Kate Chopin's The Awakening: Women's Role In Society Essay
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Have you ever wondered what the lifestyles of Nineteenth Century women were like? Were they independent, career women or were they typical housewives that cooked, clean, watched the children, and catered to their husbands. Did the women of this era express themselves freely or did they just do what society expected of them? Kate Chopin was a female author who wrote several stories and two novels about women. One of her renowned works of art is The Awakening. This novel created great controversy and received negative criticism from literary critics due to Chopin's portrayal of women by Edna throughout the book. The Awakening is a novel about a woman, Edna Pontellier, who is a confused soul. She is a typical housewife that is looking to…show more content…
In The Awakening, Kate Chopin portrays women as being loving wives and mothers that live their life to care for their family and worship their husbands. According to literary critic, Dana Kinninson, this story indicates two types of women, which are expressed by Adele Ratigndle and Mademoiselle Reisz. Adele Ratigndle is "the ideal wife and mother who never experiences an impulse that deters her from the sole concern of caring for her family. She also embodies every womanly grace and charm." Then you have Mademoiselle Reisz, which is the complete opposite of Adele. She has devoted her time and energy to the development of her own abilities instead of a husband and home. Reisz is a pianist older woman who lives alone and is depicted as homely and disagreeable. (Kinnison, 22) Adele and Mademoiselle's lifestyles seem to be the only two options for Edna. Kinninson believes that Edna's options are the reward of complete self-sacrifice versus the reproof of female self-assertion. No middle ground exist, just these extreme contradictions. Edna is a mother of two children but being a mother or "mother-woman" doesn't satisfy her soul and her desire for self-hood. This is all part of her "awakening" and finding herself. (Kinninson, 23-24) James Justus, who is also a critic of American literature, questions what Edna awakens to and if in fact her awakening is at
This question seems to infer that Edna committed suicide because she recognised she was not able to give her children what they needed. This text abounds with images of children that reinforce both the importance of Edna's children to her own life and also the way that she can be compared to a child because of her awakening. Actually, the text makes it very clear that Edna chooses to kill herself to escape the "soul's slavery" that her children represent. Note how they are described in the following quote:
The children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her; who had overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul's slavery for the rest of her days. But she knew a way to elude them.
It is hard to ignore the profoundly negative way in which the children are described, with the use of the word "antagonist" clearly showing the way that in Edna's mind they are pitted against her and her newfound identity and freedom. Edna recognises that her children threaten to return her to the roles of mother and wife that society has prepared for her, and which she has done everything she can to escape. In the end, her battle to live her life on her own terms meets too much opposition, and her "awakening" reaches its tragic and logical conclusion when she does the only thing she can to free herself from the restrictions of society forever: drown herself.