Life and Society
In Kate Chopin's novel, The Awakening, the constant boundaries and restrictions
placed on Edna Pontellier by society will lead to her ultimate struggle for freedom. Her
husband Leonce Pontellier, the current women of society, and the Grand Isle make it
apparent that Edna is trapped in a patriarchal society. Despite these people, Edna has a
need to be free and she is able to escape from the patriarchal society that she despises.
The sea, Robert Lebrun, and Mademoiselle Reisz serve as Edna's exits from this
traditional way of life.
Edna is a young Creole wife and mother in a high-class society. The novel unfolds
the life of a woman who feels dissatisfied and restrained by the expectations of society.
Leonce Pontellier, her husband is declared "
the best husband in the world" (Chopin 7).
Edna is forced to admit that she knew of none better. Edna represents women in the
past that were suppressed. These women weren't allowed to give their opinions and were
often seen as objects, which explains the way her husband never really saw Edna as his
wife, but more as a material possession. In this society, men viewed their wives as an
object, and she receives only the same respect as a possession.
Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman. The mother-woman role is an image
that summarizes this idea of restraint. It is a behavioral code which bases a woman's
identity on her capacity to bear children, look after them, and worship the husband. It is a
role based on the release of each female's individuality for the purpose of the mother
Edna struggles for freedom throughout the novel. The sea is where Edna begins
her search for freedom. The sea is the novel's central symbol of romantic possibility.
Chopin's copious descriptions of the sea give us an insight into its powerful effect on Edna
The sea is a place that promises spiritual as well as physical freedom. The sea urges Edna
toward limitlessness, transcendence, and romantic. Edna also sought refuge in other men
as an escape of her feelings of entrapment in her society. It is here that she meets Robert
Lebrun. He is the one true love she has found in her life. Edna begins to find herself
through Robert. She loves Robert because he is one of the few people who do not
suppress her. She realizes through Robert that her husband is a person who she married
without love as an excuse.
Another person who influences society and Edna's freedom is Mademoiselle Reisz.
"The very first chords which Mademoiselle Reisz struck upon the piano sent a keen tremor
down Mrs. Pontellier's spinal column. It was not the first time she had heard an artist at
the piano" (Chopin 26). Madam Reisz was a major factor in the life of Edna. She
compels Edna to lift her courage and she also supplies her with the proper motivation to
have her awakening. "You are the only one worth playing for. Those others, Bah!"
(Chopin 26). Madam Reisz is a deep influence upon the lifestyle of Edna. Madam Reisz
possesses the ability to fully understand Edna, strengthening the moral support that she
provides her with.
As the novel unfolds, Edna withdraws from her husband while she continues to
think of Robert. When she thinks she has no chance with Robert, she begins an affair
based purely upon sex with a New Orleans man named Alcee Arobin. She still loves
Robert, but when he returns to New Orleans to visit relatives a few years later,
he and Edna resume their affair. Only hours after they declare their love for each other,
Edna is called to the home of a pregnant Madem Reisz. When she returns, Robert has left
and she finds a note that says, "Good-by--because, I love you." Edna is devastated by
Robert's rejection and becomes unhappy because none of the men in her life respect her...
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