Edna Pontellier: Selfish, Adulterous, and Suicidal

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In the eighteen hundreds, life was very different from today. There were no televisions, washing machines, modern cooking ranges, or any modern appliance. Overall, life was much more difficult then than it is today. In these times, there were certain gender roles to which each respective sex had to adhere. There are certain gender roles even today, but these have evolved since earlier times. For example, in the 1800's, women were expected to be the quintessential mother woman. They were expected to run the household, take care of the children, and adore the husband. The husband however, was expected to go out and work to provide for his wife and children. While these gender roles may seem unfair and stereotypical to a person today, they were a result of societal evolution, just like the roles further evolved to what they are today. Kate Chopin was born in 1851, and lived a mostly fortunate childhood, growing up exposed to many arts. She married at seventeen, and was a graduate. Her husband gave her much freedom to do what she pleased, and she utilized that freedom to become an author. She had six children by 1881, and she wrote The Awakening in 1899. Most of her writings had a slight feminine theme to them, for example, literary critic Patricia Bradley uses the example "the bird imagery Chopin uses to set the opening scene in The Awakening… to similar uses in George Bernard Shaw's feminist essay "The Womanly Woman"" (Bradley 40). There is also a theme in Chopin's writing, according to author Allen Stein that wives fail to find fulfillment in their marriages, and then are driven to adultery, desertions and suicide (Stein 357). The Awakening was not received well by the public however, and she eventually quit writing because of this. After that she dedicated herself to her family for the rest of her life, which ended the second of August, 1934. The novel The Awakening was about a woman who decided not to conform to the norms of society, and she wished to live her life as she pleased. The main character was named Edna Pontellier, and she was married with children. In the book there is a young man, Robert LeBrun, with whom Edna decides that she wishes to be with instead of her family. She ends up having an affair with another man, Alcee Arobin. At the end of the book, Robert leaves her because he does not wish to get in the way of her marriage, and because of this, Edna believes that she does not have the courage to live the life that she has chosen for herself, and she commits suicide. As you can see, Edna was concerned mostly for herself for most of the time. Edna was a selfish woman who tries to break out of the social norms, commits acts of adultery, falls in love with a man she cannot have, and who commits the ultimate act of selfishness by committing suicide.

At the time the novel takes place, there were certain things that were socially expected of a woman. She was expected to care for the household, care for her family, and completely dote on her children and husband. In fact, "The female roles portrayed in The Awakening are rooted in an ideological system," says literary critic Jennifer Gray (Gray54). Edna does none of these things. Edna was married to a man that most women at the time longed to be married to. He was a successful business man, and he indeed did love his wife and children. This can be seen by the instances where when he was away, he would send packages to Edna and the children from the city, which included sweets for both wife and children (Chopin 50). Also, Mr. Pontellier always gave his wife plenty of money to do with what she would. Indeed, most of Edna's companions agreed that she was luck to have him a husband like Mr. Pontellier, they "… all declared that Mr. Pontellier was the best husband in the world," after Edna received one such package (Chopin 50).

As for caring for her children, Edna was mostly indifferent. One night, after returning from a night of...
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