Breaking Free From Society in Kate Chopin's The Awakening


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Kate Chopin's The Awakening takes place during the late 1800's in New Orleans, Louisiana. The protagonist, Edna Pontellier, fights to obtain independence, which places her in opposition to society. Her society believed that a married woman needed to make both her husband's and children's needs her first priority. Her duty included chores around the house and obeying her husband's demands. Chopin focuses triumph as the theme in The Awakening, as Edna unleashes her true identity in her society.

 

Edna's triumph began early in the book when she initially realized her desire to rebel against her husband's commands, unlike her habitual obedience to him in prior years. The narrator described Edna's changed behavior when she stated, "She could not at that moment have done other than denied and resisted. She wondered if her husband had ever spoken to her like that before, and if she had submitted to his command (Chopin 41)." Edna considered her past and found it almost incomprehensible that she dealt with his demands for so long. When she realized her fault, Edna determined to change her behavior, regardless of her society's position.

 

Edna feared nothing when forced to make major decisions. She attempted to rise above society and the conditions forced upon her to act as the proper housewife who tended to her husband's every command. Edna often visited the ocean because it provided her with the strength and power to stand up to her husband and her society. Edna stated, "How few of us even emerge from such a beginning" (Chopin 17), which clearly demonstrated that she felt vast changes with her emotions and ideas, which allowed her to begin a new life. The sea, which Chopin described during the novel represented Edna's chance to break free and start over; "The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in abysses of solitude" (Chopin 152). The ocean water symbolized of cleanliness and re-birth which provided Edna a new sense of freedom, strength and bravery.

 

Edna's awakening to society and her new self-awareness became her own fantasy. Edna stated, "The years that are gone seem like dreams- if one might go on sleeping and dreaming- but to wake up and find- oh! well! Perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one's life" (Chopin 147).

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Her statement demonstrates her complete interest in her re-birth causing her to dream of acting unlike a woman in the "real world". Edna risked not only her image, but also her family's image. Later, the narrator referred to Edna's feelings as, "She thought of Leonce and the children. They were a part of her life. But they need not have thought that they could possess her, body and soul" (Chopin 152). Edna chose to cheat on her husband and abandon her children at times to satisfy her wants and needs, because she felt society should not control her body and soul. Her independence lured her into a world completely separated from society due to her desire to change the cultural beliefs.

 

Edna's self-determination to start a new life and to break free from society's chains provided a triumph. Her willpower to risk it all: her children, her image and her life, provided a strong personality for a female character during her time period. Edna provided an example for all women to follow in attempts to further their position in society. She demonstrated that a woman has the ability, at any time, to feel, "...like some new-born creature, opening its eyes in a familiar world that it had never known" (Chopin 152). Edna Pontellier struggled; however, due to her will power and courage, she broke free from her society's strict boundaries and became, beyond doubt, a triumph.

 

 


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