Essay, Research Paper: Awakening

Literature: Kate Chopin

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In The Awakening, Kate Chopin brings out the essence of through the characters
of her novel. In this novel Edna Pontellier faces many problems because she is
an outcast from society. As a result of her isolation from society she has to
learn to fit in and deal with her problems. This situation causes her to go
through a series of awakenings that help her find herself, but this also causes
problems with her husband because she loses respect for him and the society she
lives in. Throughout the novel she is faced with unfavorable circumstances which
confuse and eventually kill her. Kate Chopin uses Creole Society in the 1890s as
a basis for her novel and expresses it through Creole women, personal
relationships, and etiquette. The Awakening is a book based on French Creoles
and their lifestyle which is expressed throughout the novel. Creoles were French
Creole Society descendents of French and Spanish Colonists of the 1700s. They
had strong family ties because of Catholicism and were a tight community because
they where considered outcasts of Anglo- American society. Clement Eaton says
that “the Creoles, to a greater degree then Anglo-Americans, lived a life of
sensation and careless enjoyment. They loved to dance, gamble, fish, attend
feasts, play on the fiddle and to live without much thought of the morrow.”
Eaton 252 Creoles were very lively outgoing people because of their comfortable
tight society. Activities such as Mardi Gras and Sunday afternoon Mass holiday
spirits contribute the liveliness of these people (Walker 252). A large reason
for their comfort and “live for the moment” attitude was that Creoles did
not move west like most other colonists to claim land. Instead they stayed in
relatively the same area and just grew in population without consumption of
other lands . This caused a shortage of land so it had to be repeatedly divided
among the families and it also made it difficult for the plantation system to
operate successfully (Walker 253). Background of Creoles: Until 1888 the husband
was legal guardian and was given custody of the children when in a divorce. In
the 1890 segregation was legalized (Jim Crow laws), but blacks horizons were
expanding also. “In Louisiana after the Civil War, African American men had
voted in large numbers, held public office, served on juries, and worked on the
railroad“(Culley 119). In Creole society people are generally very warm and
open, having plentiful long relationships. A mother’s relationship with her
children is usually very close, loving, and caring. The children are usually
constantly pampered by their mother. Creole women, “ . . . were women who
idolized their children worshipped their husbands, and esteemed it holy
privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering
angels” (Chopin 16). Edna Pontellier, was not this type of mother though, she
“. . . was not a mother-woman”(Chopin 16). Edna is just not able to fit in
to the Creole society because she was raised in such a foreign way from what
Creoles exhibit, it is just too difficult. Just little signs of affection
towards her are difficult for her to grasp, “… she becomes confused when
Madame Ratignolle touches her hand during a conversation” (Walker 254).
“’She was not accustomed to an outward and spoken expression of affection,
either in herself or others’” (Walker 254). Unbelievably, Edna and her
husband are the most distant of all people because they were basically forced
into marriage. He limits her and this infuriates her to the point where she
gives up and just does as she pleases. He does this by speaking to her like a
kid and treating her like a piece of property that he drags around because it is
inproper for a man of his stature not to be married (Chopin 7). Robert is the
only person in which she has a full relationship with. Unfortunately their
relationship is limited they can only truly be friends. Since Adele Ratignolle
doesn’t want this relationship to be taken too far or seriously she tells
Robert, “She is not one of us; she is not like us. She make the unfortunate
blunder of taking you seriously” (Walker 254). The relationships that Edna has
just continue to confuse her and inspire her at the same time. This confuses
her, making her think that she is fitting in fine when in fact she is really in
a mess, and is too deep to be changed into a French-Creole women of any
standards. French-Creole women are thought of and shown to be very well rounded
admirable women. They have many talents, skills, and a special way of life.
“Creole Women are artistic by nature; they paint and play and sing” (Shaffter
137). They not only speak French, but usually several other languages also. In
their speech they are usually very clear and articulant using gestures to ensure
their point. Women in the Creole culture tend to be beautiful with a dark
complexion, long black hair, and deep dark eyes (Shaffter 137). Walker describes
Chopin’s context of the story through this quote: The community about which
she wrote was one in which respectable women took wine with their dinner and
brandy after it, smoked cigarettes, played Chopin sonatas, and listened to the
men tell risque stories. It was, in short, far more French than American, and
Mrs.Chopin reproduced this little world with no specific intent to shock or make
a point. . . . Rather, these were for Mrs.Chopin the conditions of civility. . .
. People openly like[d] one another, enjoy[ed] life, and savor[ed] its sensual
riches. (Walker 253) Creole women are very open and forward but also very
careful with whom they make friends with (Shaffter 138). They show no shame and
are very modest, never expressing their hardships. Stated by Shaffter , “As
wives, Creole women are without superiors; loving and true, they seldom figure
in domestic scandal” (138). Also, they generally, “… are good
housekeepers, are economical and industrious” (Shaffter 138). Creole women are
mostly surrounded by religion, which is spread throughout their large families
and help give them a sense of belonging and an identity. During the 1890s woman
began to become more recognized and started gathering power and strength in
their society. They also were being allowed to expand possibilities which are
strongly shown through the French-Creole culture. The New Orleans Daily Picayune
was the first newspaper to be edited by a woman and to become a well-known
American paper (Culley 121). During the 1890s this paper helped a number of
women’s causes. Their rights grew because of several women’s rights groups
such as the Portia Club and the Era Club which helped provide more opportunities
for women. Eventually they won the right to vote on issues such local taxation
and they voice on political matters was being felt (Culley 121). Unfortunately
they had to deal with a fair deal of restrictions. For example, most of all
married women were legally considered property of their husbands. All
possessions that a women had attained and worked for including money were
property of the husband (Culley 120). Women were getting many jobs that were as
physicians, captains, storeowners, florists , and many others, although they
were not being accounted for. “The national census of 1890 showed that 9 of
the 369 professions listed for the city were women not represented” (Culley
121). In Creole culture, etiquette and behavior takes a large part of their
society. This is why it is very important to be as proper as possible otherwise
it could be very offending to another party or especially their friends. At all
times it is best to “avoid all causes for complaint” (Wells 122). It is
necessary for a woman who wants recognition in society to display “… her
politeness and engaging manners, or skill in music…”, along with the
dressing up of her house (Wells 122). It should never be allowed by a lady, the
disrespect of her husband, advice degrading him because “… confidants are
dangerous persons” (Wells 122). When a Creole woman is walking through the
streets she should walk quietly while being unnoticeable as possible. If she
comes upon someone she recognizes they should be acknowledged with a bow and
friends addressed with a verbal greeting (Young 125). When riding in a carriage
a women’s dress should not be flashy or expensive. It should be made of silks,
velvets, and laces. The dress can drag a little but if it does too much dirt or
soil could destroy it. A lady in Creole culture should always dress for the
occasion, especially when going out to dinners or any special occasion. When
going out to dinners the dress should be a full length silk or velvet material
for winter and a light, lavish material for summertime. Jewelry should be worn
all over being the best that can be attained and the dresses color should be a
light neutral tint (Young 127). When receiving calls a females dress should be
of silk or other light materials, but plain with dullish colors (Young 126). It
should be worn with cuffs, lace collars, and light amount of jewelry, but when
worn for special holidays or evenings the dress should be livened up. In all,
The Awakening, vividly describes French-Creole culture and gives a strong
feeling of it’s Society in the 1890s. Women individuality and independence
seem to be a overlying theme in this story. Chopin also describes Creole women,
personal relationships , and the etiquette of Creoles throughout her Novel.
Creole Society has a very close community that results in a fun and comfortable
society. That was definitely shown in The Awakening , but not felt by Edna
Pontellier who was just trying to find herself for her whole life. When she get
intermixed with Creoles it showed her what she was missing, but was not able to
grasp so that she could fit in to society for once.

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. New York: Avon, 1998. Culley, Margo.
“Editor’s Note: Contexts of “The Awakening.” “The Awakening”: An
Authoritative Text. Ed. Margo Culley. New York: Norton, 1994. 117-122. Eaton
Clement. The Civilization of the Old South. Ed. Albert D. Kirwan. Lexington: U
of Kentucky P, 1968. 83. Qtd. in Walker, 252. Shaffter, Mary L. “Creole
Women.” The Chatauquan 15 (1982) : 346-347. Rpt. in “The Awakening”: An
Authoritative Text. Ed. Margo Culley. New York: Norton, 1994. 137-139. Walker,
Nancy. “Feminist or Naturalist?” The Social Context of Kate Chopin’s The
Awakening. 17(1979) : 95-103. Rpt. in “The Awakening” : An Authoritative
Text. Ed. Margo Culley. New York: Norton, 1994. 137-139. Wells, Richard A. “An
Etiquette Advice Book Sampler.” Decorum: A Practical Treatise on Etiquette and
Dress of the Best American Society. (1886): 248-49. Rpt. in “The Awakening”:
An Authoritative Text. Ed. Margo Culley. New York: Norton, 1994.122-125. Young,
John H. “An Etiquette Advice Book Sampler.” Our Deportment, Or the Manners,
Conduct and Dress of the Most Refined Society. (1882): 56. Rpt. in “The
Awakening”: An Authoritative Text. Ed. Margo Culley. New York: Norton, 1994.

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