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The Awakening

By jaredsteph Oct 15, 2008 657 Words
Kate Chopin’s book The Awakening is based on the expections placed on women in society, particularly in the upper class at the turn of the 20th century. This story explains how there is more than one reason why effects on a human or thing happen. Edna Pontellier’s character shows not only the limited options of a woman, but the dangers of taking risks of unrealistic expectations of life and love. Chopin is trying to show how change can break a human.

The intent of Kate Chopin’s story was to show the limited options of a woman. Mrs. Pontellier was one who broke all the expected roles of an upper class woman. Mrs. Pontellier became extremely bored with her lifestyle and her husband. Her husband was never around, nor did he appear to be concerned with anything unless Edna’s actions would affect him (or his reputation). The text says of Leonce, “He thought it very discouraging that his wife, who was the sole object of his existence, evinced so little interest in things which concerned him, and valued so little his conversation.” (6)

Mrs. Pontellier also had limited options because of her disliking of her own children. She chooses to marry Leonce, knowing that entails at the time – wife and motherhood. The narrator tells, “Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman.” (10) She first begins to neglect her children with small insolence of the life she has chosen; sleeping on the hammock, blowing off her Tuesday calls. However she becomes more defiant until she is thoughtless doing whatever she feels like, with no thought either to her husband, her children, or anyone else.

The zeitgeist of this story shows how Edna is always taking risks, which in the end never become truly satisfied. One of these risks is Robert. Edna spends all her spare time with Robert, and when she is with Robert, she symbolically removes her wedding rings. Edna lives in a dream world of courtly romance. When she hears about Robert’s trip to Mexico, “she recognized anew the symptoms of infatuation which she had felt incipiently as a child, as a girl in her earliest teens, and later as a young woman” (60). She does girlish things, such as treasuring the picture of the tragedian and “kiss[ing] the cold glass passionately.” (24) The narrator claims, “her marriage to Leonce Pontellier was purely an accident,” signifying that while she seems to subconsciously desire romance and passion in her life, she disdains any actual evidence of it. It is not until there is no longer a possibility of having Robert that she desires him. Edna has a habit of always wanting what she cannot have – which leads to her doing everything she can to get it.

The other main behavior that can be considered risky is her friendship with Mademoiselle Reisz. Mademoiselle Reisz is everything that Edna wants to be and have. She is unmarried and has no children. Edna has a hidden romantic side to Mademoiselle Reisz’s music. Her emotions are defined clearly: “the very passions themselves were aroused within her soul, swaying it, lashing it, as the waves daily beat upon her splendid body. She trembled, she was choking, and the tears blinded her” (35). Interesting detail that may be relevant to your final argument about Chopin’s purpose: in chapter 19, Edna’s husband wonders if she is crazy, even going so far as to consult a doctor in ch. 22 – indicating if she is not happy with her expected life (wife and mother) that she must be insane – how society really viewed women. What does this mean to Edna, and/or other women who wanted an independent life - to be left alone? There is no place for the single woman in society; even M. Reisz is somewhat of an outcast, although she accepts her status (or lack thereof) , which Edna could never do. Just some thoughts.

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