Essay, Research Paper: Awakening

Literature: Kate Chopin

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When faced with the question of "which novel did I have the greatest
reaction to this semester?", the first story that came to mind was The
Awakening. Although written from the perspective of a woman, I found that this
story rendered my greatest emotional appeal. It is a story of a woman, Edna
Pontellier, who transforms herself from an obedient housewife to a person who is
alive with strength of character and emotions that she no longer has to
suppress. The metamorphosis is shaped by her surroundings. It is the narrow
minded view of society in Victorian times that makes this story possible. Just
as her behavior is more shocking and horrifying because of her position in
society, it is that very position which causes her to feel restrained and makes
her want to rebel against convention. Is Edna truly "awakened" at the
end of the story? A typical Victorian woman maintained her sphere which deemed
"women's personal lives center around home, husband, and
children."(Bonner, 26) Women were supposed to accept this position in the
home happily and be satisfied. It never satisfied Edna, who always seemed out of
place when with other woman. She was a wife and mother, but not a typical
Victorian wife and mother. With regards to her children,"Their absence was
sort of relief...It seemed to free her of a responsibility which she blindly
assumed and for which fate had not fitted her"(Chopin,18).Even early on,
she reveals ideas uncommon to Victorian society. She tries to maintain her
roles, but it is very difficult to her. The person who Edna truly admires the
most is Mademoiselle Reiz, who is a brilliant artist and pianist. Mademoiselle
Reiz is widely misunderstood because she is an eccentric, bold and does not
conform to the traditional role of a woman in Victorian society. It her music
that touches Edna. Edna claimed that something inside her stirred and she felt
alive like she had never felt before(Chopin). It is at this moment that I
believe that Edna began to "awake" and see the beauty of life. It is
this awakening inside Edna that made me connect with this story. I have had
similar experiences with art that made me too feel just as edna had felt. This
was in great contrast to her boring marriage to Leonce. I could not blame Edna
for striving towards that feeling of being alive. Edna's marriage to Leonce is
safe, but there is no passion or excitement. " She grew fond of her
husband, realizing with some unaccountable satisfaction that no trace of passion
or excessive and fictitious warmth colored her affection, thereby threatening
its desolution"(Chopin,18).While this lack of emotion is enough to satisfy
Edna for the majority of the marriage, after she allows her true self to come
forward, she feels trapped and seeks to escape. As the story progresses, Edna
focuses on her desires rather than what her husband wants. Edna disregards her
husbands appeals to conform and continues to do what she wants. These desires
eventually lead her to commit adultery, which in Victorian times, would be
disastrous for a woman. One must admire Edna's courage even if they do not agree
with her decision to commit adultery. It is this aspect of adultery and
disregards for the norms of Victorian society that led Chopin to receive
rejection when the book was first published(Bonner, Introduction). Sadly, what
Victorians saw as a rejection of convention on behalf of Edna can almost be seen
as convention today. This is what makes the setting and time that The Awakening
takes place in so important to the story. So was Edna truly "awakened"
in the story? As the novel continues, Edna continues to feel trapped in the
restricted environment and ultimately commits suicide to leave the world that
will not let her leave her traditional role. Edna tried to maintain her role as
long as she could, but it became too much for her , and she needed to do the
best thing. In her mind, that meant killing herself in the water which had no
boundaries and restrictions. In a sense, one could argue that she was not truly
free because she ended up killing herself. On the other hand, she had been
"awakened" to the beauty and joy of life. In Victorian times however,
I don't think that Edna would have been happy living another day restricted by
the outrageous norms of society at that time. I feel ,although harsh, that she
ultimately found happiness in death. The Awakening is truly a powerful story.
Its has made a lasting impression with me, as well as, made a strong emotional
appeal am only thankful that society today is not as narrow minded as the
Victorian times.
Bonner, Thomas, The Kate Chopin Companion, Westport: Greenwood Press,1998.
Chopin, Kate, The Awakening, W.W. Norton (New York),1976(1899).

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