Edna Pontellier Does Not Fail to
Identify Herself but Fails to Identify With Other People
Kate Chopin’s Edna Pontellier in The Awakening created uproar in
contemporary times due to her neglect of socially constructed roles and
ultimate suicide at the end of the novel.
Edna’s seeming abandonment of her duties as a mother and a wife to
pursue love interests and other creative desires as an independent woman
conflicted with the standards for women during the late 19th and
early 20th century. Her
suicide was not only deemed immoral by the religiously-driven notions at the
time but continues to be questioned today; more so, critics question what drove
Edna to suicide? A popular opinion is
that Edna could not find an identity and this lack of purpose or certainty of self
leads to the ultimate abandonment, that of life. However, there is a clear defense that Edna
knew exactly who she was as a person and was unwilling to sacrifice any part of
her identity in order to fit a niche dictated to her by a patriarchal society. I think that one can delve further into this
subject to say that this failure to find a suitable place in society where she
could truly be herself confounded with her inability to fraternize with other
women, which could have potentially aided in creating such a place within
society, were what drove her to her assumed suicide. Edna could not escape the confines of her
world, such as her role as a mother, nor could she create a new woman’s role
due to her failure to bond with other women. Continue reading
I have chosen The Awakening by Kate Chopin, her second and final novel which was originally published in 1899. The book caused much controversy and was not thought of as canonical by contemporary critics because it supported immoral actions as illustrated through the main character Edna who commits acts of infidelity. More recently, the novel has earned a spot in the canon for its rich detail, ironic narrative voice, and themes of patriarchy, marriage and motherhood, and woman’s independence, desire, and sexuality.
I have previously read this book during my junior year of English in high school. It was my favorite novel we read because I loved the main character Edna. She craved independence and refused to settle for the life of responsibility that society had dictated for her. Although her actions were often times selfish in her quest to fulfill her wants and desires (such as abandoning her children), I found her rich character and rebelliousness interesting, if not always inspiring. Edna’s strength to break the confines society had set upon her is something I’m eager to study from a more academic perspective, opposed to my original, personal reading of the book. Chopin wrote the book before the movement for woman’s independence had gained momentum, and although women would gain the right to vote in proceeding years, it would be decades before women would be allowed to acknowledge and express their sexual desires without backlash from society (some would argue that there is still heavy judgement and double-standards in modern day.)
I’m looking forward to studying the novel from a more analytical base so that I can understand the controversy behind it. During my first reading we did not necessarily explore the book in depth, nor did we discuss how it was received during the time it was originally released. There are many sources available on the MLA International Bibliography and having read through several I am very excited to begin further analysis of this novel.
I intend to study Kate Chopin’s novel “The Awakening” for my research in order to explore the controversy surrounding this story of gender roles. “The Awakening” was first published in 1899 and was welcomed by some critics and attacked by others. Depicting the life of a Creole wife in Louisiana essentially shedding her roles as wife and mother to explore her sensual desires in an affair, Kate Chopin’s novel outraged some audiences in the twentieth century because of its portrayal of gender conformity and social accommodation. Chopin illustrates the repercussions of social norms and the journey to self-realization through the protagonist’s separation from her family and
I chose this particular novel because although I have encountered it in classes in the past, I would like to further my research in its controversial depiction of women’s roles in
twentieth century society. I first read “The Awakening” my senior year of high
school and even in the small class of fifteen students there were many
different reactions to the text, similar to the critics’ reviews after the
novel was first published. Some students applauded Chopin’s description of a woman’s
quest for individual meaning and pleasure in life, while others detested the work
because of the harsh depiction of marriage and parenting in twentieth century society.
With this in mind, I wish to explore the difficult issues of gender roles and
learn more about the shifting views of critics over time in regards to Chopin’s
work. This research will shed light on the sociological impact of gender
conformity and domesticity in the early twentieth century. Ever since the novel’s
publication, critics have discussed its portrayals of feminism and self
realization, thus producing many articles and books linking Kate Chopin’s work
to other feminist writers. I hope to study contrasting critics’ views to gain a
thorough understanding of “The Awakening” and women’s roles in society.