Feminist Perspective in “The Awakening”
In The Awakening, Chopin describes how the perfect man or woman should look according to society. The Awakening was published in 1899 which “aroused a storm of controversy for its then unprecedented treatment of female independence and sexuality, and for its unromantic portrayal of marriage.” (Chopin, 1899, Note) Women were expected to be obedient housewives and a doting mother to their children. The statement; “If it was not a women’s place to look after children, who’s on earth was it?” (Chopin, 1899, chap 3) denotes what the woman’s responsibilities are in a marriage. Chopin uses the characters: Edna, Leonce, Madame Ratignolle and Robert Lebrun to show how marriage, independence, equal rights and freedom are portrayed in the novel, The Awakening.
Leonce Pontellier was a forty year old, slender, medium built man with straight brown hair parted to one side. When Chopin describes, “since it seemed to be the law of society that hair must be parted and brushed” (Chopin, 1899, chap 4) it shows how society expects a man’s appearance to be. Leonce was away on business often and would send a box full of fruits, bon bons, and delicious syrups in abundance. Mr. Pontellier was often away from home on business trips. To make up for the time spent away from home he would send these luscious treats. The women were envious of how much Mr. Pontellier cared for Edna. Chopin best describes how other women see Mr. and Mrs. Pontellier’s relationship when she states; “selecting with dainty and discriminating fingers and a little greedily, all declared that Mr. Pontellier was the best husband in the world” (Chopin, 1899, chap 3) while sharing the tasty treats sent. Mr. Pontellier was a very materialistic man and even when he looked at his wife after being in the sun states “you are burnt beyond recognition, he added, looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of property which has suffered some damage.” (Chopin, 1899, chap 1) shows how men view their wife in that era. Men liked their woman to be flawless and devoted to their family. In today’s society that would be considered a “trophy wife”. Leonce is great at providing for his family, but disregards his wife’s feelings. One example of how Mr. Pontellier is inconsiderate of his wife’s feelings is when she asked him if he would be coming home for dinner and his response was; “he halted a moment and shrugged his shoulders. / He did not know; perhaps he would return for the early dinner and perhaps he would not.” (Chopin, 1899, chap 1) However, when Edna “abandoned her Tuesdays at home, and did not return the visits of those who called upon her.” (Chopin, 1899, chap 14) and begins painting, he views her as mentally unbalanced, which he seeks advice from a doctor. “Mr. Pontellier had been rather courteous husband so long as he met certain tactic submissiveness in his wife.” (Chopin, 1899, chap 14) In other words as long as Edna does what is expected of society he would be happy. In the late 1800’s the man’s job was to provide for the family and the woman’s job was to care for the house and children. Mr. Pontellier was your typical man of that era.
Edna Pontellier was a young woman of twenty eight, who’s “eyes were quick and bright; they were yellowish brown, about the color of her hair. / She was rather handsome than beautiful.” (Chopin, 1899, chap 2) In the story, The Awakening Chopin describes Edna as “an American woman with a small infusion of French” (Chopin, 1899, chap 2), however it was “lost in dilution.” (Chopin, 1899, chap 2) Edna was in an unhappy marriage with Leonce and throughout the story begins to find her inner self at the Grand Isle. Chopin uses different symbols throughout the story to help us understand Edna’s state of mind. Edna did not fit in with the rest of the Creole women. Chopin describes Edna as “not a mother-woman” (Chopin, 1899, chap 4) indicating that she is not a dedicated mother like the other Creole women....
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