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Edna Pontellier in The Awakening by Kate Chopin is much like a modern woman in today s society. In today s terms Edna would be considered a rebel. Unfortunately, the restraints of her society caused Edna to extricate herself later in life, and when she got to the point of her awakening, she could not turn back. Edna being able to realize her place in the world was uncommon, and not accepted during her time period. Edna opposed the traditional roles of society that kept many restraints on the women of the 1800’s.
The setting of this story caused the conflict and also caused the ultimate result of Edna committing suicide.
In the 1890s society was quite different from the way we view it today. Most cultures put emphasis on responsibility and duty. This did not change for Edna, she had to assume the responsibilities and duties of a “mother-woman.” The traditional society of the 1800s assigned women to the duties of tending to the home, caring for their husband s every need, and bearing children. Edna however wanted to stray from her motherly responsibilities and achieve her desire of personal fulfillment. Edna slowly began to awaken from the life given to her by society that had held her comatose for so long.
Throughout the book it was very clear that there was no love in Edna and Leonce s marriage. At the beginning of the novella when Leonce came home from Klein s hotel he was annoyed that Edna would not listen to him while she tried to sleep. He then told her that one of the children had a fever, and because of his reprimand, Edna went in to see the children. “She soon came back and sat on the edge of the bed, leaning her head down on the pillow . She began to cry a little, and wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her peignoir.”(Chopin 13). Edna slowly realized that her marriage meant nothing, and wanted something more. Edna wanted not just love, but lust and passion in her relationship, as well as equality. When Edna realized that she could not even attain these things with Robert, she loses all hope.
Perhaps Leonce was too caught up in material possessions to fulfill his wife s need for a loving relationship. Leonce was very willing to give his family candies and chocolates, as well as a lavish home to live in with all necessary decorations. Leonce felt that it was very important to spoil his family with materialism rather than love. “Both children wanted to follow their father promised to bring them back bonbons and peanuts.”(Chopin 8). Leonce could not see that his family, mainly his children, wanted him to be a part of their lives, not candy or toys.
Leonce showed avoidance of family problems a couple of times during this novella. When he was frustrated that Edna would not listen to him after the billiards, he changed the subject to their children. Instead of having dealt with his feelings, he wanted to prove he could get Edna out of bed for him. Another incident was when Edna refused to shop for library fixtures and Leonce tells her that she doesn t look well. “He kissed her goodbye must take care of herself.”(Chopin 89). Leonce proved that he could not handle family issues or his own issues, he could only avoid them, which made it a hard situation for Edna.
Adele Ratignolle was Edna s close friend whom she had met at Grand Isle. Adele is the perfect example of the “mother-woman.” “They were women who idolized their children, worshipped their husbands ministering angels”(Chopin 16) is how a “mother-woman is described in the novella. Adele was both married and pregnant during the novella, but appeared unable to perceive herself as an individual human being. Adele existed only in relation to her family, not in relation to herself or the world. Edna realized that she did not want to follow Adele s path, and chose to find herself. Edna knew that she desired individuality, and the life of a “mother-woman” did not provide that.
Mademoiselle Reisz influenced Edna greatly in the novella. She had the independence that Adele completely lacked. Reisz s life, however, lacked love, while Adele s abounded in it. Mademoiselle Reisz’s loneliness made it clear that an adequate life cannot build altogether upon independence. Although she had a secure sense of her own independence and individuality, her life lacked love, friendship, and warmth. Edna realized that although she respected Mademoiselle Reisz, she did not want to become lonely and unloved as Reisz had.
Alcee Arobin played a large role in Edna s awakening, because he helped her discover the woman she could have been had she not been married. Alcee helped Edna release her deepest yearnings as well as her desires, yet did not provide the love she wanted to be with them. Alcee seduced Edna and helped her find her own sensuality and sexuality. If Alcee had not come into Edna s life, that sensual part may not have evolved at all.
Robert influenced Edna s life not only as a friend, but as what can be considered a lover as well. It was obvious from the beginning that Robert and Edna were very good friends and understood each other. When Edna realized that Robert loved her through his letters to Mademoiselle Reisz, she became an emotional whirlpool, and very confused. Both Robert and Edna were in love with each other, and both knew that with the societal constraints a romance could never be possible. Yet if it were possible Edna would not have wanted it to happen, because she did not want to be a wife anymore. She wanted to love Robert and be an independent woman at the same time and, realizing that this was impossible, killed herself.
Edna s children proved to be important to her. The reader knew that she loved them, it was shown when she was told that Raoul had a fever, and went to make sure he was okay. Also when she came home and got the boys into bed after Adele had watched them. However, 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. “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”(Chopin 80). 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. 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.
Edna was only able to experience solitude a few times in her life. She was not allowed to have time to herself, because she had to play the role of the “mother-woman.” When Edna did experience solitude she liked it because it gave her time to discover herself. She was alone with herself, free to let her mind wander and to become independent. When in Grand Isle Edna experienced solitude with Robert, which was unusual, yet showed that she truly did love him. Not being able to experience solitude often was a difficult thing for Edna to accept. She did not understand why she could not have time to herself, and felt that she deserved that time to herself. Edna realized in the end that she could only experience true solitude by being alone in the sea.
Music played a large role in this story, particularly Mademoiselle Reisz s music. Edna named one of Mademoiselle Reisz s songs “Solitude.” Mademoiselle Reisz played her music with great feeling and art, which evoked pictures in Edna s mind and her passions of her body, arose once again. These pictures and passions contributed greatly to the continuing development of Edna’s artistic growth, which continued to lead to her self-discovery. “When she heard it figure of a man a distant bird winging its flight away from him”(Chopin 44). The music that was brought to her by Mademoiselle Reisz stirred up a deeper meaning in Edna’s life. This is the point at which she felt her new being forming. In the end, not only did she realize that her new life had no place in this world, but that she would be happier in the sea, where there were no restrictions placed on her and the possibilities could be endless
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