The Awakening: America Was Not Ready For Edna Pontellier

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The late nineteenth century was a time of great social, technological, and cultural change for America. Boundaries were rapidly evolving. New theories challenging age-old beliefs were springing up everywhere, such as Darwin's natural selection. This post-Civil War era also gave men and women opportunities to work side-by-side, and in 1848, the first woman's rights conference was held in Seneca Fall, New York.

These events leading up to the twentieth century had polished the way for the new, independent woman to be introduced. Women "at all levels of society were active in attempts to better their lot, and the 'New Woman,' the late nineteenth-century equivalent of the 'liberated woman,' was much on the public mind" (Culley 117). Women were finally publicly discussing private matters and gaining on their male counterparts’ socioeconomic status, and in 1899, in the midst of the women's movement, American society seemed ready for Kate Chopin’s newest invention, Edna Pontellier.

Madame Edna Pontellier, wife of wealthy and much respected Leonce Pontellier, had the perfect life. Vacationing in Grand Isle, living in a mansion, raising her two boys, Edna seemed untroubled and well cared for. But one cannot see another’s private distresses from the outside. Entrapped by the sequestering tomb of the mindsets of her time and starved for freedom and expression, Edna was willing to give up her life to break free. Because of these traits, Edna exemplified the ideal New Woman. She had freedom of choice, courage, passion, and was fearless. Edna Pontellier was the role model for women striving for the same social ideals; they wanted to be her. All this, and Chopin’s ethos with her well written plethora of short stories and her prospero...

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