Foils to Edna in The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Length: 360 words (1 double-spaced pages)
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In The Awakening, Chopin sets up two characters main characters and a subsidiary female character to serve as foils to Edna. The main characters are Adele Ratignolle, "the bygone heroine of romance" (888), and Mademoiselle Reisz, the musician who devoted her life to music, rather than a man. Edna falls somewhere in between the two, but distinctly recoils with disgust from the type of life her friend Adele leads: "In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman." Adele Ratignolle and Mademoiselle Reisz, the two important female principle characters, provide the two different identities Edna associates with. Adele serves as the perfect "mother-woman" in The Awakening, being both married and pregnant, but Edna does not follow Adele's footsteps. For Edna, Adele appears unable to perceive herself as an individual human being. She possesses no sense of herself beyond her role as wife and mother, and therefore Adele exists only in relation to her family, not in relation to herself or the world. Edna desires individuality, and the identity of a mother-woman does not provide that. In contrast to Adele Ratignolle, Mademoiselle Reisz offers Edna an alternative to the role of being yet another mother-woman. Mademoiselle Reisz has in abundance the autonomy that Adele completely lacks. However, Reisz's life lacks love, while Adele abounds in it. Mademoiselle Reisz's loneliness makes clear that an adequate life cannot build altogether upon autonomy. Although she has a secure sense of her own individuality and autonomy, her life lacks love, friendship, or warmth. Later in the novel we are introduced to another character, her name is Mariequita. Mariequita is described as an exotic black-eyed Spanish girl, whom Edna looks upon with affectionate curiosity. Unlike the finely polished heroine, Mariequita walks on "broad and coarse" bare feet, which she does not "strive to hide". This strikes Edna with a refreshing sense of admiration. To her, the girl's soiled feet symbolize naked freedom, unconstrained by the apparel of civilization. Thus, Edna finds her rather beautiful. Mariequita is more like an unrefined version of Edna, that is, her instinctual self. At times, Mariequita ventures to express the thoughts that are secretly buried in Edna's unconscious.
For instance, she asks Robert whether Edna is his "sweetheart". This considerably baffles the lovers, because of its straightforwardness. In fact, it takes almost the entire novel for Edna to mimic the girl's courage by telling him that she cares for him. In the end, what Edna chooses for her identity is a combination of Adele Ratignolle and Mademoiselle Reisz and Mariequita. She chooses to be more honest in self-awareness than Adele, more dependent on human relationships than Reisz and remain more subdued than Mariequita.