In Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening, Edna Pontellier is forced to strive to fit in with everyone and everything around her. Born and raised in Kentucky, Edna is used to the Southern society, but when she marries Leonce Pontellier, a Catholic and a Creole, and moves to Louisiana with him, her surroundings change a great deal. This makes her feel extremely uncomfortable and confused; she feels as though she has lost her identity along with a great deal of her happiness. In order to regain this identity and to try to find out who she truly is, Edna tries her hardest to conform to the Creole society. Though Edna tries extremely hard to accept this Creole society as her own and to become part of it in order to claim her identity, she fails to find both her true happiness and her identity, which, in turn, causes her to commit suicide.
A great deal of Edna’s unhappiness is due to the fact that her husband is very firm with her, he treats her with a great deal of “authority and coercion,” as is requested by Edna’s father, and he strongly believes that she should conform to the Creole society. In accordance with society, Leonce believes that Edna should be the stereotypical housewife who does everything she possibly can for her husband and her children. However, when Edna does something that contradicts this well-established Creole social code, Leonce reveals his disappointment. For example, when Edna is sunbathing at the beach on Grand Isle, her husband approaches her and says, ” ‘What folly! to bathe at such an hour in such heat! You are burnt beyond recognition.’ ” Kate Chopin adds that Mr. Pontellier looks at his wife “as one looks at a valuable piece of property which has suffered some damage.” Over time, the negative attitude that Leonce has toward Edna causes her to look for security, happiness, and love in other people and places. It is then that she meets, and eventually falls in love with, Robert Lebrun.
Throughout the novel, Edna encounters many “awakenings” of her own. One very significant awakening occurs when she recognizes her unrequited love for Robert Lebrun. Edna realizes that Leonce no longer matters to her and that she would be much happier if she were with Robert. Thus, Robert becomes the one person and the virtually unattainable goal Edna lives for; consequently, when he finally leaves her, she is devastated.
freeaw A Woman’s Fight for Independence in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening
A Woman’s Fight for Independence in The Awakening
Right from the beginning the plot is almost conveniently evident. You find a woman, Edna Pontellier, tired of living her life as a pampered and “owned” wife and mother. She is searching for much more in her life, some sort of meaning for her whole existence. She searches for a long time but in the end, the inevitability of her life’s pattern and direction wraps around her, suffocating her. She is overcome with wonder, confusion, and guilt for what she believes and what she does to express her beliefs. She finally finds a way to beat the “proper” 1890’s lifestyle by committing suicide. During this story Edna struggles with three main opposing powers. First, there is the society’s opinion of what a woman’s “roles” in life was and how they should act, look, and feel. Second, is her independent nature. The last opposing power she comes across is her undying love for the charming Robert Lebrun.
It is the unwritten rule that a woman should marry, have children, and be happy and content with that as their life. Society portrays this to be a woman’s rightful job and duty. A woman should act and look “proper” at all times. This is what Edna is fighting against in this novel. She feels that, though many women agree with this “known” rule, it isn’t fair. For six years Edna conforms to these ideas by being a “proper” wife and mother, holding Tuesday socials and going to operas, following the same enduring schedule. It is only after her summer spent at Grand Isle that her “mechanical” lifestyle becomes apparent to her. She sees how much she is unhappy with the expectations, held by society, of her life and she wishes to erase them and live her life as she wants.
Edna has an independent, almost self centered, nature about her. Her need for an uncontrolled lifestyle is what leaves her feeling “owned” and wanting to break that label; she fights to do as she wishes. Little by little she breaks free of society’s’ image, letting her independence shine through. She cancels her Tuesday socials and helps out around the house doing little chores. The biggest step she made was her decision to move away from her mansion and into the “pigeon house”, a little cottage around corner.