Houses as Motif: Kate Chopins the Awakening

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Houses as Motifs in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening

Linda Catte Dr. Kathryn Warren ENGL 2329: American Literature March 22, 2012 (KateChopin.org.)

(Krantz’s Grand Isle Hotel Picture of painting by Tracy Warhart Plaisance) (Reflechir: Vol.1. Les images des prairies tremblantes: 1840-1940 by Chénière Hurricane Centennial Committee)

It is not new or unique that an individual is looking for one’s purpose and meaning in life. Nor is it unique that men and women imitate the norms of society. In Kate Chopin’s novella, The Awakening, Edna Pontellier, the antagonist, knocked against the societal norms of the late 1800’s. Houses represent Edna’s search for her inner self. The houses which Chopin uses in The Awakening come in pairs which contrast each other. Chopin uses the bird cage and the bath-house to illustrate imprisonment and freedom. The house on Grand Isle and the small house on the Chénière Island represent restlessness and awareness. The grand house on Esplanade Street in New Orleans and the small house located just around the corner demonstrate confinement and control in contrast with freedom and independence. Each house brings to light different aspects of Edna’s personality as she searches for her inner soul and finds new awakenings along the way.

As various houses are presented by Chopin, each will provide insight into Edna’s search for meaning in her life. In order to better understand Edna’s state of mind as Chopin begins The Awakening, the norms of society needs an explanation. Mr. Leonce Pontellier demonstrates characteristics of a husband who fits the societal norm of 1899 when The Awakening (Chopin) was written. Behaviors by Leonce are displayed in the opening chapter of Chopin’s novella. There are bird cages with a talking parrot and a singing mockingbird, hanging on the porch of the main house at Grand Isle. “Mr. Pontellier, unable to read his newspaper with any degree of comfort, arose with an expression and an exclamation of disgust.” (Chopin, ch. 1) Leonce had the freedom to walk away from an irritation and find solace elsewhere. “Mr. Pontellier had the privilege of quitting their society when they ceased to be entertaining.” (Chopin, ch. 1) The bird cage represents imprisonment, the birds represents how individuals in society mimic what is repeated over and over. Although every word is not equally understood and interpreted by all, the words still have a meaning. (http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images)

Edna and Leonce were interpreting different meanings from what society expected. Edna had the burden of imprisonment because of the societal norm. Leonce had flexibility and freedom. He was a businessman with a wife and family that was expected to behave in such a manner that would exhibit appearances of a proper marriage and family. An illustration of Leonce’s attitude is revealed in Chapter One of Chopin's book, a few specific examples are, “…looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property …,” “…perhaps he would return for the early dinner and perhaps he would not.” and “If it was not a mother’s place to look after children, whose on earth was it? He himself had his hands full with his brokerage business.” Leonce viewed himself as important, the roles of society were rigid and fixed in his eyes, and certainly to his advantage.

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Edna did not have the freedom to detach herself as her husband did from unwanted annoyances. Her escape to the bath-house provided as much freedom as Edna could possess at the time. “…had no intention of bathing; they had just strolled down to the beach for a walk and to be alone and near the water.” (Chopin, ch. 7) Lounging at the bath-house on the beach with her friend, Madame Ratignolle, is when Edna realized realities about her marriage and children. Her life was now somewhat predetermined because of her own rash decision to marry Leonce out of rebellion against her father and sister...
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