Mrs. Edna Pontellier: A Real American Woman

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Until the middle of the twentieth century, females were in an inferior position to males in all aspects of society. Women who wanted to deviate from the norm were often restrained by males and isolated in a sphere of society’s “perfectly submissive housewife”, a stereotype which women of the world eventually shattered. Kate Chopin accomplished this through her realist piece, The Awakening. In The Awakening, Mr. and Mrs. Pontellier have retreated to their summer home, located on Grand Isle, just south of New Orleans. While on the Isle, Mr. Léonce Pontellier is often occupied with business affairs or otherwise absent and spends most evenings dining at the club instead of the house. Mrs. Edna Pontellier is responsible for what may be considered duties of housewifery, including caring for the children—although it is often the case that others are looking after them. She chooses to spend her days working in her atelier, resting on the porch, and swimming, usually with her slightly younger companion, Robert, whom she has developed a unique fondness for. Although outward appearances may regard them as a typical, upper-middle class, American family, a glimpse into the inner-workings of their home, marriage, and thoughts would suggest otherwise. As the summer progresses, Mrs. Pontellier finds herself being continuously intrigued by and wanting to spend more time with Robert. The pair often walks or swims together, and the combination of time with Robert and the “voice of the sea” appear to propel her through a literal awakening, in which she recognizes her desire to become independent of the social bounds of marriage—free to do as she pleases (Chopin 571). She decides then that “She [wants] to swim far out, where no woman [has] swum befo... ... middle of paper ... ...edicating herself to any of the available social roles leads her to abandon all of them in favor of an enticing yet ever elusive freedom” (Ramos 147). Arguably, Kate Chopin used realist writing such as The Awakening to break through the barriers built up by society’s image of male superiority and female acquiescence and push American literature deeper into an era of modernity. Works Cited Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. 1899. 1865-1914. Ed. Nina Baym and Robert S. Levine. 8th ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2012. 561-652. Print. Vol. C of The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ramos, Peter. "Unbearable Realism: Freedom, Ethics and Identity in 'The Awakening.'" College Literature 37.4 (2010): 145-65. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 28 May 2014. .
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