Even though it was written in the Victorian era, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening has several romantic qualities, especially with the main character, as she struggles between society’s obligations and her own desires. Chopin writes about a woman who continues to reject the society around her, a notion too radical for Chopin’s peers. Edna Pontellier has the traditional role of both wife and mother, but deep down she wants something more, difficult to do in the restricted Victorian society.
The typical Victorian woman maintained her sphere which deemed “women’s personal lives center around home, husband, and children.” (Victorian Women, p. 118). Women were supposed to happily accept this position in the home, and be satisfied. It never satisfied Edna, who always seemed out of place when with other women. She was a wife and a mother, but not the 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” (p. 18). Already she is revealing ideas uncommon in the Victorian era. She tries to maintain her roles, but it is very difficult for her.
As the story progresses, Edna focuses on her desires rather than what her husband wants. She refuses to participate in the traditional role given to her as a woman. The romantic notion of individualism comes out as Edna decides to go out on a Tuesday afternoon rather than receive visitors. When her husband finds out, he is extremely upset. “‘I should think that you’d understand by this time that people don’t do such things; we’ve got to observe les convenances if we ever expect to get on and keep up with the procession'” (p. 51). Edna disregards her husbands appeal to conform and continues to do what she wants.
Victorian society was not ready for a novel whose main character disregards the norm for her own happiness. The rejection Chopin received was mainly due to Edna’s rejection of the traditions and the adultery aspect of the novel. Edna, caught up in a loveless marriage, resorts to adultery to keep herself satisfied. Edna follows her heart rather than reason when she pursues Robert Lebrun. In revealing her love for Robert, her romantic passion is expressed. “‘I love you,’ she whispered, ‘only you; no one but you.
Edna Pontellier’s Broken Wings in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening
Broken Wings in The Awakening
Between the caged parrot with a huge cage “outside the door” that repeated “Get away! Get away! Damnation!” and Mr. Pontellier ‘s rebuke to his wife that she was “burnt beyond recognition,” and the description of him looking at his wife as “a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage.” the antenna went up. There is not a welcoming beckon in the very beginning and we are alerted to the dysfunction of a marriage all with a page or two. It is a sad beginning. The introduction of Robert Lebrun along with Edna sets up the triangle. We are told that “Robert talked a good deal about himself. He was very young, and did not know any better. Mrs. Pontellier talked a little more about herself for the same reason. Each was interested in what the other said.” Robert from the onset has “plans” although he and Edna talk she has none.
When Mr. Pontellier returns from Klein’s hotel and awakens Edna, with criticism about her care of the children , after a night out with the boys. We begin to see him as thoughtless and as eligible as Edna for the same criticism. She goes into the adjoining bedroom and cries. This indifference on the part of her husband triggers, “An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish.” At this point the antenna were up and the story began to accelerate.
We are told that Mrs. Pontellier was not a “mother woman”. The mother women in the story are easy to know “they (were) fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood.” They grew wings as “ministering angels”.
I noticed along with the caged birds in the opening of the story the number of bird images throughout. It is Mademoiselle Reisz that tells Edna, “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.’”Edna refers to her new home as “the pigeon-house”. It pleased her. “It at once assumed the intimate character of a home, while she herself invested it with charm which it reflected like a warm glow.