Have you ever wondered what the lifestyles of Nineteenth Century women were like? Were they independent, career women or were they typical housewives that cooked, clean, watched the children, and catered to their husbands. Did the women of this era express themselves freely or did they just do what society expected of them? Kate Chopin was a female author who wrote several stories and two novels about women. One of her renowned works of art is The Awakening. This novel created great controversy and received negative criticism from literary critics due to Chopin's portrayal of women by Edna throughout the book.
The Awakening is a novel about a woman, Edna Pontellier, who is a confused soul. She is a typical housewife that is looking to find herself and be freed from her undesirable lifestyle. Edna was married to her husband for six years and has tow little boys. Her husband, Leonce Pontellier, is the "bread-maker" in the family. He is a business man that pays all the makes and makes sure that his family is financially stable while Edna cares for the children, cooks, and keeps the house clean. The "wifely duties do not fulfill Edna.
Mrs. Pontellier spends her summer at the Grand Isle with her children as she does every summer. She meets a man by the name of Robert Lebrun and realizes that she isn't impressed with her life. When he leaves for Mexico she meets another man that is interested in her but she doesn't feel the same way. Judging by her actions, Edna's husband assumes she has some type of mental problem because he isn't impressed with how she is taking care of the house and children. (Chopin, humanties text, 28-99)
Towards the end of the novel Edna goes back to the Grand Isle to swim at the beach. This is when she finally "frees herself" and commits suicide, leaving her life and family behind. Mrs. Pontellier's character and how she ended her life is what caused the novel to receive negative criticism and caused a main controversy.
In The Awakening, Kate Chopin portrays women as being loving wives and mothers that live their life to care for their family and worship their husbands. According to literary critic, Dana Kinninson, this story indicates two types of women, which are expressed by Adele Ratigndle and Mademoiselle Reisz. Adele Ratigndle is "the ideal wife and mother who never experiences an impulse that deters her from the sole concern of caring for her family. She also embodies every womanly grace and charm." Then you have Mademoiselle Reisz, which is the complete opposite of Adele. She has devoted her time and energy to the development of her own abilities instead of a husband and home. Reisz is a pianist older woman who lives alone and is depicted as homely and disagreeable. (Kinnison, 22)
Adele and Mademoiselle's lifestyles seem to be the only two options for Edna. Kinninson believes that Edna's options are the reward of complete self-sacrifice versus the reproof of female self-assertion. No middle ground exist, just these extreme contradictions. Edna is a mother of two children but being a mother or "mother-woman" doesn't satisfy her soul and her desire for self-hood. This is all part of her "awakening" and finding herself. (Kinninson, 23-24)
James Justus, who is also a critic of American literature, questions what Edna awakens to and if in fact her awakening is at all a sign of being free. Justus doesn't clearly understand what Edna awakens to but he concluded that Mrs. Pontellier awakens out of the life convention which denies her the full expression of all that is latent within her. Edna's character plays a loving mother, dutiful wife, dependable friend, and gracious hostess. Mrs. Pontellier's desire to be a "free-woman" isn't really realized and her specific lovers (Robert Lebrun and Alcee Arobin) become as irrelevant as her friends, husband, and children.
James Justus also believes that her awakening started in childhood when Chopin indicates that "Edna lived her own small life...
Cited: 1. Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. Humanities in the Modern World. Ed. Wendell Jackson, Frances Alston, Linda Carter, and Lillian Dunmars Roland. 2nd ed. Boston, Ma. Pearson Custom Publishing. 2001. (28-99)
2. Eble, Kenneth. "A Forgotten Novel: Kate Chopin 's The Awakening." Western Humanities Review 10, no.3 (Summer 1956): 263, 267-69
3. Justus, James H." The Unawakening of Edna Pontellier." Southern Literary Journal 10. no. 2 (Spring 1978): 108-111
4. Kinnison, Dana. "Female Resistance to Gender Conformity in Kate Chopin 's The Awakening.(1899) Women in Literature, Reading through the Lens of Gender. Ed. Jerilyn Fisher and Ellen S. Silber. Forward by David Sadker. Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn. Greenwood. 2003 (22-24)
5. Skaggs, Peggy, "The Awakening 's Relationship with American Regionalism, Romanticism, Realism, and Naturalism," Approaches to Teaching Chopin 's "The Awakening," Ed. Bernard Kolaski. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1988. (83-84).
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