Barred Individuality: Breaking Free of Relations in Kate Chopin’s the Awakening

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Jasmin Voigtlander
CRE Final Draft
May 04, 2012
Eng 2H; Pd 4
Mrs. Holland

Barred Individuality: Breaking Free of Relations in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening In the 1800’s and for many years prior, women were born with an already accepted and expected role in society. Women were not permitted to work and were limited to the home, and domestic duties. They were expected to dismiss their wants and/or needs, and to put their families’ before themselves. Though faced with so many restrictions, many women did not, in fact, feel as if they were under any restraints. There was nothing to question, for this was the societal norm and they had never known otherwise. Once this inequity was realized many women’s rights groups were formed. Many novels written in these times of conflict shared “a concern for women’s escape from confinement in all spheres in her life. And escape from confinement is the overriding theme of The Awakening” (Toth 2). In The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, the author demonstrates how relationships restrain individuality. This is displayed through Chopin’s diction and her imagery of birds and the ocean. Chopin displays relationships’ restraint on individuality through her diction. Edna Pontellier’s relationship with both her husband and children serve as restraints from her individuality. Marriage is even directly stated as “one of the most lamentable spectacles on earth” (Chopin 67). Chopin’s use of the word “lamentable” depicts marriage as a sad and mournful event; an event in which one compromises one’s identity for union. After Edna’s decision to move into the “pigeon house (Chopin 86)”, she resolves to have a small celebration in her home prior to the move in commemoration of this event. That night “[t]here was something in her attitude, in her whole appearance when she leaned her head against the high-backed chair and spread her arms, which suggested the regal woman, the one who rules, who looks on, who stands alone” (Chopin 90). Chopin’s inclusion of the last phrase “who stands alone” emphasizes not only that Edna’s transformation is made alone, but that being by oneself is necessary to “rule” and therefore serves as a necessary factor of her transformation. While Edna’s relationship with Leonce leaves her trapped from any form of individualism and puts her in a state of confinement, Edna’s awakening develops not only through her newly realized yearning to escape the confinements of both society and her relationships, but through the actual separation. Edna’s relationship with her children also constrains her individuality, and her dismissal of her children marks the start of her awakening. When Edna tells Madame Ratignolle, “I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my children but I wouldn’t give myself” (Chopin 48), she emphasizes that a truly loving relationship between a mother and her children requires the mother to give up her identity and fully devote herself, physically and mentally, to raising her children; therefore making a mother’s relationship with her children a “hindrance to her freedom” (Jones 1). By stating that she will not give up “[her]self’ for her children, Edna is refusing to dismiss all that she is. She will not let herself become another person, even for the sake of her children. Edna “refuses to sacrifice her ‘self’,” hence, her “children[,] who are supposed to give significance to [her] life[,] [become] antagonists she must elude, to avoid ‘the soul’s slavery’ (Chopin 116)” (Toth 2). The mention of “the soul’s slavery” is an allusion to selling one’s soul to the devil. By submitting her soul to “the soul’s slavery,”—and therefore giving up “[her]self” —Edna would be willingly giving up her choice to make her own decisions. She would need to dismiss herself as an individual in order to become like all the other mothers of her time; making all decisions purely for the good of their children or husbands. Furthermore, the phrase displays the children’s...
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