“The Awakening” by Kate Chopin – English Essay
The Awakening identifies those things that were viewed important within society at the turn of the century; responsibility and duty. The culture portrayed visibly reflects a similar emphasis on proper lifestyle. The
main character finds her wanting to stray from her responsibilities of marriage and unspoken rules society, embrace her intense desire for personal fulfillment. Edna’s choice to escape shows two elements: rebellion to the suppression of her adventurous spirit and the lack of “fulfillment” in her personal relationship. She invests so much time into social requirements that she loses any happiness that she could hope to achieve. After being “reasonable” for the twenty-eight years of her life, Edna breaks down. She wants to pursue love and disregard her duty to her husband and children. She falls in what she considers “girlish” love with the character Robert. Edna’s life has been riddled with reason and duty, essentially giving of herself to the people around her. This devotion to responsibility causes her to break away from her common behavioral pattern and moves her to focus on finding her inner happiness. Edna was not engaged in the pursuit of her finest abilities. She lived her life for others, not for herself. In the initial text it states that “Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-women,” further along in the novel. For the duration of her marriage she stayed in her place as a child-bearing wife, doing little but existing for the pleasures of her husband as a prized token more than a companion. Being subdued by society, the character Edna Pontellier, has no other choice than to rebel and find happiness by redefining her position in life. “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.” Her unwillingness to sacrifice herself for her children and her husband demonstrates that she does not want to give herself away in order to make others happy. Edna can give her children superficial items, yet because of her new found “awakening” she can no longer truly serve to provide for their happiness. The only point that she makes clear in that statement is that she would give her life for her children, showing that she loves them but cannot define herself based on creating their happiness. Her awakening evolves into a selfish agenda, concerned only with her own happiness and disregarding all others. She loves her children, though she cannot give them the same type of nurturing, and care as the other women around her. She simply will not allow her inner self to be crushed by the bounds of mother hood. By nature she craves freedom and happiness, and as a mother she can neither provide that to her children or herself. Edna says the following to Robert: “I love you . . . only you; no one but you. It was you who awoke me last summer out of a life-long, stupid dream . . . Oh! I have suffered! Now you are here we shall love each other. Nothing else in the world is of any consequence.” In this Edna is craving the adventure, love, and freedom that has been void from her life since her birth. Her dream, as she notes, has truly been her nightmare, a prison containing her very life. This statement marks one of her greatest transitions, from a woman in a relationship of comfort to one trying to build a relationship on love. Now that love consumes her nothing else matters to her, she exists to find happiness, even if it means awakening from her dreams of responsibility and duty to do it.
Gradually, Edna finds herself by a series of “awakenings” throughout the story. These events give her justification for actions that most readers would perceive as selfish and avoiding responsibility. She has an inherent inability to deal with her emotions and lacks the responsibility to maintain her “freedom.” Mrs. Pontellier no doubt loves her children, yet she seems to lack any motherly characteristics of the Creole women around her. After her first liberation in the water, she begins to distance herself from both her husband and children. She is willing to give up her children in order to avoid being crushed by the bonds of motherhood. Edna craves freedom from her family in order to find happiness. To facilitate this, she allows her children to be sent to their grandmothers home, where they stay for the remainder of the book. Edna then purchases a house that is noticeably small which displays another indication of her avoidance of responsibility. The house provides little room for the children to reside, if she had allowed them to return. This act presents a clear example to the reader of Edna’s avoidance of her responsibilities. Her selfish lust for freedom and happiness separated her from her children. One of the main themes of Edna’s awakening came from her relationships with various men. Her most scandalous relationship took place with Alcee Arobin, a notorious ladies man in the Creole society at her time. She selfishly uses him as a form of rebellion against all that she believes held her back in the past. She no longer cares for her husband and her affair demonstrates this. Ironically when she pondered the act with some regret, it was not directed towards her husband, but to her betrayal of her fantasy love Robert. Edna makes her greatest transitions when she falls in love with Robert. She transforms from a woman in a relationship of comfort to one attempting to build a relationship based on love. Amazingly she even betrays her fantasy love Robert by rejecting him after he returns from Mexico for her. Edna goes from one man to another at her whim, taking what she needs from them. She uses her husband for security, Robert for a feeling of being adored, and Alcee for pure lust. In reality she probably cares very little for these men, but rather what they could provide for her. Her relationships after each awakening prove her to be weak and shallow. Her major decisions result in her disassociation from her children and her manipulation of various lovers. Her venture to the horse track gives the reader a prime example of Edna’s disregard for others. She needs to gamble at the horse track to rebel against the values of her family and her society. To further rebel against her husband and her father she refuses to go to her sister’s wedding, disregarding her own sister’s feelings. This action demonstrates a blatant disregard for the feelings of others. Mrs. Pontellier’s final act of irrational selfishness relates directly to her own demise. Although she embraces her new found freedoms, she commits suicide by swimming out into the water she attempts to escape responsibility. She can not face life and her freedom so she responds with her typical behavior and runs away in fear. Many scholars have dealt with the question of whether to live a life of servitude or to pursue ones greater happiness.
During this period, society of the nineteenth-century gave a heightened meaning to what it means to be a woman. According to the commonly known ‘code of true womanhood’, women were supposed to be docile, domestic creatures, whose main concerns in life were to be the raising of their children and submissiveness to their husbands. Women were uneducated, not allowed to hold office or to vote. Some that were outspoken, those women with active sexual desires, who dares to stray from her husband and have an affair. These individuals were ostracized within societies relm, thought of as protagonist to create upheavals within the natural order of life.