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freeaw Not Ready for Freedom in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening

Not Ready for Freedom in The Awakening

In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, the main character, Edna Pontellier makes a very long, painful journey into her inner self. At the end of this journey she discovers that she is not strong enough to adopt a life in which a woman is her own woman and lives for herself. This forces her to choose the only other option available to her.

I think the propriety with which Edna struggles (and most often gives in to) as she begins to discover who she is and what she wants creates a thick, almost suffocating atmosphere of tension. So much so that I was relieved that she decided to take her own life, as it had evolved into a torturous existence.

I thought it unfair that Edna was portrayed as a somewhat neglectful mother. It was clear that she adored her children, albeit a fondness that was in “…an uneven, impulsive way.” (p. 59)

It is important to focus on the time this story was written—the choices available to women in 1899 (the year The Awakening was printed) were extremely limited, and Edna Pontellier, all things considered, actually made a good life for herself, on the surface by making a marriage with Leonce. The material trappings in life that Leonce provided were comfortable, extravagant, actually, and the luxurious life of servants (quadroons), and more than one home appeared to be a life of perfection.

Buried within the text are a multitude of “hints,” “suggestions,” and in some cases blatant statements concerning the state of mind of Edna Pontellier. The reader is introduced to the possibility that Edna may have a healthy curiosity of the “absence of prudery” due to her fascination with the lives of Creole women. These women of French descent have far les…

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Edna Pontellier was a lady of ladies, yet she had a will stronger than any iron-clad vessel that plowed the Mississippi River. Her “awakening” was at once liberating and devastating. Her anger (throwing the vase and her wedding band) was a manifestation of her confusion and inability to comprehend the society that insisted she receive guests on Tuesday (her husband Leonce was appalled that she left one day and did her own thing), be a wife and mother first, and love only one man.

Although her demise was indeed tragic, the point is that Edna was not entirely ready to absolutely adopt the Creole way of life—the life in which a woman is her own woman and lives for herself, stands up to the world and insists on having life on her terms. In the end, Edna could not reconcile herself to a life that stepped outside the boundaries of propriety.

Emerson and Thoreau as Prophets of Eco-wisdom

Emerson and Thoreau as Prophets of Eco-wisdom

The major premise of transcendental eco-wisdom is that connection with nature is essential for a person’s intellectual, aesthetic, and moral health and growth. One must see and experience nature intimately, whether defined as the “not-me” or as landscape, to participate in the unity of Spirit underlying its visible processes. This connectedness is the basis of the self-reliance which determines how a person lives with integrity in nature and society. Granted, the concept of self-reliance apparently devalues social concerns, including the global commitment and cooperation needed to bring about the kinds of changes that would reverse the climatic greenhouse effect, for example. Indeed, Emerson’s ideas have been unfairly appropriated to justify the capitalistic exploitative excesses and insensitivity to social problems and long-term consequences that lie at the root of many of our environmental problems. However, we cannot fault Emerson and Thoreau for not imagining our current dependence on technology, the complexity of a largely urban economy or the ties of a global community. Yet even the notion of a self-contained Concord or Walden Pond, which might seem naive and outdated, is reflected in current ideas about eco- regionalism. By accounting for what they could not have known of our present condition, we can still find fruitful ways of understanding where humans, singly and as a species, should fit into nature.

Emerson’s greatest gift was lessons in seeing in and through nature and extracting symbolic meaning, yet his own intimate encounters with the nature around him were relatively rare and indirect, with few concrete traces in his writings except as occasional metaphors. He wanted his revelations from nature to be abstract and come by surprise, as did the famed mystical encounter at the beginning of his book Nature: “Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear.” In such an experience, even the self is absorbed by a greater power: “I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me.” The metaphor may be unfortunate, but not his faith that a single person could perceive unspeakable meanings through experiencing nature, even if only indirectly. Such possibilities impelled Thoreau and countless others since to mine the details and processes of nature that Emerson had generalized, looking for embedded revelations and sharing in nature’s “ecstasy.

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