< >During the late nineteenth century, the time of protagonist Edna Pontellier, a woman's place in society was confined to worshipping her children and submitting to her husband. Kate Chopin's novel, The Awakening, encompasses the frustrations and the triumphs in a woman's life as she attempts to cope with these strict cultural demands. Defying the stereotype of a "mother-woman," Edna battles the pressures of 1899 that command her to be a subdued and devoted housewife. Although Edna's ultimate suicide is a waste of her struggles against an oppressive society, The Awakening supports and encourages feminism as a way for women to obtain sexual freedom, financial independence, and individual identity.

< >Feminism is commonly thought of as a tool for educating society on the rights of women. It teaches that a woman is equal to a man in every civil and societal accord. Realizing this is not always the case, Charlotte Bunch, a noted lesbian feminist of the 1970s also defined feminism as "a way of looking at the world - a questioning of power [and] domination issues" (WIE). Many feminists attempt to bulrush the ideals of stereotypical women and push them away from those who believe in these standards. "Feminist scholars also seek to question and transform androcentric [sic] systems of thought which position the male as the norm," says Barbara McManus. They strive to find, examine, and eliminate biases in a world encumbered with intolerant men who see women as thoughtless objects and most certainly not equals. Other women announce their impressive intellect, economic well-being, and individual personalities to the people who oppose them. "A woman should always present herself and explain her forthcoming jaunts into Feminists, like Edna, however, do not wish or cannot prove their right to be equal; they simply become who they want to be without explanation and usually without regret. Edna portrays her role as a feminist in many ways. She tells Madame Ratignolle "she would never sacrifice herself for her children, or for anyone. . . . I would give up the essential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself" (Chopin 47). This exemplifies Edna's theory that if she gives up her soul, the very base of her womanhood and what she stands for in life, then her existence and her point in the world is over, and she may drift away into the abyss of commonality. "Kate Chopin has given Edna an inner sight. Edna begins on a search of what is to be, not of what it is necessarily to be female, but simply to be," Jennifer Ward compares. Edna believes in herself as a strong individual and moves forward to attaining her sexuality and opinions, strongly enforcing the beliefs of feminism to intimately discovering one's mind and body. Although there are many different definitions of feminism, it is conclusive that feminism is about the labors of women to define themselves as passionate counterparts to men, and not merely faithful dogs padding loyally on the heels of their masters.

< >Edna Pontellier's suicide is the unfortunate pit falling of this otherwise feminist piece of literature. Her action, in fact, completely discredits the classification of feminism. Regardless of her ability to withdraw from her husband, venture out on her own, and buy her own home, Edna lacks a very important factor in feminist thinking. She believes that if she cannot obtain all that she wants immediately, all her expedients and her life are worthless and insignificant. After Robert leaves for Mexico, Edna feels as if his "going had some way taken the brightness, the color, the meaning out of everything" (Chopin 46). While she commendably untangles herself from the clutches of her husband's culture, she undeniably wraps herself around the needs of another, living only for them. Feminism definitely does not condone these kinds of actions; in fact, feminism "demands that a woman live for herself. A woman must be somewhat egotistical, care for her well-being first, and not base her life on the thoughts of another. Women can love, that is not a question, but a woman cannot let her life revolve around someone else's world where she may be violently wrenched back to a hurtful reality" (Wear 345). "She felt no interest in anything about herself" (Chopin 53) because with never understanding this concept, she cannot grasp her femininity entirely. After Robert departs from her side, Edna finds "there was no one thing in the world she desired" (Chopin 115). She then propels herself into believing that life is monotonous, a steady stream of disappointing setbacks that will never change, and thinks there is nothing she can do to bring anymore change to her world. She also discovers that no language can articulate her awakening, thus misleading herself into thinking that if she cannot eventually explain her actions, they are foolish actions of which she wants to defend, but cannot necessarily support. Throughout The Awakening, she grows increasingly depressed and passive toward life because of her "inability" to express herself and her belief that she is to be unhappy forever unless she gets exactly what she wants. "There were days when she was unhappy," Chopin writes, "when it did not seem worthwhile to be glad or sorry, to be dead or alive; when life appeared to her like a grotesque pandemonium and humanity like worms struggling blindly toward inevitable annihilation" (58). Crippled beyond sensible thinking, Edna is like the "bird with a broken wing" that she observes, "beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the war" (Chopin 115). Although her efforts to liberate herself from an oppressive society are respectable, her eventual suicide is an atrocious waste of her struggles and defies the very quintessence of feminism.

< >One of the most impressive ways Edna demonstrates her self-sufficiently is how she supports herself financially. Through a well-timed inheritance and a rebirth of her love for art, Kate Chopin releases Edna into the independent world where she is in charge and is not reliant on anyone else. Edna worked very hard throughout the novel to obtain her sexuality and freedom, despite any consequences she might have faced in society. She is a blossoming rose - the essence of rare beauty, emerging confidence, and reputable superiority - in a world of muted grays.

< >Ignoring her husband because of her love for Robert and a new energy for discovering herself is another integral part of The Awakening's feminist qualities. Chopin illustrates through Edna that she believes that marriage without love is damaging for a woman. "Go away," she says to her husband, "you bother me," going against every social rule of the time. "Women were expected to love, worship, and obey their husbands at all costs, from the beginning of time to the nineteenth century. It has only been recently, past the turn of the twentieth century, that women have not been expected to completely adore and devote their lives to men" (Davis 241).

< >The earliest sign of Edna's departure from society that would eventually metamorphose into her controversial lifestyle is in the first few pages of The Awakening. Despite the innocence of the situation, her initial flirtatious relationship with Robert gives her a taste of a world that she never before savored in her life. It is obvious she will never return to the plain housewife she has been for six years < sentence not finished ::cough:: >

< >Birds play a dominant part in the imagery of Edna's awakening. From the beginning of the book, the imprisoned parrot screams, "Allez-vous en! Allez-vous en! Sapritsi!" Translated to Edna's language, "Go away! Go away! For heaven's sake!" is clearly an illumination of Edna attempts to communicate to her husband Léonce and society as she slowly begins to establish herself as an independent woman. The parrot also represents Edna as she begins in the book; a caged animals yearning to be released, but held back by the bars of culture. Alcée Arobin is one of the following bird symbols. His name "A - robin," he is a bird flying nest to nest. He is not necessarily looking for love, more he is searching for and obtaining his sexuality. Alcée speaks in such a way "that astonished her at first and brought crimson to her face" (Chopin 78), but also opens up new worlds for him. Edna appreciates Alcée's lifestyle - free as a bird, doing what ever pleases him. She craves to live the way Alcée does so she can glide through the world with a demeanor of sophistication, liberation, and peace. Their fleeting affair, one that "was a flaming torch that kindled desire" (Chopin 83), also completely revolutionizes Edna's sexuality. She describes her earliest kiss with Alcée as "the first kiss to which her nature had really responded" (Chopin 83). Mademoiselle Reisz tells Edna, "The bird that would soar above the level of plain tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth" (Chopin 83). Her advice runs deep, meaning to say that if Edna will not waver in her determination to burst out of her slowly deteriorating cage, she must have the strength to defy the stereotypes of docile and submissive women. These words come back to Edna when she sees a disabled bird falling to its death in the sea. Her suicide is representative of this bird untoward demise; however, Edna's suicide is also symbolic of Edna's cage collapsing. She is finally set free of everything around her and taking this in stride, spreads her wings and soars above the clouds of society.

< >Edna's clothing choices throughout Chopin's novel go hand in hand with the cleverly crafted aviary imagery. During the summer months at Grand Isle, Edna donned conservative clothes "that were heavy and clung close to her" (Chopin 14), illuminating women were not sexual beings. "Women were not permitted to wear anything loose or anything that might be deemed promiscuous at the time < didn't finish sentence... >

< >Breaking of vase, stamping on ring, ignoring Tuesdays, visiting whom she wants, and painting, -- all concrete examples of the bird/clothes imagery. <-- was an idea I didn't erase before printing

< >Kate Chopin's novel seethes with feminist ideology and the roles of women during a time when either issue was rarely discussed. While Edna's death is a tragic loss and somewhat discredits the theme of the book, the actions Chopin's protagonist takes to obtain her own individuality are immaculate illustrations of what The Awakening conveys. Chopin positions Edna to fly well beyond the boundaries of accepted culture even though societal pressures tell her to act like a lethargic housecat. Edna learns through her experiences as a sexual, self-sufficient woman that she does not have to depend on men to be her own person. By breaking out of her caged life, Edna feels she no longer is tethered to the earth. She can finally control her life and ultimately determines her fate as a liberated, sexual, and independent woman.


Works Cited

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. 1899. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1993.

Davis, Sara deSaussure. Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1988.

Klages, Mary. "What is Feminism (and why do we have to talk about it so much)?" December 8, 2001. http://www.colorado.edu/English/ENGL2012Klages/1feminisim.html.

McManus, Barbara F. "Characteristics of a Feminist Approach." December 8, 2001. http://www.cnr.edu/home/bmcmanus/femcharacteristics.html.

Showalter, Elaine. The Female Malady: Women, Madness, and English Culture, 1830-1980. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, November 1985.

Ward, Jennifer A. "Deconstruction or Feminist Critique?" December 9, 2001. http://www.geocities.com/athens/acropolis.6998/chopin2.html.

Wear, Delese and Nixon, Lois LaCivita. Literary Anatomies: Women's Bodies and Health in Literature. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994.

Women's Information Exchange. "Feminism Defined." December 7, 2001. http://electrapages.com/FEMINIST.htm

Wood, Ann Douglas. "'The Fashionable Diseases': Women's Complaints and Their Treatment in Nineteenth-Century America." Women and Health in America. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, Ltd., 1984.





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