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Women In The Awakening

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Women in the Early Nineteenth Century vs. Women in The Awakening

There are many different types of women portrayed in The Awakening. The goal of this paper is to compare and contrast the women in the book to the women during the turn of the nineteenth century and the society's reaction to the novel.. The novel shows the social constraints of women in the Victorian era. During this time, women were supposed to be docile, domestic creatures, whose main concerns in life were to be the raising of their children and submissiveness to their husbands.

The setting of The Awakening also contributes to the viewpoints as to how women were viewed at the time of the writing. The novel was published in 1899 and set in the Creole section of Louisiana. Although the feminist movement was starting to emerge in the other parts of America at this time, it was almost entirely absent in the conservative state of Louisiana. Under Louisiana law, a woman was still considered the property of her husband. "A Creole husband is 'never jealous' because the fidelity instilled in Creole women from birth ensures that a man's possession of his wife will never be challenged" (Creole). According to the Oxford Reference Online, a Creole is a "name applied to American- born descendants of the French and Spanish settlers of Latin America" (Hart). In the essay "The Southern Woman in Fiction" by Marie Fletcher, "...the Creole girl lives to become a Creole wife; she should marry once and once married, she should be a devoted and dutiful wife even though her husband and her life in general may prove anything but ideal" (Fletcher 195).

Adele Ratignolle epitomizes the ideal Creole woman. She is a devoted wife and mother who epitomizes womanly elegance and charm. Adele idolizes her children and worships her husband, centering her life around caring for them and performing her domestic duties. Even though Adele appears to be proper, she also portrays Creole mannerisms. Creole society imposes a strict code of chastity. Because the rules for behavior are so rigid, a certain freedom of expression is tolerated. The Creole women talk openly the intimacies of life such as pregnancy, undergarments, and love affairs. Adele's unintentional role in the main character's "awakening" is the effect of her words which remind Edna of the romantic dreams and fantasies of her youth.

Another supporting woman character is Mademoiselle Reisz who is characterized as a very eccentric, ugly, irritable woman who lives alone. Her interactions with the other guests on Grand Isle are distant and reserved. She is often called upon to entertain the other guests with her expert piano playing. Reisz recognizes that Edna is touched and truly moved by her music. This love of music and the arts will create an opportunity for the two to bond. Mademoiselle Reisz's living example of an entirely self-sufficient woman is an inspiration to Edna. Reisz is ruled by her art and her passions rather than the expectation of society. Mademoiselle Reisz could be seen as Edna in the future had she continued her life and remained independent of her husband and children.

The fourteen-year-old Farival twins are also musically inclined. They too entertain their fellow guests by playing the piano. They represent the destiny of adolescent Victorian girls on the road to chaste motherhood (Literature-study). The twins' piano playing is used as a way to delight others unlike the means of self-expression which is characterized by Mademoiselle Reisz.

Another symbol of Victorian society is seen in the lady in black. She is a widow who embodies the conventional expectations of a woman whose husband has died. Her solitude shows a withdrawal from life and passion due to the respect of her husband's death. She portrays the symbol of the socially acceptable husbandless woman.

The main character of the book is Edna Pontellier. Her character goes through a series of "awakenings" throughout the book. As the story opens, Edna is comfortable in her marriage but is unaware of her own feelings and ambitions. Edna is a romantic at heart but sees her marriage to Leonce as the end of her life of passion and the beginning of a life of responsibility. She is bored with her life of domesticity, and through her exposure to the uncontrolled society of Creole woman, she starts to realize the constraints of her own lifestyle. This awakening starts the recognition that she has an identity outside of that of a wife and mother.

Edna also rebels against the notion of true motherhood. It is clear in the book that she is not the motherly type by several passages. She is described in the book as "not a mother-woman" (Chopin 9). Edna neglects her children throughout the novel. She sees them as a hindrance to her freedoms. A feeling of "relief" comes to her when her children are away. Edna even acts irresponsibly when she leaves them in the care of the pregnant Madame Ratignolle so she can pursue her lover Robert. Throughout the book, her 'out of sight, out of mind" attitude prevails concerning her children. In Chapter XVI, Edna has a significant conversation with Adele Ratignolle and declares:

I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself. I can't make it more clear; it's only something which I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me (Chopin 46).

Edna is unwilling to give up her individuality for her children, although she would give her life for them. Edna is not satisfied with devoting her life to her husband and children, she craves more, she needs to be her own person. She wants to be Edna, a woman, instead of merely a mother or wife.

Another influence on the "awakening" of Edna is the sea. The sea symbolizes freedom and escape. Edna's first swim symbolizes both rebirth and maturation. As she descends to the beach, she is described as a "little tottering, stumbling, clutching child, who...walks for the first time alone" (Chopin 27). Before her awakening, Edna is afraid of the sea's embrace, feeling an "ungovernable dread...when in the water, unless there was a hand near by that might reach out and reassure her" (27). The beginning of the book describes the sea as "seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in the abysses of solitude, to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation" (27). The sea symbolizes truth and loneliness.

In developing a relationship with Robert, Edna has begun to develop and explore her own identity. She has discovered her own inner power and has begun to rebel against the way society would



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