The Awakening and Edna Pontellier Essay example

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Kate Chopin's The Awakening: Themes and Analysis by Ryan Cofrancesco When we meet Edna Pontellier early in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening she is living a prescribed life of nearly automatonic service. Although she is living in the upper echelons of New Orleans’ Creole society, she is not happy. She is bonded to the prominent aspects of her life by social obligation. Child care and social appearance attempt to act as a replacement in her life for aesthetic experience and personal accomplishment or enrichment. Edna’s awakening began during her family’s time at their summer home in Grand Isle, Louisiana. She spent those days of summer weather near the beach with a male companion who appreciated her and truly conversed with her. "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" (p. 14). She was awakening to the reality that she was living as an object; most people around her treated her as a means to some end, rather than the end herself. Nearly the entirety of this novel is a continuous climax in which Edna is changing herself - aiming to reclaim her self and become her own person.

In a way similar to that of the black slave of the ante-bellum American south, Edna’s discontent arose only with knowledge of her situation. When she first began to sense it, "An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish" (p. 8). When that anguish, caused by the inattention and scolding of her husband, brought her to tears, she dismissed it as "just having a good cry all to herself" (p. 8). She did this crying alone, as she had no outlet with whom to share these emotions. Her society saw frank expression of any sort to be unwomanly and, "She had all her life long been accustomed to harbor thoughts and emotions which never voiced themselves" (p. 46). She had indeed mastered a dual life, mixing "that outward existence which conforms, [and] the inward life which questions" (p. 14). The diction of this sentence appears to be quite important: that outward conformity is aptly described as an "existence," where as "life" comes with the forbidden questioning. This realization initially met with difficulty. "She was seeking herself and finding herself in just such sweet, half-darkness which met her moods...She carried in her hands a thin handkerchief, which she tore into ribbons, rolled into a ball, and flung from her. Once she stopped, and taking off her wedding ring, flung it upon the carpet. When she saw it lying there, she stamped her heel upon it, striving to crush it" (p. 50). This was the first physical manifestation of her discontent that is shown. But, her failure to destroy the wedding band is followed by a wave of passion in which "she seized a glass vase from the table and flung it upon the tiles of the hearth. She wanted to destroy something. The crash and clatter were what she wanted to hear" (p. 51). Civility soon reclaimed her, but drowsy acceptance of her place in life did not. Just as a slave who has tasted freedom can never be satisfied with bondage again, so Edna was not going to be duped into happiness by the material and social patterns she had conformed to in the past. "She began to do as she liked and to feel as she liked" (p. 54). She had begun a physical and psychic change that practically had the effect of making her a different woman. Robert Lebrun, the man with whom Edna aspired to feel the new experience of passionate love, made the complimentary observation to Leonce that, "’Some way she doesn’t seem like the same woman’" (p. 59). Because of these changes, "There was with her a feeling of having descended in the social scale, with a corresponding sense of having risen in the spiritual" (p. 89). A large part of this metamorphosis was to cast off all parts of her