Themes and Fate in The Awakening and Madame Bovary
Kate Chopin's The Awakening and Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary are both tales of women indignant with their domestic situations; the distinct differences between the two books can be found in the authors' unique tones. Both authors weave similar themes into their writings such as, the escape from the monotony of domestic life, dissatisfaction with marital expectations and suicide. References to "fate" abound throughout both works. In The Awakening, Chopin uses fate to represent the expectations of Edna Pontellier's aristocratic society. Flaubert uses "fate" to portray his characters' compulsive methods of dealing with their guilt and rejecting of personal accountability. Both authors, however seem to believe that it is fate that oppresses these women; their creators view them subjectively, as if they were products of their respective environments.
Chopin portrays Edna as an object, and she receives only the same respect as a possession. Edna's husband sees her as and looks, "...at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage." (P 2 : The Awakening) Chopin foils their marriage in that of the Ratignolles who, "...understood each other perfectly." She makes the classic mistake of comparing one's insides with others' outsides when she thinks, "If ever the fusion of two human begins into one has been accomplished on this sphere it was surely in their union." (P 56 : The Awakening) This sets the stage for her unhappiness, providing a point of contrast for her despondent marriage to Mr. Pontellier. She blames their marriage for their unhappiness declaring that, "...a wedding is one of the most lamentable spectacles on earth." (P 66 : The Awakening) She sees their lifetime pledge to fidelity and love as merely a social trap; the same forces that bind them oppress her.
Simultaneously, Mademoiselle Reisz, who "...sent a keen tremor down Mrs. Pontellier's spinal column..." which perhaps is the tremor that marks the beginning of Edna's self discovery. "A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her, - the light which, showing the way, forbids it." (P 13 : The Awakening) As she explores her world, other men, swimming, and her other romantic pursuits, she experiences her epiphany; she finds that the world has much to offer and kills herself in the lamentation of that which she cannot truly have.
Edna finds herself filled with "An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness...She did not sit there inwardly upbraiding her husband, lamenting at Fate, which had directed her footsteps to the path which they had taken." (P 6 : The Awakening) Edna takes an active part in finding happiness within her world. She pursues her swimming and other men in the interest of ending the monotony she lives with as a...