The Awakening: Edna Pontellier as a Believable Character Apart from Feminist Symbol

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Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening”, her most famous novella, was written in 1899 and is widely regarded as one of the earliest American works that earnestly focuses on women’s issues and ideals. Chopin's novel captures the essence of the struggle for freedom, equality, and independence in which women have been formally engaged for almost 150 years. In Edna Pontellier we find a woman that goes beyond being a symbol for freedom and the pursuit of female independence, but a complex individual coming to terms with very human cognitions and emotions. As the novel begins, we are introduced to a “Mrs. Pontellier”, a woman seen through her husband’s eyes, one whose identity was clearly bound to her spouse, his surname, and perhaps most importantly – his society. As the novel progresses we get to know her as “Edna Pontellier”, a woman attached to her familial and societal duties, albeit feeling like a perpetual outsider in a Creole society. During their stay in Grand Isle, she peels away the restrictions and chains binding her to the people around her, her own children included. Her change is noticeable even by her husband, who states in chapter XIX: “He could see plainly that she was not herself. That is, he could not see that she was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.”(pg.108) By the end of the novel, we meet a new woman to take the place of the restrained shell; we meet “Edna”. Edna is, finally, an individual. She is not a mother-woman, or a housewife; she is nothing more than Edna, but in being so she becomes a symbol of freedom for the women of her time. The matter of Edna’s awakening is clearly strongly connected to the woman’s increasing artistic inclinations. Her dabbling in the arts ignites her divergent desires and initiates her straying from the norm, setting her on the road to becoming her own person; in fact, Edna's experimentation with art directly corresponds to...
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