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Conforming to a society that you do not agree with but are almost forced to do so will hurt an individual’s psyche. This is exactly what we see happen with Edna Pontellier in The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Edna is brought up in a society that views women as second class, women are not supposed to be individualistic, they are meant to conform to the social norm. In the creole society women are supposed to belong to their husbands. Through Edna’s id she longs for a life where she has no responsibility to a husband or children.
She doesn’t want to become an outcast in the society she lives in but the feeling of unhappiness still arises in her. Because of this feeling she consciously decides to have an affair with her friend Robert. This is a conscious choice she made with her ego that she believes is best for her. Not only does the creole society mess with her psyche it also alienates her.
Unconsciously Edna Pontellier wants to be free of responsibility to her husband and children. The marriage she is in and the family that she has extracts a heavy toll on her emotionally; causing her to cry unconsciously for reasons she does not completely understand. She could not have told you why she was crying. Such experiences as the foregoing were not uncommon in her married life (Chopin 27). She is clearly unhappy being a mother and a wife but she cannot pack her things and leave her family because she does not want to ruin her family’s reputation.
In The Awakening negative values such as viewing women almost as second class and where they belong to their husbands is presented perfectly. Edna is an example of how a culture can alienate a person for basic and inescapable qualities such as gender. She is tired having to fulfill the role of a housewife, in the creole society her duty as a wife and mother is to obey all orders of her husband and cater to all of her children’s needs. She is being alienated from the world by being forced to stay inside of a house that she hates. In Erich Fromm’s article Alienation he express his thoughts on how exhausting a person’s work can be. Consequently, he does not fulfill himself in his work.has a feeling of misery rather than well-being, does not develop freely his mental and physical energies but is physically exhausted and mentally debased. Every Tuesday is reception day for women in the creole society, this a day when women are supposed to entertain their guest at her home as they come as they please during the day. Edna followed this religiously for six years. One Tuesday she decided she would continue this no longer because it has taken a toll on her mentally. She is alienating herself from society by abandoning the role society wants her to take. Again, Edna is miserable with her life, she hates being married to Leonce Pontellier. Her emotions lead to have an affair with Robert Lebrun and move out of her home so that she can live on her own. Before dinner in the evening, Edna wrote a charming letter to her husband, telling him of her intention to move for a while into the little house around the block, and to give a farewell dinner before leaving, regretting that he was not there to share it with, to help her out with the menu and assist her in entertaining the guests. Her letter was brilliant and brimming with cheerfulness. (Chopin 105) Edna is giving herself a bit of freedom by leaving her house. Her claim independence was unheard of and the creole does not know how to react. In this culture women do not have any claim to their lives nor do they have means to their own wants and needs. Edna continues to rebel against this culture with her nonconformist decisions to live on her own, mental, emotional and sexual desires. Although her intellectual, emotional and sexual awakenings give her the liberation he craves, it also alienates her from the rest of the creole society. She becomes more and more of an outcast from the society she was brought up in by forgetting all that she has been taught about the roles of a woman in her culture. And as her story continues this shows how little interpretation the creole society will allow when it comes down to women and their rights. She is alienated because she gives herself the independence from the society while everyone else conforms. In Alienation by Erich Fromm says, Alienation is based on the distinction between existence and essence, on the fact that man’s existence is alienated from his essence, that in reality he is not what he potentially is, or, to put it differently, that he is not what he ought to be, and that he ought to be that which he could be. in this the creole culture woman are basically slaves to and their husband is the owner. Everyone but Edna believes in this society and so instead of living the life they want, they exist in society to please their master. Edna is free spirited, that is why she refuses to conform because it is in her nature to want to explore and live the life that she wants. Edna is alienated because she claims her independence and the rest of society remains a slave. In the end Edna decides to completely alienate herself from the rest of the creole society by swimming to her death. Edna is so unhappy with the life that she has, she sees it as hell and she is looking for a way out. Edna begins to think that there is no way out other than killing herself, so she looks out to the sea and swims to her death. It’s a maternal realm outside culture, a solitary world beyond patriarchal discourse that cannot exist within the culture Edna knows.24 In the sea Edna is able to alienate herself from the constrictions of the creole society. Edna has left her husband, children, and lost her lover Robert, the only way that Edna can be free from the life she did not want to be part of is by isolating herself in the sea. She cannot conform to the creole society when she has found the ultimate liberation in death. Although she is dead she is still alienated, and whilst the women of that society continue to conform she separates herself by dying and not being able to follow cultures demands. Our identity is constantly changing throughout our lives, we are molded by the experiences we have as well our environment. Edna is a perfect example how a person’s identity is always changing. In the beginning of The Awakening Edna is seen as nothing but her husband’s property. Leonce says, You are burnt beyond recognition, this demonstrates that her value comes from her appearance. Society is treating Edna as property and not as a person, society is alienating her by doing so. Later on in the novel Edna learns how to swim, when she finally learns how to control her body in the water she has a moment of self-realization. But that night she was like the little tottering, stumbling, clutching child, who of a sudden realizes its powers, and walks for the first time alone, boldly and without over-confidence. Edna realizes that she has power over her own body, this not only empowers her but it also gives her the confidence she needed to move more independently in her world. In Alienation by Erich Fromm talks about the importance of individuals returning to themselves, when Edna has her moment of self-realization she remembers that she is her own person. As her story continues Edna begins to awaken and no longer conforms to societal norms. That she was seeing with different eyes and making the acquaintance of new conditions in herself that colored and changed her environment, she did not yet suspect. While Edna is at the Grand Isle she begins to look at the world and where she stands within it. She does not notice the change that comes from within herself but she accepts the fact that she exist in a new reality. Edna now has the courage to try to change the culture that she lives in. This shows Edna’s capability to transform her identity. Later in the novel, Edna transcends being a housewife, she becomes a wholly realized individual who acts upon her own needs and wants. Although Edna has claimed independence from society her heart is still not full, she remembers her children and realizes that they will suffer because of their connection to her. Edna decides to sacrifice herself and die in possession of her own body and soul. Alienation could be enlightening or terrible for a person but in this case it was terrifying for Edna. She couldn’t live with the consequences of her actions but also she lived in a society that didn’t accept her because she was a nonconformist. Alienation is what led Edna to killing herself, she was alienated for abandoning the roles of a woman in the creole society, and for being the only person to claim their own freedom. In conclusion, Erich Fromm was right for believing that alienation could destroy an individual. Edna was a caged bird who longed to be free but once she finally opened the cage door she flew right into another. Her identity changed from a slave to a person who has been liberated, but in the end the alienation she felt from society beat her to death. The Awakening demonstrates how a society’s views can alienate a person and shows how a cultures moral values are revealed through the process of alienation Edna is an example of how lacing to conform and failing to abide by a society’s values will alienate anyone who tries to separate themselves from that society.
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