The protagonist of Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening is Edna Pontellier, a married woman who has two children. At the beginning of the book, Edna does mostly conform to the modes and codes of the nineteenth-century society, but feels not to fit in her role at all. “She wanted something to happen- something, anything; she did not know what” (Chopin, 126). Throughout the book, the character of Edna develops in a way that she breaks away from her roles of wife and mother and tries to free her imprisoned self. In “The Awakening” the Character of Edna Pontellier awakes in different ways.
One way in which Edna Pontellier awakes, is art and music. She loves listening to music, especially when Mademoiselle Reisz plays the piano because she is the only one of all the numerous performers in the book who plays with full passion. This moves Edna and activates something in her. She is confronted with very strong feelings to which I she has not been used to in her prior “normal” life. The only things she has had, was her husband, her children and the society ladies that she used to receive on Tuesdays.
But all these people were not really touching her, although she loves her children, she does not really seem to care about them. Her identity is constructed by the obligations and opinions of society but she is not able to identify with herself, which is only a role. But step by step, her true self breaks out from the bonds of society. When Edna listens to music, she manages to forget everything about her and is only with herself. It is somehow like an escape from reality. Concerning music, it really moves Edna and awakens her but she is no musician. She is rather a painter and though her art she finds a way to express herself.
For the first time in her life, she finds something which really belongs to her and to no one else and she does something individually and for herself. It is also one step into independence because she could have a real job and earn money. When her husband has to go to New York on business, her children stay with their grandmother, who “had come herself and carried them to Iberville[… ]. The old Madame did not venture to say she was afraid they would be neglected during Leonce’s absence” (Chopin, 120). Edna refuses to join neither them nor her husband.
Instead, she stays alone at home and buys and moves to a small house around the corner, the so called “pigeon house” . This behavior in the name of the pursuit of freedom and independence is not appreciated by her husband and society. Furthermore, Edna spends a lot of time with Alcee Arobin. He represents another way in which the protagonist awakes; it is a sexual awakening. Alcee Arobin is “a young man of fashion. ” (Chopin, 123) His reputation of the young seductive and charming man, who enjoys making conquests out of married women, does not keep Edna from having a sexual relationship with him.
At first it is only a friendship. They go together to horse races and spend nearly every day with each other. “There was a perpetual smile in his eyes, which seldom failed to awaken a corresponding cheerfulness in any one who looked into them and listened to his good-humored voice. ” (123-124) Soon, the two become intimate with each other. But Edna does not love Alcee. In fact she is married to a man she does not love, she loves Robert who left her and went to Mexico and has sexual desires for Arobin, a man who “was absolutely nothing to her” (129).
He becomes her lover and he satisfies her physical urges. At those times, women were not expected to have the same sexual desires as men have. But Edna felt limited in her role as wife and mother and through her sexual awakening she frees another part of her which has been suppressed by the norms and conventions of society. Throughout their affair, Edna never allows her lover to own her or to control her but she wants to keep her freedom and independence which she just gained.
Through her awakenings, Edna becomes a independent woman who lives without her husband and her children and simply only cares about her own needs and desires. Tragically, this leads Edna to a state of solitude because her behavior isolates her from her family and society. Her death at the end of the book, whether it is suicide or not, shows that at those times, it was very difficult for someone who did not conform to the codes and norms of society, to live his/her life without oppressing his/her true self, because you were simply rejected by society and the only thing that rests is solitude.
Courtney from Study Moose
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