Social Norms and The Pursuit of Happiness in "The Awakening"

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Historically, society has created irrational (but enchanting) beliefs in order to fabricate reality and make our life extraordinary. Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny are all strong-held childhood beliefs that are encouraged by parents through tradition. Accepting these beliefs as real set children up to be embittered and disappointed by the natural reality of holidays, yet parents still keep the holiday spirit afloat to some extent: parents buy the gifts; parents fill the stockings; parents lay out the eggs in the yard.

Although, this process of nurturing one’s inner thoughts could only last for so long. Bursting the little bubble implanted in a kid’s head by society can only limit their imagination, and it makes one think: “is fabrication something we have to sacrifice once we reach a certain age?” Something adults neglect to tell you is that Christmas, or other holidays of that nature, will never be the same.

Obviously, the story behind Santa is nothing but a fairytale; however, society should accept people who still believe what Santa stands for.

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He’s not only a symbol of giving, but he’s what the Christmas spirit is all about. As a kid, you don’t really get that; all kids cared about is waking up to a room full of presents. The truth is, Santa Claus embodies everything we want to believe in: being selfless, caring, and hopeful. If you live by that or believe in any of these things all year round, the Holiday spirit never really dies because of one’s inner-self that’s focusing on these ideals.

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To enhance societal happiness, individuality and diverse beliefs should be acceptable in society even if cultural and social norms go against it.

In the Awakening, Kate Chopin portrays a society that disregards what the main character, Edna, stands for. Throughout the novel, Edna’s inner thoughts are more real and authentic than reality and the socially acceptable life others perceive from the outside. Chopin describes how Edna understood differences between the inner and outer life from the beginning of her existence. The narrator clearly reiterates this idea, maintaining “In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her… At a very early period, she had apprehended instinctively the dual life-that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions” (Source A, Ch. V). As Edna grew up, she learned to conform to the expectations around her. In addition to portraying Edna’s divide on how she feels as a wife and mother, the narrator also assumes the audience views Edna’s awakening from the view of her society where individualism and humanity is a “ponderous weight” for women like her.

The sea represents both freedom and fear of Edna, both pertaining to the idea of achieving humanity and individualism. Edna’s fear of water symbolizes a fear of radical freedom that could have serious consequences and the ability to swim reveals her independence and desire to push boundaries. These two ideas speak to how confined her life is, yet how the freedom she is experiencing is new to her. Facing her fear has led Edna to blindly follow whatever impulse moved her, as if she freed her soul of responsibility. She was no longer held by the social responsibilities that she has, but rather by her growing desires. Happiness coupled with exhaustion from new activities gave her life a new, dream-like aspect because she began to resist the rules and habits she previously followed. In the middle of the novel, Edna defends her case, exclaiming “I would give up the unessential; I would give up my money, I would give up my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself” (Source A Ch. XVI).

Edna considers her newfound “self” and individuality to be essential and she wouldn’t give it up. Her despair comes from a perceived lack of purpose, wondering if her life has any meaning. Before her awakening, she could refer to herself as a wife or mom, but now that her identity is more fluid, she sacrifices a sense of comradery and societal acceptance. Rather than society trying to understand Edna’s position from a personal or women’s rights perspective, they believe her to be silly and unstable. Their preferred course of action is to say that she’s fickle and wait until her behavior goes back to “normal”. Ths disagreeable nature comes from the fact that she is no longer young, and has no other option but to accept society and its standards. Though we all wear a “fictitious self” when we explore the world, Edna’s situation is different in that she actively disregards this self when others wear it unconsciously and use it to create a better means for relationship.

Although American culture insists that fulfilment for women could be found in marriage and homemaking, Betty Fridan argues in The Feminine Mystique that women need to maximize their potential through something other than societal standards. When women ignored their potential during the 1950’s and 1960’s, the result was not only limited to a stereotypical society, but also a society full of unhappy women. Fridan emphasizes that the unhappiness of many housewives who are trying to fit into the feminine boundaries of society is widespread. Throughout the excerpt, the creation of a mythical “pretty American suburban housewife” has depleted career ambitions and has only been beneficial for the ones advertising the femine mystique. The feminine mystique has corrupted many media outlets including schools, corporations, and women related products to conclude the idea that in U.S. society women should marry at a young age and fit into the figmented feminine image.

In reality, however, it was a rare occurrence for women to be happy because they were expected to base their career off of being a mother and a housewife, limiting all leisure activities. According to Friedan, she defines women’s unhappiness in relation to the dissatisfaction that women experience when they are longing for something more than just their societal duties, “the problem that has no name.” As stated explicitly by Friedan, “If a woman had a problem in the 1950’s or 1960’s, she knew that something must be wrong with her marriage, or herself” (Source C). The role of a woman was to not have any additional interest in careers of higher education or politics, and those who had an interest in something of that nature were to be judged by experts. In addition, if women expressed dissatisfaction with their lives and were tired of pretending that they were happy, there was still “no other road to fulfilment offered to American women in the middle of the twentieth century” (Source C). Friedan’s vision of a truly productive, content society would allow both men and women to have access to higher education for realistic occupation that coincides with their talents.

In the Organization Kid by David Brooks, he conveys the idea that students are shaped directly by their parents that affects both their actions and behavior towards learning. Through the influence of parents, kids are manipulated to believe that going to a pristine college guarantees a successful job and a financially stable life. The “Organization Kid” originates from the current generation of students who are characterized as “the future workaholics of America” (Source F). There is a general comparison between the 1980’s and present, highlighting the differences between workload and safety. While both workload and safety precautions are rising, schools are making matters worse by shifting their focus to a more academic curriculum with less options. Through his personal accounts of visiting Princeton, David Brooks focuses on the “typical Princeton student,” (Source F) where he gathers impressions from students through interviews that provide a meaningful analysis of how the rise of social standards relate to a more competitive work environment.

As present throughout all the texts, the roles of social norms have played as a barrier throughout history having both a physical and mental toll on specific characters in society. Demonstrating resistance to outcomes of social norms reveals the complexion that many of the standards society implants are too narrow and represent more of a rigid constraint; moreover, the narration in the explored texts allude to the idea that explicit social norms can provide proper guidance for action and involvement. Pragmatic reasons for social norms determine how much resistance to outcomes is justified and provide a more universal principle for general acceptance and concerns.

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Social Norms and The Pursuit of Happiness in "The Awakening". (2020, Sep 03). Retrieved from

Social Norms and The Pursuit of Happiness in "The Awakening"

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