Essay, Research Paper: Wrongs Of Women And Awakening

Literature: Kate Chopin

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The following paper is in regard to Mary Wollstonecraft’s novel Maria, or the
Wrongs of Women and Kate Chopin’s novel titled The Awakenings. The two stories
have a similar plot and both discuss the oppression of women in the institution
of marriage. This paper will include how the two main characters in each story,
Maria (in Maria) and Edna (in The Awakenings) challenge the oppressive ideology
by finding a new love and how they also encountered problems as long the way.
Edna’s Marriage “It was when the face and figure of great tragedian began to
haunt her imagination and stir her senses. The persistence of the infatuation
lent it an aspect of genuineness. The hopelessness of it colored it with the
lofty tones of a great passion.” (Awakening’s, 1026) A passion that
ultimately lost its novelty and was allocated to the shelf that held obscure yet
relaxed delightful remembrances. The tragedian keeps fellowship with a visiting
cavalry officer and an engaged gentleman. Though, in reality, the gentleman is
probably no longer engaged, he will remain so in the mind of Edna Pontellier:
one of the images of the infatuations of a “little miss."(1026) With
respect to her marriage to Leonce Pontellier, Edna is inhibited, not with the
man himself, but with the concept he represents. When leaving Mississippi on
Leonce’s arm, she defied her family’s wish that she marries a non-Catholic.
Cast to that equation a healthy dose of flattery from her intended and their
union is as good as cemented. This is how Edna comes to be ensconced in the
inescapable institution of marriage. One would presume that the speaking of the
vows would discontinue her youthful allure, but that is not the case. Both the
holy bounds of wedlock and the remonstrations of society hail to constrict her.
Edna Pontellier experiences one last great infatuation. However, this beat upon
her soul reverberates into a feeling that far surpasses what she had previously
thought to be “the climax of her fate.” (1026) The single-tired fantasies of
her youth are replaced with a sentiment that matures in nature as her awakening
proceeds. Edna realizes that her marriage is not making her happy anymore. She
no longer wants to be treated as property. “You are burnt…he added, looking
at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has
suffered some damage,” (1014). Edna is upset; every thing she’s longed for
has become nothing but a joke. She soon begins her so-called “feminine
protest” by not responding to her husband’s questions. “She said nothing,
and refused to answer her husband when he questioned her.” (1017) She begins
to find herself by realizing her position on earth as a human being, rather then
a piece of her husband’s property. This realization is done by the feelings
her had for Robert. Robert it seems made her feel human. “In short, Mrs.
Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human
being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and
about her.” (1022) Maria’s Marriage In the primary stages of the novel there
is not very much description of Maria’s marriage to George. The novel starts
off with Maria thinking about her child and she is in her chamber in the
madhouse. Immediately we are informed of her feelings for her husband, “Was it
not to effect her escape, to fly to the succour of her child, and to baffle the
selfish schemes of her tyrant – her husband?” (8) Primarily, the reader is
uniformed of exactly what type of marriage was possessed by the couple. The only
aspect that is clear is that Maria’s husband was able to convince society that
Maria was mad and she was put into the madhouse and he was left with their
children and all her money and possessions. It is clear that Maria’s problem
with the marriage was that she wasn’t being treated equally, “Was not the
world a vast prison, and women born slaves.” (11) It seems that Maria is not
bothered by her marriage being a failure; there is more evidence that she misses
her child and is deeply wounded by that fact that her baby will not grow up with
a mother as she did, “The loss of her babe was the tender sting; against other
cruel remembrances she labored to steel her bosom;” (14). It is only later on
in the story that Maria opens up about what happened to her marriage. She
explains how they grew apart and how much of the growing apart had to do with
money, “I tried now to improve my husband’s taste…and all the charms of
youth were vanishing with its vivacity.” (77) The commonality between Maria
and Edna is that they were both unhappy with their marriages because of the
disgraceful way they were treated within them. In Maria’s case her husband was
able to put a stop to her protest by sending her to the mental institution but
in Edna’s case she drives herself to her death before she can even be put in
one. Another similarity amongst Maria and Edna is the fact that their children
mean a great deal to them. They are both concerned with being proper mothers but
are both in positions were they are unable to meet up to their standards.
Edna’s Journey Upon the occasion of a summer escape to the Lebrun family
pension on Grand Isle, Edna finds herself the object of another’s affection.
Most of those having stayed at the pension before assure that the young man,
Robert Lebrun, is notorious for becoming a fixture to a different woman at Grand
Isle each summer. In this particular season, Edna is the sole recipient of his
company. Together, they bathe at the shore and tour the sights. Robert is a
constant companion, whether it is to retrieve a shawl or to lend himself as an
easy conversationalist. They seem to compliment each other: each experiences the
most pleasant moments when in the other’s company. Edna becomes more and more
at ease being in the company of a man other then her husband. Their intimacy is
so apparent that at least one observer wonders if something more then a
friendship is brewing. The angelic Adele Ratignolle voices her opinion that
should Robert not quit in his attentions, “she (Edna) might make the mistake
of taking you seriously.” (1027) At this, the defendant fires back with an
uncharacteristically sharp retort: “Why shouldn’t she take me seriously?…
I hope she has discernment enough to find in me something besides the blagueur.”
(1027) From inference of remarks made about past events, we can gather that
Robert has not felt so deeply for any of the other women to whom he has attached
himself in years past. However, things may progress no further than this point
of casual friendship. Edna has always been a proprietary being. At this junction
she could not fathom a betrayal of her filial responsibilities, though she has
begun to question the state in which her life caries on. “A certain light was
beginning to dawn dimly within her, - the light which, showing the way, forbids
it.” (1022) Maria’s Journey Maria’s journey is much longer and harder then
that of Edna’s. Since she has been denied any access to her baby and she is
put in a dismal, discouraging chamber she a great deal of irrational emotions
she had to overcome before jumping into another relationship. Besides the fact
that she was still legally married and unable to start another relationship on
the legal grounds of adultery. When Maria reads the books that Jemima lend to
her, she seems more then happy to know that there is someone in the institution
with the same tastes as she. She even ponders the thought of them being together
before they even meet or converse, “Of what use could I be to him, or her to
me, if it be true that he is unjustly confined?” (20) It is evident that she
automatically relates to him by hearing that he is in the same boat as she is,
and she jumps to the thought of escaping together. Once again Maria is
discouraged when she realizes that she is expecting too much from this
“unknown” (20), “She was ashamed at feeling disappointed…and how
difficult it was for women to avoid growing romantic, who have no active duties
or pursuits.” (20) Maria, at first seems to be saddened by the writing to
Darnford, it’s almost as if it brings out the wretchedness of the chamber and
her life living in it, “Writing to Darnford, she was led from the sad objects
before her, and frequently rendered insensible to the horrid noises around
her…to the grand source of human corruption." (25) As time surpasses
Maria and Darnford begin to see each other and it seems as though Maria’s
perspective of the asylum is not as dismal as when she was first rendered there.
She begins to feel strong emotions for Darnford as he does for her. Darnford
even pursues to kiss Maria but Maria denies him the pleasure but with hesitance
in the end actually does kiss him, “Maria stood near the chair, to approach
her lips with a declaration of love. She drew back with solemnity, he hung down
his head abashed…He took, with more ardor, reassured, a half-consenting,
half-reluctant kiss,” (34). As time goes on Maria’s story is told. How her
mother died and Maria as a newborn was left to die. It is evident that this is
tearing Maria up inside because she has now left her child (although in her case
it was done involuntarily), “Left in dirt, to cry with cold and hunger till I
was weary.” (37) Slowly it is discovered that Maria is aware of sentimental
education and the logic of emotions, “My uncle realized, by good luck…which
by the world are indefinitely termed romantic.” (61-62) Maria’s journey
continues with her opening up to Darnford about her marriage and what exactly
went wrong, “The marriage state is certainly that in which women, …had a
title to disregard general rules.” (89) As this happens Maria and Darnford get
closer and he as well opens up his feelings to her. Edna’s Love Edna’s
feelings for Robert do not graduate to the second stage. Rather, an abrupt
thrust causes the leap from appreciation of his presence to a marked yearning
for it. Following the splendid Sunday on which the two spent the day by
themselves, Edna seats herself at a dinner table at which controversy prevails.
Robert has, in the only hours he did not spend with Edna, decided to travel to
Mexico City at the request of an associate. The dinner scene illustrates each
attendant’s reaction to the news, except Edna’s. It is not until after the
strained good-bye between the two that we are afforded the full effect of her
despair. “Edna bit her handkerchief convulsively, striving to hold back and to
hide. For the first time she recognized anew the symptoms of infatuation which
she had felt as a child.” (1047) It was to become her new companion,
accompanying her back to the mainland. More enthralled with his existence than
ever before, the longing for his presence shadows her, to which she had been
accustomed, for ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder.’ She rambles along the
streets of New Orleans tormented by this obsession, as if it were a fever.
Conversations and quips replay in her head. The concept that he exists somewhere
other than at her side elevates the sense of wretched emptiness. At other times
she is attacked by a wave of fatigue, a frustration that seems to know no
bounds. It comes in waves, washing all motivation from her being. Maria’s Love
Maria’s love for Darnford is quite like Edna’s love for Robert. The two
women were both in the type of love that one would categorize as 'rebound love'.
Maria, as noted earlier, seems to have a strong interest for Darnford before
they even communicated. As they are acquainted with each other the love seems to
grow stronger and stronger even under the circumstances that they have been both
prescribed as clinically mad and they supposed to be unable to communicate on
the level that they preceded. Maria challenged the law against adultery for
women, she protested that her husband was no longer George Venables it was now
Mr. Darnford. For a woman to risk her life, of what is left of it, to be able to
be with the man she loves shows that she has a strong passion for him and what
she believes in. There was evidently some fear within them but the love seem to
eliminate it, “With Darnford she did not taste uninterrupted felicity; there
was a volatility in his manner which often distressed her, but love gladdened
the scene; besides, he was the most tender, sympathizing creature in the
world.” (127) Her love for him is described like a scene from a poem, it’s
as if it is too good to be true, “Poets have imagined scenes of bliss...”
(128) Maria and Darnford’s relationship is a little different now then the
relationship of Edna and Robert. There seems to be an undying passion for
Darnford from Maria and Edna seemed a little reluctant with Robert. There is
evidence that it was because of her children but also because she loved herself.
In Maria’s case she seems to only be concentrating on Darnford and their
freedom. The mentioning of Maria’s children is not as frequent as it was
before the meeting of Darnford, unlike the reoccurring mentioning of Edna’s
children. Edna’s Self Discovery You are purposely misunderstanding me, ma
reine. Are you in love with Robert?” “Yes, said Edna.” (1075) This
initiates the final stage of Edna’s regard toward Robert: love, and all that
comes with it. From the moment she puts voice to thought, she is possessed of
senses of happiness and self-reliance. Whoever's path happen to cross hers
notice the joyousness of her expression as she takes determined steps toward
establishment in a house of her own. Elaborate plans for a dinner party with the
theme, ‘farewell to the Esplanade Street house’ are set into motion. She is
a woman of action, one without regard to consequences. However, for all that is
keeping her busy, it is not firm enough to ward off that old disappointment. Of
Alcee, she thinks, “There was the dull pang of regret because it was not the
kiss of love which had enflamed her, because it was not love which had held this
cup of life to her lips.” (1077) Even in the midst of the party itself, as she
reigns at the head of the table like a gold-sheathed goddess, the wave is
stirred. It gains in strength and pours forth until it strikes her in a freezing
cascade. It seems, the independence she has taken for herself does not make her
capable of retrieving the one thing she wants, but has yet to possess. Maria’s
Self-Discovery Maria did not have as much self-discovery to do compared to Edna.
The reason for that is, Maria was put in the institution because she was
starting to protest her status as property from the start. Maria from the
beginning knew were she stood but did not know how to do so freely. As her love
for Darnford grew, her feelings of independence did as well. Maria fought her
hardest to see that her injustice be terminated. Instead of taking the easy way
out like Edna did, Maria fought her hardest for both her and Darnford. Her baby
was still on her mind as were those of Edna but her self-discovery was that she
could love another man without being oppressed. She also realized that she did
not have to marry Darnford in order to be his wife, “Marriage, as at
present…of women in society.” (128) Contrary to Edna, Maria sees a future
for her and Darnford without any turmoil, Edna only sees things getting worse
and is pessimistic about the relationship, believing that she will never be
satisfied. Edna’s Conclusion Edna does love Robert. She feels for him what a
girl from the plains of Mississippi had expected to feel for her husband.
However, she has grown enough as a character to be able to objectively analyze
herself and come to the wrenching conclusion that she will never be satisfied.
The constant thought of her children and how she was a bad mother will ring
inside her head forever. Eventually, another man would replace Robert, and
another after him. As a fundamentally caring person, it would have been
difficult to continue to hurt others as her self-respect eroded. Waves have beat
against the shores of this earth since the beginning of time, so would Edna be
plagued by frustrations that may well have driven her mad. As much as her heart
strains with the essence of her love for Robert, she loves herself more. This is
why a suicide is the only suitable manner in which to end this novel. If Edna
were to be no more, then the wave would strike no more. It would simply crest
and blend with the rush of foam to wash over the sandy shore and be tugged back
into the immense “abysses of solitude.” (1022) Maria’s Conclusion Maria
loves Darnford; she seems in him what she has always longed for in a man. Since
there is no real ending to the novel, we are unaware of what happens to Maria
and Darnford. The last we know is that Maria gives a flawless speech defending
her and Darnford’s actions that in any case should have won. Maria’s love
for Darnford and herself are very apparent in her closing speech. There is no
evidence as to what she or Darnford are thinking, although that leaves us to
imagine. There are many plausible endings unlike Edna’s. In conclusion, it is
evident that the two stories have a similar plot and both discuss the oppression
of women in the institution of marriage. The two characters, Edna and Maria,
both challenge the oppressive ideology by finding new love and they dealt with
the obstacles a long the way.
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