In her novel, The Awakening, Kate Chopin depicts a woman much like herself. In the novel, the reader finds Edna Pontellier, a young wife and mother who, like Chopin, struggles with her role in society. The Victorian era woman was expected to fill a domestic role. This role requires them to provide their husbands with a clean home, food on the table and to raise their children. They were pieces of property to their husbands, who cared more about their wives’ appearance than their feelings. Edna initially attempts to conform to these roles, her eyes are gradually opened to possibilities of liberation. Throughout the novel, many aspects to Edna’s awakening are revealed. Edna’s emotional awakening and change in perspective on romance lead to Edna’s final awakening and her death. Edna begins an emotional awakening when she hears Mademoiselle Reisz play the piano. Edna was, “very fond of music” and musical renditions, sometimes, “evoked pictures in her mind.” Hearing Adele Ratignolle play, Edna’s imagines a “figure of a man.” His countenance was one of “hopeless resignation.” Here the music internally affects Edna only with feelings of loneliness. Also, Edna pictures a man instead of a woman, which might suggest that early in the novel, Edna’s life is controlled by men. This control effects even her inner thoughts and emotions. Comparatively, when Mademoiselle Reisz plays the first chord a “keen tremor” goes down Edna’s spinal column. Edna has heard other piano artist play. This time, hearing Reisz play was perhaps the first time “her being was tempered to take an impress of the abiding truth.” Edna waits for the inevitable lonely images in her mind, but they do not appear. Instead, “passions themselves were aroused within her soul.” Edna, “trembles…chokes…and the tears blinded her. Such is the physical reaction Edna has to the music. This physical reaction is described in sexual language, which shows that Mademoiselle Reisz’s music has awakened Edna to the possibility of sexual passion as well as emotional expression. This is the beginning of Edna’s awakening where she allows herself to fully feel and express her emotions. This emotional awakening leads to another major part of Edna’s awakening, which is her more liberated view of romance and sexuality. When Edna was a young girl, she had crazy, wild crushes, real or imagined, on the young men in her community. Her marriage to Leonce Pontiellier was one of traditional convenience. Edna married Leonce in rebellion against her father, who objected to her marrying a Catholic. Edna showed her natural inclination to rebel against authority but still married into a traditional Victorian role. Edna’s relationship with Leonce was traditional and boring with “no trace of passion.” However, when Edna became acquainted with Robert on Grand Isle, she was awakened by Robert’s attention and flirtatious attitude. Robert’s flirtations introduce a new possibility to Edna, giving her the confidence she needed to embrace her own identity. While Edna’s relationship with Robert remains non-sexual, when she meets Alcee Arobin her sexual awakening is completed. Alcee’s kiss is “the first . . . of her life to which her nature had really responded. It was a flaming torch that kindled desire.” Afterward Edna feels, “as if a mist had been lifted from her eyes’….”allowing her to, “comprehend the significance of life.” The traditional restrictions of Edna’s marriage to Leonce stifled her natural passion and required her to hide her desire for romance. With Alcee, Edna’s romantic passion is liberated. She does not have to feel ashamed of that part of herself. This sexual liberation awakens in her a passion for life that she has not experienced before. Edna’s final awakening occurs when she realizes she has created a liberated world for herself, but has no one with whom to share it. Robert, the one person that seems to understand Edna, has left because he understood the consequences of her actions....
Cited: Chopin, Kate. “The Awakening.” The American Tradition in Literature Volume II. Ed.
George Perkins and Barbara Perkins. 12th Edition. New York: McGraw Hill, 2009. 540-627. Print.
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