The Awakening: Edna's
Steven Schwartz January 3, 1997 Mr. Speight
The society of Grand Isle places many expectations on its women to belong to men and be subordinate to their children. Edna Pontellier's society, therefore, abounds with "mother-women," who "idolized their children, worshipped their husbands, and esteemed it to a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals". The characters of Adele Ratignolle and Mademoiselle Reisz represent what society views as the suitable and unsuitable woman figures. Mademoiselle Ratignolle as the ideal Grand Isle woman, a home-loving mother and a good wife, and Mademoiselle Reisz as the old, unmarried, childless, musician who devoted her life to music, rather than a man. Edna oscillates between the two identities until she awakens to the fact that she needs to be an individual, but encounters the resistance of society's standards to her desire. Kate Chopin carefully, though subtly, establishes that Edna does not neglect her children, but only her mother-woman image. Chopin portrays this idea by telling the reader "
Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman. The mother-woman seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle". Edna tries on one occasion to explain to Adele how she feels about her children and how she feels about herself, which greatly differs from the mother-woman image. She says: "I would give up the unessential; I would give my money; I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself. I can't make it more clear; it's only something I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me." This specifically contrasts the mother-woman idea of self-sacrificing for your husband and children. Also, the "something . . . which is revealing itself" does not become completely clear to Edna herself until just before the end, when she does indeed give her life, but not her self for her children's sake. Although Edna loves her children she does not confuse her own life with...
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