the conflict of the confines of the old true womanhood that exists and the new ideals of womanhood emerging at the time.
Edna's progress toward personal freedom is hampered by her inability to stand up for her convictions in the face of opposition. Her journey into self realization involves "awakening" at various intervals and glimpsing what she can become if...