February 25th, 2013
A Homosexual Approach to The Awakening: An Interpretation of New Criticism
An anonymous man once said that, “to find one’s sexuality, is to find one’s independence”. Independence is a central theme within The Awakening. Though many construe the novel to portray a simple journey of one’s independence from a patriarchal society, it also sends a subtler message of homosexuality through symbols and themes. Kate Chopin utilizes homoerotic themes within the characters: Robert, Mademoiselle Reisz, and Edna, which edifies the broad theme of independence. “Young Robert” was first introduced in chapter one when Mr. Pontellier tried to shoo him away from Edna, but “Robert admitted quite frankly that he preferred to stay where he was and talk to [Edna]” (Chopin 1). Throughout The Awakening, Robert is viewed quite harmlessly, even to Mr. Pontellier. In fact, Adele warns Robert that Edna “might make the unfortunate blunder of taking you seriously,” (Chopin 8). Robert is quite defensive to this statement, but later apologizes and assures Adele that “Edna will never take me seriously” (Chopin 8). Robert is an adult man in his twenties, and is attributed to be “young and handsome” and yet, he is said to be incapable of seduction. When Léonce leaves for work, he leaves his wife and Robert with total trust. Biggs writes that, “the young, handsome, unattached Robert spends all day, every day with their wives [and] [n]either Léonce nor Edna nor Robert himself seems to perceive him as a true sexual threat” (158). In fact, Léonce actually supports Edna’s relationship with Robert. On Robert and Edna’s full day together at Cheniere Caminada, Edna wonders if Léonce would be bothered by her absence. Robert responds with “Of course not; he knows you are with me."(Chopin 8) It is apparent Léonce not only permits his wife to spend time alone with Robert but also encourages the action. Upon Robert’s departure, Léonce asks, “[h]ow do you get on without him, Edna?” (Chopin 16). The fact that Léonce is so trusting of Robert proffers that Robert has to be sexually inept to capitalize on their wives. In simple terms, Robert has no desire to have sex with the woman on the island. Because Robert “should not be taken seriously” and is viewed as no sexual threat by anyone on the island, including Léonce, it is implied that Robert may be a homosexual. Though Robert is more suspected and well known, Mademoiselle Reisz also shares the same homosexual motifs within the novel.
Anne Goodwyn Jones, a literary critic, says that Mademoiselle Reisz “embodies several of the significant mysterious values in the world” (qtd. in Seidel 1). The very essence of Mademoiselle Reisz is a mystery. She is given no first name throughout the novel, which gives her an element of depth and distance. Yet, her name is also contradicting; her last name is of Germanic decent, yet it is in harsh contrast with “Mademoiselle”. The mystery of Mademoiselle Riesz is exacerbated by her appearance, “[s]he… wore a batch of rusty black lace with a bunch of artificial violets pinned to the side of her hair” (9). Not only is Mademoiselle a mysterious character, but also she is wearing specifically a violet. Violet is typically construed as a symbol for lesbianism. The Awakening mentions “violet” six times, of those six times, five are in mention of Mademoiselle Reisz. The sixth mention of violet described them as “blue”, yet every time a color is mentioned for Mademoiselle Reisz’ violets, they are described as “purple”. The color purple is also attributed to be a theme of homosexuality. Mademoiselle Riesz’ actions portray motifs of homosexuality. When Robert writes to her about playing the song “Impromptu”, Mademoiselle Riesz not only plays the piece to Edna but also plays with passion and romance. Biggs writes that “…while Edna reads his letter in the ‘fading light’ of evening… Reisz varies the piece, interpolating her...