Two Autonomous Women In American Literature

1120 words - 4 pages

In American history, women have not always had the same rights and opportunities of men. Yet, there were exceptions throughout history of women casting aside the general role of just a mother or housewife. Two fictitious examples occur in the book The Awakening by Kate Chopin, and the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare. In The Awakening, Edna, the protagonist of the story, undergoes a realization that her nineteenth-century lifestyle is not the way she wants to live. She rebels against being treated like a piece of property and tries to break free of societies laws. Macbeth tells the story of a man named Macbeth and his wife Lady Macbeth who desires to become queen. Lady Macbeth is the one who told him to kill the current king Duncan to become king himself. Both Edna and Lady Macbeth portray examples of women with autonomy, but the one who displays the characteristics of autonomy the best is Edna. Edna is more autonomous than Lady Macbeth, who only influences rather than display her own independence, because she takes a stand against society, which is the ultimate act of independence.
Lady Macbeth is inarguably a very strong, powerful woman with a lot of control, especially at the beginning of the play. This quote explains the extent of her control over her husband, “Lady Macbeth appears to be somehow in league with evil and Macbeth its victim, a fly in the spider’s web who struggles mightily but cannot escape” (Johnson). She manipulates her husband to get him to do what she wants. When she learns of his destiny to become king, she can’t just let him sit around waiting on it to happen; she knows he has to act. She tells Macbeth he has to kill king Duncan and overrides his objections. Lady Macbeth tries to commit the murder herself but says, “Had he not resembled/ my father as he slept, I had done’t” (Shakespeare 2.2.14-15). This shows her first sign of weakness.
Lady Macbeth is strong, ruthless, and ambitious, but not as autonomous as Edna Pontellier. She does show some autonomy though, because women in that time period were restricted and could not pursue their ambitions. Lady Macbeth had to be crafty and used manipulation on her husband Macbeth to get what she wanted. Although she does show some characteristics of an autonomous woman, this is not the word that describes her best and Edna easily is more autonomous in this comparison. In the end Lady Macbeth can’t handle the guilt of her previous actions, which is explained by this quote, “What,/ will these hands never be clean?” (Shakespeare 5.1.36-37). This quote describes it perfectly that Lady Macbeth’s own actions destroyed her in the end. She is not autonomous because she could only influence others, and would never take a stand to gain independence.
On the other hand, Edna Pontellier is the more autonomous of the two. This quote from the book explains that she has always had a deeper understanding of society, even as a child, “At a very early period she had apprehended...

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