The Awakening - a Feminist Analysis

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The Awakening is a novel by Kate Chopin, first published in 1899 , set in New Orleans and the Southern Louisiana coast at the end of the nineteenth century. The plot centers on Edna Pontellier and her struggle to reconcile her increasingly unorthodox views on femininity and motherhood with the prevailing social attitudes of the turn-of-the-century South. It is one of the earliest American novels that focuses on women's issues without condescension. It is also widely seen as a landmark work of early feminism. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening was a bold piece of fiction in its time, and protagonist Edna Pontellier was a controversial character. She upset many nineteenth century expectations for women and their supposed roles. One of her most shocking actions was her denial of her role as a mother and wife. Kate Chopin displays this rejection gradually, but the concept of motherhood is major theme throughout the novel. Edna is fighting against the societal and natural structures of motherhood that force her to be defined by her title as wife of Leonce Pontellier and mother of Raoul and Etienne Pontellier, instead of being her own, self-defined individual. Through Chopin’s focus on two other female characters, Adele Ratignolle and Mademoiselle Reisz, Edna’s options of life paths are exhibited. These women are the examples that the men around Edna contrast her with and from whom they obtain their expectations for her. Edna, however, finds both role models lacking and begins to see that the life of freedom and individuality that she wants goes against both society and nature. The inevitability of her fate as a male-defined creature brings her to a state of despair, and she frees herself the only way she can, through suicide. All throughout "The Awakening," Kate Chopin shows examples of how women should and should not act in society, in their homes, and with their husbands. In Edna Pontellier's adopted society, women are viewed more valuable when they conform into the...
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