When Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” was published in 1899 the Industrial Revolution and the feminist movement were already beginning to emerge. However, they were still overshadowed by the prevailing attitudes of the nineteenth century (SparkNotes Editors). In the conservative state of Louisiana, from where the author had met her husband, for example, the feminist movement was almost absent that there still exist a law that considers a woman as the property of her husband.
“The Awakening” in general is a novel about how the female protagonist was able to find and discover her own identity as a woman, gained independence, and learn the value of equality and freedom. However, it is also a novel about the social constraints of women during this Victorian era, about how Edna discovered in the end that she was still alone in the process of her ‘awakening,’ thus undergoing a ‘second awakening’. Chopin offered a different treatment of the traditional woman of society who is often portrayed to be under the mercy of their male counterparts, weak, and definitely restricted.
Here, Edna, the female protagonist, is in the process of rediscovering herself, her world, and slowly learning what freedom and equality means. The story revolves around her as she slowly undergoes this process in such a way that the novel could actually fall under the genre of Bildungsroman—a sort of a coming-of-age story—wherein Edna, through her acquaintance with Adelle, has evolved from a restricted wife to a woman free from any form of male domination.
This kind of approach had given a tone that offers a ‘sympathetic view toward the actions and emotions of the sexually aware and independent female protagonist. ’ One of the more important motifs in the novel is Edna’s swimming. The first time she had swum in the novel demonstrate the first moment of her awakening. It gave her the feeling of being strong. By and by, through her acquaintances in the Grand isle, particularly Adelle, she learned that she could be actually open about what she feels, that she could say it directly without being afraid.
She also continued painting to relinquish her youth soon afterwards—another form of self-expression. And with Robert and Alcee, she had demonstrated freedom in her love, passion and sexuality. All these events that happened in her life contributed to her first ‘awakening,’ the awakening that pertains to her self-rediscovery and a gaining independence. It is at this moment that “She began to look with her own eyes; to see and to apprehend the deeper undercurrents of life. No longer was she content to “feed upon opinion” when her own soul had invited her (Chapter 32). ”
Her second awakening happened after Robert had turned his back on her for the sole reason of not being able to rise over the expectations of their society. She had, for some reasons realized that despite all of her discoveries, the freedom that she had received, she was still alone. She felt the burden or the suffering that corresponds to all her learning and individuality for her society could still not accept the kind of woman she had become. Perhaps her action when she had swum again in the later chapter of the novel, when she committed suicide, is a symbolism of this second awakening.
The solitude she had felt drove her there because she might have realized her true position in her society and therefore believes that only by ending her life could she free herself from every expectation there is. She was awakened. Again. And thus she says, “The years that are gone seem like dreams—if one might go on sleeping and dreaming—but to wake up and find—oh! well! Perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life (Chapter 38). ” Basically, for me, the novel is not simply about a single awakening.
It is a two-sided representation of the status/role of women during the Victorian era. It definitely showed how constrained these women are through the biases and prejudices thrown against Edna. But it has also showed how these women, through Edna, are struggling to free themselves from these constraints, how they are willing to suffer than to remain disillusioned, but still overshadowed by the prevailing attitudes of the majority. It might as well be also pertaining not only to Edna’s awakening but the awakening of all the women of that particular era.
These women are all awakened, willing to fight for their independence, for equality. Unfortunately, the prevailing ideas of the people around them would only awaken them for the second time, so that they would realize that their position in their society at that time could be sometimes suffocating that they would rather drown themselves than submit to male domination. REFERENCE SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on The Awakening. ” SparkNotes. com. SparkNotes LLC. 2002. Web. 19 Jul. 2010. For the quoted passages:
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