In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Edna Pontellier is a character who is alienated from the rest of society. She carries views which do not coincide with the norm, and in a way establishes her own idea of how women should live and be treated. Not only do her views estrange her from society, but she also physically separates herself from the life she used to live and the Victorian culture into which she was born. During this time, it was expected of a woman to be the perfect picture of a wife and mother, an “Angel of the House”.
Even early on in the novel Edna is shown to be the type of woman that doesn’t fit the bill. While most other mothers, such as Adele Ratignolle, would bend over backwards to take care of their children, Edna is clearly not as much a ‘mother-woman’; her children had learned to be the type to stand up and brush off the dirt rather than run to mommy if they fell down. Her marriage to Leonce was more a social convention than it was a loving relationship, as if she only married because it was the thing to do.
This was not an uncommon arrangement, but Edna’s treatment of it was- with little passion and emotional connection in her marriage, she commits emotional adultery finding companionship in the form of Robert Lebrun. Later in rediscovering music and art, she also shirks all responsibility as a wife and mother, ignoring her expected duties in order to concentrate on her painting. This is far from the picture of the perfect Victorian wife. Edna’s physical separation from her old life is symbolic of her opposing views about women and their role in the community.
With her husband away and her boys with their grandmother, Edna lives as a single woman. Her choice to remove herself from the life of a mother-woman is contradictory to everything she was taught to do. Her claim of independence is unheard of, and society doesn’t know how to react. In her Victorian culture, women are the belongings of men and have no claims to their own lives, nor have they any means to their own wants and needs; this was the custom everyone had grown up on, the custom everyone was used to.
Edna rebels against this belief with her nonconformist decision to live on her own, as her own being, with her own mental and emotional and sexual desires. There is an instance when Edna and Robert are discussing a future together, and Robert notes his wish to free Edna from Leonce, because he is still under the belief that she is an object to be passed from one owner to another. Edna then calls him silly for believing such things, for she is an independent person, whom no one governs but her own self. Edna’s intellectual, emotional, and sexual awakenings, though giving her the independence she craves, isolate her from the rest of society.
There is one point in the novel where Edna speaks of walking, how she doesn’t mind walking to get to places farther off and how she feels bad for those women who don’t take the walk because they are missing so much. Edna knows she is the only woman who has taken the walk, taken the chance to discover living outside of societal norms and finding out how freeing it is. As much as she wants someone to join her, in her last ‘awakening’ she realizes no one will- Robert wants to marry her out of convention rather than cross the boundaries and be her lover.
Edna realizes she cannot escape the chains of society’s expectations, and she is utterly alone. Edna’s isolation grows as she has more and more revelations about her life and herself. Though starting simply as the odd one out among the mother-women, she becomes the lone rebel across the societal boundaries. Her beliefs about women as independent, intellectual, sexual, and emotional beings contradict the societal views demonstrated along her journey of awakening.
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