Strength in Struggle: Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening

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Strength in Struggle

Many readers see the actions of Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening as those of a feminist martyr. Edna not only defies her husband and commits adultery, but chooses death over life in a society that will not grant her gender equality. Although this reading may fit, it is misguided in that it ignores a basic aspect of Chopin’s work, the force that causes Mrs. Mallard’s happiness in “The Story of an Hour” upon the news of her husbands death, “that blind persistence in which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature” (Chopin 353). While it is true that when Chopin wrote, women were most likely to be denied the pursuit of individuality, analyzing her work through a strictly gender minded lens limits her impact. The importance of Chopin’s work is the portrayal of characters who are engaged in the pursuit of an idiosyncratic desire. The institution of marriage is one which is most likely to infringe upon individual rights. Thus, it is the basis for many of Chopin’s stories. Therefore, along the way we learn that while Chopin believes that although marriage often stifles individuality, it does not have to. In the work of Chopin we see men and women who will go to any length to pursue a strong enough desire. These characters are often unsure of the nature of their desire. The pursuit of these characters is strengthened when they perceive their desire to be futile. Chopin portrays characters who struggle with the institution of marriage or society’s expectations of them. In most cases, they choose to pursue their individual desire rather than fulfill society’s expectations. Chopin believes that individual desire knows no boundaries, is often uncerta...

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