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Women and Society in The Awakening and The Father of Désirée’s Baby

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Kate Chopin’s texts The Awakening and “The Father of Désirée’s Baby” explore themes such as the societal conventions placed on women in the late 1800’s and the role of women in the (institution) of marriage. The women of the texts: Edna Pontellier, Chopin’s protagonist in The Awakening and Désirée, Chopin’s protagonist in the “The Father of Désirée’s Baby” both die tragically, due to their inability to upkeep the social values placed upon them. Because both of the women take their own lives at the end of the text, the underlying message Chopin seems to be conveying is one of warning: a warning to those women who have supposedly been inappropriate in marriage by highlighting the consequences; death. However, this reading of the texts is a limited one because it does not look at how the lives of the women in the text reflected the lives of women at the time that Chopin was writing. The fact that both women commit suicide end of the novel suggests that within the texts is Chopin’s social commentary on the difference in status between women and men. Men, do not (and are not expected) to assume any responsibility for the failure of their marriage, the onus of responsibility is on the women. In both The Awakening and “The Father of Désirée’s Baby,” the implications of the endings are Chopin’s critique on the lack of status and agency women have in the 18th century.

Chopin`s critique in the novels stems from the fact that both Edna and Desirée fail to live up to their societies ideals. In, The Awakening, Edna fails to uphold the Victorian feminine ideal. During the early stages of Edna’s awakening and after she has been ‘awakened,’ Edna often laments on how different she is from Adèle Ratignolle, (who represents the Victorian feminine...

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...re driven to death by the society they live in.

In both of the texts, it is the women who must pay for the unfairness in the society that they live in, which is what Chopin is commenting on by implying that death is the only option women have. Chopin highlights how problematic it is that a woman must either renounce her independence/innocence or die, through the stories of Désirée and Edna. Each woman chooses to end her life because she feels as though there is no place for her in society, and thus instead of living in a society that doesn’t accommodate difference, they would rather die.

Works Cited

Chopin, Kate. "The Awakening." Seyersted, Per. The Complete Works of Kate Chopin Volume II. New Orleans: Louisiana, 1969. 881-1000.

Chopin, Kate. "The Father Of Désirée's Baby." Knights, Pamela. The Awakening and Other Stories. New York: Oxford, 2000. 193-198.