Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening, centers around the theme of discovering oneself. The book shows readers the world of Edna Pontellier and gives them a window into her numerous insecurities and hesitations. Throughout the book, Edna attempts to become the opposite of the stereotypical women of her time. She chooses to be herself instead of the socially acceptable role she is expected to be. Additionally, Natasha Tretheway’s poem “Domestic Work” and Bobby Coles’ poem “Finding Yourself” attack the issues of independence, relationships, and gender.
These two poems in combination with The Awakening strive to challenge the status quo of women everywhere. In the 19th century, women were expected to be domestic goddesses. As a married woman, it was important to be a positive influence on her husband and children, but was still expected to address to her husband as the head of the household. These restrictions had many women, including Edna in The Awakening, feeling trapped. Some women felt the need to become their own person, as opposed to the woman they were expected to become.
In the poem, “Domestic Work”, the reader is given a preview of a typical woman in the 1930’s: “She beats time on the rugs, blows dust from the broom like dandelion spores, each one a wish for something better. ” (Trethewey 23-26). The poem displays the monotonous life of women in the 19th century, and how some women desired something more. Edna, from The Awakening, is included in the category of women who longed for a life beyond household chores. In both The Awakening and “Domestic Work”, independence and a woman’s relationships are subjects of choice. Edna feels that she should be able to be free and independent.
She wants to make her own choices about men and decide on her own who she loves without anyone else’s opinion influencing her choice. When Edna starts to lose the feelings she once had for her husband, she falls for Robert Lebrun. In fact, Edna had no intention to marry Leonce to begin with; “Her marriage to Leonce Pontellier was purely an accident, in this respect resembling many other marriages which masquerade as the decrees of Fate” (Chopin 23). Edna desires to have freedom.
Robert wants a marriage with Edna, which conflicts with what she wants. Her feelings for Robert are strong but Robert has mature feelings for Edna, eyond what she feels for him. Though Edna wishes she could say the same, her love for him is more an infatuation-not true love. “As Edna walked along the street she was thinking of Robert. She was still under the spell of her infatuation. She had tried to forget him, realizing the inutility of remembering. But the thought of him was like an obsession” (Chopin 71). In the end, Edna realizes she cannot have both independence and true love. She decides to keep Robert out of her life and ends up drowning herself because of the internal conflict she has endured.
In the poem “Finding Yourself”, author Bobby Coles explains that a person has to reach inside himself/herself in order to discover who he/she is. Similarly, Edna and the woman in “Domestic Work” are enduring their own journey. In Coles’ poem, he intentionally writes without specificity of gender, therefore making the poem easily relatable to readers of any gender. Coles uses descriptive language to create an image of what it is like to go through the process of finding yourself like Edna and the woman in Domestic Work did. “When are you most comfortable?
Are you being true to yourself? You are in there somewhere. Judge on your own. Listen not to others. Look in the mirror. See beyond the image” (Coles 35-41). Coles encourages readers to not be influenced by the opinions of others, and instead, judge for themselves. In each text, the idea of taking your life in your own hands is present. Each of the poems and The Awakening displays themes of gender, relationships and independence. These themes help shape the stories and give the reader a greater understanding of the messages, as well as make connections to each of the characters.