The Awakening By Kate Chopin: Society's Expectations Of Women
Although it can be said that Edna Pontellier from The Awakening by Kate Chopin, was once a model character of what a woman should be, she defies what society claims a woman should be throughout the novel. As a woman of this time period, she is expected to be a loving wife, a caring mother, and a woman who lives by the expectations of society. Edna is shown to be anything but that of which a woman is defined as, instead is portrayed as a woman who does not conform to society’s expectations of females.
Chopin’s main argument that she is trying to represent the fact that women in society had expectations that were they were expected to adhere to without questioning or complaining. Chopin challenges the time period’s norms by making Edna challenge the fact that women are to be model wives, mothers and women of society by moving out of the house that she shares with Mr. Pontellier and beginning to make her own decisions while gaining her independence from society and its expectations. Edna can be shown as being untroubled with defying society’s expectations as a female. She has made a home that makes her happy and is finally able to see herself as an independent woman. “The pigeon-house pleased her. It at once assumed the intimate character of a home, while she herself invested it with a charm which it reflected like a warm glow”. Not only is she free to live on her own, but she is free to make her own decisions and follow her desires. She feels as if she is now independent from the expectations of her from society. Living in the pigeon house also allows Edna to not have to entertain guests or have parties like she was obligated to do previously since it was a social necessity to uphold the Pontellier’s societal status. Chopin uses the technique of imagery when she uses the terms “intimate character of a home, ” meaning that most homes were the same. Then she goes on to say that Edna “invested it with charm, ” meaning that Edna has made her new home different than the rest by making it her own. This is another example of how Edna defies the norms of the society around her.
Chopin then uses symbolization when she refers to the home saying that it “reflected like a warm glow. ” Here she refers to the glow as Edna’s new home reflecting her new-found happiness. All in all, Edna is satisfied with the new life she is creating despite the fact that she is defying society’s expectations of what a woman should embody by creating the pigeon house her own home which resembles her and her new desires. Chopin goes on to describe the consequences Edna will be facing as she chooses to defy society’s views on women. “There was with her a feeling of having descended in the social scale, with a corresponding sense of having risen in the spiritual”.
Edna has now fallen off the highly upheld social scale that women in the time period are expected to adhere to, but none the less she is contented with this consequence. It is her price to pay in order to obtain the life that she wants to have. Falling off the social scale allows for her to reinforce the desires that she is having regarding her independence and is able to finally raise her spirits. Edna’s rising in her spiritual life and decreasing in her social status, shows how she unconfirms from society in an attempt to obtain happiness and independence she desires. Chopin portrays Edna with a tone of being optimistic. She is shown as being optimistic that despite losing her status in society, she will in turn become fulfilled in her new life as an independent woman.
Throughout the novel, readers see Edna as struggling to adapt to society’s outlook on how women are supposed to act, but instead she is defying those outlooks. “Every step which she took toward relieving herself from obligations added to her strength and expansion as an individual”. Edna tries to alleviate herself from what society expects her to do in order to properly take care of her family. For example, she does not act as a proper wife when she is not home to receive her weekly Tuesday visitors. She is expected to receive visitors at her home as she had done for the past 6 years, but this particular Tuesday she decided that she wanted to go out and leaves no excuse for her visitors other than she is not home. Here she makes the decision on her own to not do what is expected of her, but instead do what she feels like doing that day no matter what the consequences might be.
Another example of how Edna relieves herself from her obligations and becomes her own person is how she treats her husband and children. Her actions reflect more of what she wants and how she feels rather than taking into consideration how she is supposed to act as a wife and mother. When she is in Grand Isle, Mr. Pontellier comes home from Klein’s hotel and tells her that her son is sick. She does not attend to Raoul until he keeps going on about how it was a mother’s duty to look after her children. She also leaves the children with their quadroon nurse more than she takes care of them. Chopin refers to Edna as not being a “mother-woman. ” A mother-woman is said to be “fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children, worshipped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels”.
Edna does not reflect any of the traits that a mother-woman should possess, and she does not intend to ever reflect these traits as she longs to be the complete opposite. Edna also does not depict the societal norm of a wife either. She shows no affection towards her husband, she cheats on him with Alcee Arobin, and she falls in love with Robert. All of these examples disclose that Edna is eluding her expected obligations as both a wife and mother that other women in society uphold. Edna’s is now able to see to what she has been missing in her life while she has been conforming to what society expects of her as a woman. “She began to look with her own eyes; to see and to apprehend the deeper undercurrents of life”. She is now able to experience things on her own terms independently despite what the consequences might entail for her. Her eyes are no longer clouded with what her husband and society has expected of her. “No longer was she content to ‘feed upon opinion’ when her own soul had invited her”. Edna is finally able to act upon how she has always felt inside her soul. She never wanted to adhere to the norms of the time period, she never wanted to be controlled by anything but her own decisions. She is finally breaking free of the conformity that society has put on the shoulders of women. She is no longer feeding upon the opinion of others, but instead is feeding on her soul and her new independence. Edna has now pushed herself so far out of society with her longing for independence and freedom that she becomes alone with no one to love. Living in the time period that she is, does not allow for her to be independent and still be a part of the society she lives in. Breaking free from society has made her an outcast from the people she once called friends and family.
In the end, her need to defy society and act upon her own impulses eventually lead to her death. She now is experiencing confliction with her new independence and being able to love who she wants. Edna never resolves this confliction, but instead she wades into the ocean and gives up her battle with trying to resolve it by killing herself. Chopin leaves readers with Edna’s suicide by having them question if Edna’s overpowering desire for her own freedom and independence from her society’s norms was truly worth losing everything she once cared for, including her own life.
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