The Awakening of Edna Pontellier

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The Awakening of Edna Pontellier
Kate Chopin’s short story The Awakening is set during a time where women were expected to live in a patriarchal society. More specifically, this story tells of the well-to-do Creole lifestyles in New Orleans during the mid to late Nineteenth Century. Chopin’s personal experiences as a woman during this oppressive time and her growth as an individual inspired her to write about Edna Pontellier, a woman who tries to break from the expectations of society to be her own woman. As Edna Pontellier in The Awakening experiments with the oppositional or alternative roles of Adele Ratignolle, Mademoiselle Reisz and of herself in the role of a "free woman," she gradually transforms into an individual apart from the conventional male dominant society, a society in which she craves happiness but never seems to find peace until she ends her life. Married with 6 children, one would certainly think that Kate Chopin was typical of her time ("Kate Chopin Biography" 1). She seemed by all accounts to be a devoted mother and wife who demurely bowed down to societies role for the woman without complaint. However, Chopin was no ordinary woman. Widowed at the age of 32, she managed to write and raise her children alone having never re-married. During these trying times, Chopin experienced personal growth and confidence as an individual; therefore, it is not surprising that Kate Chopin’s own personal awakenings inspired her to write The Awakening in 1899. This short story was met with a great deal of hostility (Bloom 119) to Chopin’s admirers and peers. Women during this time period were sheltered where family, marriage and female dependency was a way of life. In reading this short story, one can see a connection between Kate Chopin herself and Edna. Both struggled for their own identity, an identity that “undercuts the authority of male conventions” (Bloom 120). On a personal level Chopin was struggling to leave behind imprisoning literary forms and acceptable subject matter (Bloom 120). In the book “Kate Chopin: Ironist of Realism,” Kathleen Wheeler says “The Awakening is her modernist gesture of refusal of finality at the end of the novel…as the journey of the soul into the realms of the impossible” (Bloom 120-21). Although Kate’s audience and most importantly, her admirers, turned on her after this book was published, Chopin believed that to remain tied to traditional conventions was equivalent to drowning one’s own individuality (Bloom 120-21). In our discussion of The Awakening and Edna’s process of self-discovery we may also witness what many critics believed to be Kate’s awakening as well. The Awakening begins in Grand Isle during the late 1800’s, a popular summer resort for the affluent Creoles in New Orleans. Edna Pontellier is vacationing in Grand Isle with her husband, Leonce and their two sons. Leonce seems to be a good husband according to societal standards but he is also preoccupied with business so leaves Edna alone on their vacation for long periods of time. Without the company of her husband, Edna finds herself spending a great deal of time with her friend Adele Ratignolle and Robert LeBrun. Adele is a married Creole woman who takes her role as mother and wife very seriously. She is womanly, elegant, beautiful and sensual. Robert is the oldest son of Madame Lebrun, the owner of the Grand Isle resort. He is single and known among the summer vacationers as a man that will choose a married or widowed woman each year to accompany. This particular summer Robert devoted himself to Edna and the two spent many days going to the beach and getting to know one another. At first the relationship between Edna and Robert is innocent but as the summer progresses and they get to know one another more intimately, their relationship grows closer. This causes Edna to begin soul searching and come to several revelations. She begins to feel more alive; she renews her...
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