Redefining Womanhood Through Rebellion in The Awakening

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The Awakening by Kate Chopin contradicts the popular nineteenth century image of the ideal southern woman as the main character, Edna Pontellier, gradually realizes her dissatisfaction with her life and discovers she was meant to live for something more. This kind of thinking was unheard of during this time period, and the novel soon raised significant controversy and was “banned from the [libraries’] shelves in response to negative and damning reviews” (Dyer 19). The novel redefines femininity by showing that women do not have to be limited by domesticity or submission.
At the beginning of the novel, it is obvious that Edna’s marriage to Léonce is not entirely stable. Like every other woman during this time, she is seen as inferior to him. According to Carol Lasser and Stacey M. Robertson, “Female subordination [was] demanded in marriage, [and] the traditional rights conferred on wives to demand support and maintenance, and the ways in which a single woman might hold independent property and contract as an individual, are known as the feme sole” (4). Léonce pays little attention to Edna and constantly ridicules her for her mistakes: “He reproached his wife with her in attention, her habitual neglect of the children” (Chopin 7). Eventually, Edna grows tired of being humiliated by her husband and obeying his every command. This, combined with her newly-found love for her best friend and confidant, Robert Lebrun, gradually drives Edna Pontellier to completely rethink her life and defy her social rules that came along with, not only womanhood, but with the aristocracy as well. For example, one Tuesday, Edna refuses to participate in the social tradition of staying home to “greet” people and accept cards from friends and acquaintanc...

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...grets. According to Anne Firor Scott, “many women assumed that if they were unhappy or discontented in the ‘sphere to which God had appointed them’ it must be their own fault and that by renewed effort they could do better” (11-12).

Works Cited

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. New York: Avon, 1972. Print.
Dyer, Joyce. "Critical Reception." The Awakening: A Novel of Beginnings. New York: Twayne, 1988. 18-29. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.
Farnham, Christie. The Education of the Southern Belle: Higher Education and Student Socialization in the Antebellum South. New York: New York UP, 1994. 39-43. Print.
Lasser, Carol, and Stacey M. Robertson. Antebellum Women: Private, Public, Partisan. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010. 1-21. Print.
Scott, Anne Firor. The Southern Lady: From Pedestal to Politics, 1830-1930. Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 1995. 4-79. Print.
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