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The Importance of Male Characters to Kate Chopin

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The Importance of Male Characters to Kate Chopin

Why and how does she use them?

Kate Chopin is an author who examines the position of women in 19th

century Louisiana. She describes their plight, living in a society

designed by men, one that confines women’s behavior. It was

imperative for Kate Chopin to highlight her male characters, as they

ultimately are responsible for her heroines’ actions. The “Awakening”

and “Desiree’s Baby” are two examples that deal with the issues

resulting from a male dominant society, though the stories vary in

their approach. Men and marriage are however the common factors that

symbolize the obstacles that Kate Chopin’s women face.

In “The Awakening” Edna, the main character enjoys being married at

first but later she finds it to be very limiting and oppressive. A

free spirit by nature, she rebels against her husband and the life

that he stands for. She hates the implications that women in her

society “belong” to men, and that their place is at home doing

domestic chores and raising children. This impression is reinforced

when Kate Chopin lets the reader view the situation through Edna’s

eyes, saying that women are regarded “as one looks at a valuable piece

of property…” (p.11) Furthermore, men decide women’s role in life

declaring that “if it is not a (woman’s) place to look after children,

who on earth was it?” (p.15) This role is so precisely defined,

ensuring that women will stay within the walls of the house with their

families.

Marriage was the process by which men gained total control over women.

The author indicates that a marriage at that period of time was not

always carefully planned but was rather a spontaneous and passionate

act. For example, Edna’s “ma...

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... was arrogant and overconfident of himself

and his heritage, and was sure that the fault was Desiree’s never

questioning his own ancestry. By jumping to conclusions he never gave

her a chance to explain herself to him. At the end, Desiree who had

been overwhelmed and desperate drowned herself and her baby.

Kate Chopin developed her female characters as reaction to male

attitudes. She used men, marriage and the rules by which women were

confined to demonstrate her point. She described men as the ones who

placed obstacles in women’s way, created social rules and put

restrictions that confined their lives. These boundaries were at times

physical but almost always emotional, and eliciting defiant behavior

and reactions from the women involved. Placed by men, these

limitations helped in shaping the female character of Kate Chopin’s

heroines in her stories.
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