The Awakening as an Allegory of Existentialism
Kate Chopin's The Awakening as the title suggests is just that‹the story of a young woman's awakening to life. Even though it is a work of fiction, the character of Edna undergoes such a radical change one cannot ignore the psychological depth of the work. The story could almost be seen as a case study. In order to analyze the work psychologically, it is important to decide which psychological framework to use. I chose the critic Cynthia Wolff who uses a Freudian framework for analysis. Wolff feels that Edna's problems are a result of oral conflicts, while I see the work as more of an allegory of existentialism, and Edna's problems are a result of a lack of Being.
Cynthia Wolff draws the reader into the Freudian framework by pointing out how cyclic Edna's life is in relation to eating and sleeping. Wolff claims, "If one were to plot the course of Edna's life during this period, the most reliable indices to the passage of time would be her meals and her periods of sleep" (Wolff 231). Since these are the most basic needs, one can quickly recognize the "infantile life-pattern" (Wolff 231) in Edna. Wolff goes on to explain that Edna does not recognize her desire for Robert to be sexual because "Edna's libidinal energies have been arrested at a pre-genital level" (Wolff 232). In Freudian terms this means that Edna's relationship to the world around her is on an oral level. This level is characteristic of very young children whose only concern is for food, and anything they can reach they attempt to put in their mouths. The "taking in" of the world in this way is the child's attempt to understand and become one with the world by internalizing it. The oral stag...
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... her. Since this would not be tolerated by the society of the day, her children would suffer because of their mot
her's behavior. Since she cannot be in a world that will not let her Be, she chooses to give up what has become to her an unessential‹life.
1The hyphens in Being-in-the-world are to show that a Being and the world are interdependent on one another and therefore inseparable.
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Wolff, Cynthia. "Thanatos and Eros." The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Ed. Margo Culley. New York: Norton, 1994. 231-41.