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Women And Society In The Awakening And The Father Of Désirée’s Baby

1237 words - 5 pages

Kate Chopin’s texts The Awakening and “The Father of Désirée’s Baby” explore themes such as the societal conventions placed on women in the late 1800’s and the role of women in the (institution) of marriage. The women of the texts: Edna Pontellier, Chopin’s protagonist in The Awakening and Désirée, Chopin’s protagonist in the “The Father of Désirée’s Baby” both die tragically, due to their inability to upkeep the social values placed upon them. Because both of the women take their own lives at the end of the text, the underlying message Chopin seems to be conveying is one of warning: a warning to those women who have supposedly been inappropriate in marriage by highlighting the consequences; death. However, this reading of the texts is a limited one because it does not look at how the lives of the women in the text reflected the lives of women at the time that Chopin was writing. The fact that both women commit suicide end of the novel suggests that within the texts is Chopin’s social commentary on the difference in status between women and men. Men, do not (and are not expected) to assume any responsibility for the failure of their marriage, the onus of responsibility is on the women. In both The Awakening and “The Father of Désirée’s Baby,” the implications of the endings are Chopin’s critique on the lack of status and agency women have in the 18th century.
Chopin`s critique in the novels stems from the fact that both Edna and Desirée fail to live up to their societies ideals. In, The Awakening, Edna fails to uphold the Victorian feminine ideal. During the early stages of Edna’s awakening and after she has been ‘awakened,’ Edna often laments on how different she is from Adèle Ratignolle, (who represents the Victorian feminine ideal in the novel). Edna “felt depressed rather than soothed after leaving them . . . it was not a condition of life which fitted her, and she could see in it but an appalling and hopeless ennui” (938). Edna’s “awakening” results in her defying the rules of Victorian womanhood, that is being chaste; submitting to her husband and obeying him; and using art, not for self-fulfilment, but for social entertainment. Edna’s rejection of the role of the Victorian woman reinforces the fact that she has no desire to adhere to social codes, and she unequivocally rejects the Victorian ideal when she begins an adulterous relationship with Alcée Arobin. Edna’s sexual and emotional relationships with Alcée Arobin and Robert combined with the fact that “she began to do as she liked and to feel as she liked” (398) implies that Edna refuses the societal constraints as well as her husband’s wishes. This denunciation goes against the societal ideal, and many of Edna’s female friends warn Edna that in order to go against societies wishes she will need to “posses [a] courageous soul” (946). Edna’s actions, as well as her husband and her friend’s reactions to her behaviour during her ‘awakening’ highlights the fact that women aren’t supposed...

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