Evaluation of Mother-Women in Chopin’s The Awakening


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Evaluation of Mother-Women in Chopin’s The Awakening

In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman. The mother women seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels. (p.29)

She was fond of her children in an uneven, impulsive way. She would sometimes gather them passionately to her heart; she would sometimes forget them. The year before they
had spent part of the summer with their grandmother Pontellier in Iberville. Feeling secure regarding their happiness and welfare, she did not miss them except with an occasional intense longing. Their absence was a sort of relief, though she did not admit this, even to herself. It seemed to free her of a responsibility which she had blindly assumed and for which Fate had not fitted her. (p. 40)

Reading the above two passages it is clear that Mrs. Pontellier feels she is different from other mothers. She is not a "mother-woman". Those maternal beings are "angels" who "flutter" about and protect their children, even if they are in no danger. They are not flesh and blood women with lives of their own. Surely they must have begun life that way, but the passage claims that as they "minister" to their children they "grow wings and become angels. Mrs. Pontellier's use of words such as "minister", "angel" and "worship" must mean that she thinks of motherhood as a religion. While the description of these "mother-women" might imply that they are angelic and selfless, in reality their identity (and existence) depends upon their husband and children. They exist only in a familial context. Without their children they would be nothing. If their children are in no real danger, then the "mother-women" must imagine a threat in order to justify their existence. The use of the word "efface" is strong and telling. It literally means "to remove the face". The reader gathers that neither Mrs. Pontellier nor Kate Chopin admires this type of woman.

In order to be socially acceptable in Kate Chopin's time, one certainly needed a husband to have children. Neither of these passages directly refers to Mr. Pontellier. However, since Mrs. Pontellier is not a "mother-woman", the reader can assume that she does not therefore "worship" her husband.

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Mr. Pontellier is present only in the form of his mother, a "mother-woman" who can insure the "happiness and welfare" of her grandchildren. The passage implies that Mrs. Pontellier believes that her mother-in-law can take better care of the children than herself. However, Chopin shows us that there is still fighting spirit left in Mrs. Pontellier because she states that this visit to the triumphant grandmother occurred "last year". This summer the children are with her - for better or worse. Mrs. Pontellier relieves herself of the responsibility of not being a "mother- woman" because she insists that "Fate had not fitted her" for the job of raising children. Fate, not God? Obviously though, such a claim does not relieve her guilt.

Kate Chopin's evaluation of the "mother-women" is timeless and right- on- the- money. In this paper I refer to "mother-women" in the present tense not only because Chopin does, but also because these women still exist. I have known many and like Mrs. Pontellier I too have felt both guilt and relief that I am not one. Chopin's description of Mrs. Pontellier's maternal feelings as "uneven" and "impulsive" is so realistic, it is disturbing Although we think we have nothing in common with our ancestral mothers, The Awakening proves us wrong. Whatever the era, motherhood is a fluid and changing state of being.



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