José David Estudillo Molina.
Dra. Silvia Castro Borrego.
North-American Literature IV.
20 January 2013.
Self-Awareness and Its Consequences: The Awakening.
The notions of what it is to be a ‘proper’ woman have been traditionally attached to the domestic sphere whereas those of men have been attached to politics, economics and commerce. The ‘ideal’ woman has often been described as an angel, a beautiful but weak ‘thing’. All these notions are encompassed under what is known as the ‘Cult of True Womanhood. A term defined by Barbara Welter in her essay (“The Cult of True Womanhood: p.1820–1860"); according to her, a true women must possess four virtues: Piety, purity, submission, domesticity. This inherited perception of the women’s role in society serves as background to Kate Chopin’s the Awakening’. In this novel, there is a clash between conventions, social codes of behavior in relation to roles in society based in gender distinctions. Women in this novel are represented as Birds whose wings must serve to protect and bring joy to their houses; two birds are presented at the beginning of the story: the parrot and the mockingbird. Both are caged, or in other words, both are restricted by society’s conventions. They represent two very different polarities or sides. In the one hand, the parrot is praised by its beauty and the mockingbird is praised by its musical abilities. The first represents Edna and the second Mademoiselle Reisz. The story tells how Edna wants to be like the Mademoiselle Reisz but without realizing that as the mockingbird, she is still regarded with contempt and disapproval by society and she is not ‘free’; the only thing that escapes prejudice is her ‘song’. For Mademoiselle Reisz, this is sufficient, but for Edna the case is quite more complex as it encompasses several stages and several elements involved in her awakening that matters more than just her art. There are three generation of men depicted in the novel: Edna’s father, Mr. Pontellier and Robert Lebrun. Although they all can be defined as followers of the established social conventions regarding women, there is an evolution toward an understanding of Edna as the ‘new woman’. First of all, the colonel is the most rigid example of patriarchy, in a way, he killed her wife by using too much ‘oppression’, as he considers that a husband must ‘’put his foot down and hard; as it is the only way to manage a wife’. Second of all, Mr. Pontellier is more lenient. He does not force her wife in many aspects, but he does treat her like a child and he considers her to be ‘mad’ because she does not do what a ‘proper’ woman suppose to do; like taking care of the children and paying attention to the house. Finally, Robert understands her in many ways. However, what they all have in common is that they all consider Edna to be a possession, a ‘thing’ to be controlled. Even Robert fails to understand this reality when he speaks about Mr.
Pontellier letting Edna be ‘free’ so he can marry her and turns her into his possession instead. That is why Edna said this: ‘’I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions to dispose of or not, I give myself where I choose’’.(Choplin,XXXVI,p.116)
Certainly, as it is said in the essay of Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, ‘Progressions and regressions of Edna Pontellier’(The Awakening, Kate Chopin, Norton Critical Edition,Margo Culley, Ed: 1994, p.258): It is impossible so to read it, (The Awakening), unless one understands patriarchy as an exceptionally complex set of social and psychological relations that depends upon the complicity of women’. This complicity of women can be traced and spotted in several places and characters. There are two characters above all other that are presented as roles for Edna or as choices of behavior: Adelè Ratignolle and Madmoiselle Reisz. As Elizabeth Fox-Genovese suggests: ‘as an artist, Madmoiselle Reisz stands for the possibility of female...
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