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Humankind and the world in general has changed during the course of the world’s long history. From a world where slavery and mistreatment of women was thought to be a normal idea of society, this world has changed drastically. Women traditionally stayed home and cared for the children. After World War 2, this all began to change. The opportunities for women experienced a very large increase. In her novel, The Awakening, Kate Chopin bases her writing upon a woman, Edna Pontellier, who is controlled by her husband.
In Henry David Thoreau’s essay, “Civil Disobedience”, the idea of not conforming to unjust and abusive governments is very similar to that of the point that is made by Kate Chopin in her novel. Thoreau states that, “Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them.
They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil.” In order for the world to be where it is now, the role of women has shifted undeniably. Women were looked as pieces of property that one can control because there were no laws for the benefit of them. From having to listen to the orders from their husbands and other men around them, women began changing their ways and began to listen to their own ideas.
In the past, women were in some ways thought of as being inferior to men. The rights of women have grown significantly in the course of the century.
The expectation for women in the 1800’s was very harsh because there were no laws to stop the abuse of them. They were very few opportunities for women to express their beliefs and thoughts. They were expected to perform the domestic duties as well as care for the happiness of their family. Edna Pontellier could not express her happiness because she didn’t love her husband. From there, Edna discovers who she is as a person and began to acknowledge her sexual desires and emotions. Kate Chopin states that, “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” (Chopin 25). These lines show the importance of Edna’s awakening and realizing individuality and making decisions herself. By the standards during that time, Leonce Pontellier was considered a perfect husband, in which he was loving and caring. The only big problem was that he believed that Edna was his property. Leonce Pontellier says, “You are burnt beyond recognition,” he added, looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage (Chopin 11). In other words, it is very clear that Mr. Pontellier views his wife as a piece of property instead of a partner in marriage. After a while, Edna realized that enough was enough and began to resist being controlled. She began to act the way she wanted to act and thought how she wanted to think. Chopin states, “Even as a child she had lived her own small life all within herself. At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life—that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions” (Chopin 26). It seems as Edna has two very different sides of her personality. The outer personality conforms to expectations while the inner personality questions the decisions of the outer personality. Through the novel, the inner personality of Edna Pontellier begins to control more and more of the outer personality. When this happens, Edna begins to act how she pleases.
Kate Chopin’s novel is an example of how much the world has changed during the course of the century. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is ridiculed and embarrassed in the society for committing adultery. Hawthorne states, “There was, moreover, a boldness and rotundity of speech among these matrons, as most of them seemed to be, that would startle us at the present day, whether in respect to its purpose or its volume of tone” (Hawthorne 35). This quote gave a very strong meaning because this shows how women acted and thought in the Puritan society. The women couldn’t stand out in the Puritan society beliefs because they were constantly judged and embarrassed. In the autobiography Incidence in the Life of a Slave Girl written by Harriet Jacobs, the main character Linda was a slave of Dr. Flint. She had to do as she was told otherwise she would be hurt and punished. Jacobs states that,
When he told me that I was made for his use, made to obey his command in every thing; that I was nothing but a slave, whose will must and should surrender to his, never before had my puny arm felt half so strong (Jacobs 30).
Dr. Flint tried to make Linda into a sexual object, in which this makes her realize that she needed to not conform to the societies view of slaves. Finally, leading up to Edna Pontellier, she conformed in the beginning. Once she realized that she wasn’t being treated the way she should have been, she began to act her own way and do as she pleased. Chopin states, “How many years have I slept?” she inquired. “The whole island seems changed. A new race of beings must have sprung up, leaving only you and me as past relics” (Chopin 96). In other words, Edna wanted to be isolated with Robert and free for the controlling and judgmental society that she was currently living in. In Edna’s mind, she was living in an isolated island where she got to decide what she wants to do and how to do it.
Equal rights for both men and women has been pushed by many individuals who believed it was wrong for women to inferior to men. In Ernest Hemingway’s short story, Hills Like White Elephants, women rights is especially expressed. In the 1900’s, women have stepped out of the traditional roles as housewife and being submissive. Hemingway states, “We want two Anis del Toro” (Man). “With water?” (Waitress). “Do you want it with water?” (Man) “I don’t know,” the girl said. “Is it good with water?” “It’s alright.” “You want them with water?” asked the woman. “Yes, with water” (Hemingway 476). In other words, this shows the gender roles of men and women. This quote shows that the man is ordering the drinks for both of them while the girlfriend is asking her boyfriend, which is showing that she is submissive. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, Babylon Revisited, the perspective of gender roles changes. Although Charlie was beginning to change for the better so he could have his daughter back, he still objectifies women in many ways. He was trying to make up for lost time with his daughter and care for her but he still ends up going to nude strip clubs. Marion on the hand is a very cold person towards Charlie. Fitzgerald uses this short story against women because he shows them as rude and not sympathetic. Fitzgerald states, “With each remark the force of her dislike became more and more apparent. She had built up all her fear of life into one wall and faced it toward him” (Fitzgerald 12). In other words, Marion has built up a lot of hate and dislike towards Charlie for the death of her sister. This shows the transition of women obeying men orders to women acting how they want.
Edna Pontellier in The Awakening written by Kate Chopin, is a character that defies all odds in the situation that she is in. Her husband believes that she is his property and must abide by his rules, which include watching the children and making love to him. In the time period of this novel, women were becoming more and more independent. This relates to the theme of the novel, solitude as the consequence of independence. Ms. Pontellier slowly realizes that she needs to stick up for her self and be independent instead of relying on her husband for happiness and money. This relates to both novels written by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway’s short story relates directly to the novel written by Kate Chopin because it is evident that women are inferior to men. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story relates to both of these works of literature because it shows that women have more control and thoughts then in the past.
Throughout the world, the perspective on women has changed significantly. In the past, women were looked as housewives and very inferior to men. Throughout the course of the century, women’s ideals and actions have changed. They began to explore their possibilities outside of the home and started to become independent. In Kate Chopin’s novel, Edna Pontellier is conflicted whether to conform to her husband’s requests and demands, or to do as she pleases. Edna Pontellier decides to not conform to her husband’s demands and act in her own way. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” All the women characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story and Ernest Hemingway’s short story decided to not conform to the outside forces, which were the male influences. Women roles and actions have changed significantly from the beginning of time because of the new possibilities that were presented to them.
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