The True Desires of Edna Pontellier
South University Online
The True Desires of Edna Pontellier
In the novel, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, the emotional and sexual awakening is exemplified by a significant revelation in regards to the main character. The protagonist, Edna Pontellier, is a young woman caught in a loveless, but pampered marriage with husband, Léonce. Stirrings of independence began one summer after obtaining a friend in Robert LeBrun while resorting in Grand Isle, an island off the coast of Louisiana. Basking in Robert’s attention, new feelings awaken and unleash themselves beginning a profound change in Edna and liberating her beyond belief. Understanding that she has discarded her youthful hopes and dreams and that her current life is unfulfilling, Edna takes small steps toward freeing herself. This desire of freedom is ensued by infidelity that fills her void to some extent, ultimately at the expense of her marriage and motherhood. A psychoanalytical perspective will enable readers “to reveal the influence of the subconscious in the text's plot, setting, conflict, symbols, point of view, language, and character development” (South University Online, 2011). Assessing this novel through a psychoanalytical perspective will disclose Chopin’s use of symbols and events to uncover Edna’s true desires.
This essay uses a psychoanalytical perspective; however, the use of a feminist or historical perspective can be applied to expose other valid points. First, a feminist perspective could reveal how Edna rebelled against the social grain by acting in a way that was not yet acceptable by women. There are two common principles of most feminine perspectives and according to South University Online, “one is that gender is "socially constructed" and another is that power is distributed unequally on the basis of sex, race and ethnicity, religion, national origin, age, ability, sexuality, and economic class status” (2011). Chopin acknowledged the difference in the expectations of a woman’s behavior as Edna expressed, “I suppose this is what you would call unwomanly; but I have got into a habit of expressing myself. It doesn't matter to me, and you may think me unwomanly if you like” (Chopin, 2005, Ch. 36, para. 12). Secondly, a historical perspective could reveal that there was still racial tension during the late 1800’s. Throughout the novel, Edna refers to the children’s caregiver as a “quadroon” which means that she was three quarters white and one quarter black and those where the roles that people like her partook in. A historical perspective also shows of Edna’s prosperity in comparison to those who were not white that had many disadvantages. They suffered as laborers to whites during that time due to social, racial, and cultural issues. This view can be depicted through the language used for describing blacks such as when the narrator stated, “…to look at the darkies laying the cane” (Chopin, 2005, Ch. 32, para. 10).
Throughout the course of the novel, the symbols of things relating to birds seemingly portrayed what Edna desired. From the very beginning, the caged parrot represented Edna’s inability to communicate and her feeling of being trapped in the society that surrounded her. The mockingbird, however, was akin to Madame Reisz in the sense that she came to terms with her place in society, so she whistled as she pleased. “[The parrot] could speak a little Spanish, and also a language which nobody understood, unless it was the mocking-bird that hung on the other side of the door, whistling his fluty notes out upon the breeze with maddening persistence” (Chopin, 2005, Ch. 1, para. 3). The entrapment is recognized for her desire to be free, in general, but the misunderstanding of the other language revealed her desire of wanting to express herself freely. In the narrator’s mention of Edna not being a “mother-woman,” the use of wings in terms...