During the late nineteenth century, the time of protagonist Edna Pontellier, a woman's place in society was confined to worshipping her children and submitting to her husband. Kate Chopin's novel, The Awakening, encompasses the frustrations and the triumphs in a woman's life as she attempts to cope with these strict cultural demands. Defying the stereotype of a "mother-woman," Edna battles the pressures of 1899 that command her to be a subdued and devoted housewife. Although Edna's ultimate suicide is a waste of her struggles against an oppressive society, The Awakening supports and encourages feminism as a way for women to obtain sexual freedom, financial independence, and individual identity. Feminism is commonly thought of as a tool for educating society on the rights of women.
McKnight, Natalie. Suffering Mothers in Mid-Victorian Novels. New York: St. Martin’s, 1997. Shiman, Lillian Lewis. Women and Leadership in Nineteenth-Century England.
Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is set in the mid nineteenth century, during the Victorian era where class and gender roles are clearly defined in the patriarchal society. The general ideology of the era expresses the idea that if gender categories were not maintained as binary oppositions, catastrophic chaos would likely ensue (Gill, 109). Throughout the novel, Jane is faced with the issue of oppression. The typical characteristics of an ideal female in Victorian society would include submissiveness, simple dress, low ambition, longing for a male love interest and passiveness. Bronte clearly shows her stance on this Victorian ideology as Jane often challenges those social institutions and changes her place in society, although she often settles for the status quo for certain periods of time.
Wojtczak, Helena. “Pregnancy and Childbirth.” English Social History: Women of Nineteenth-Century Hastings and St.Leonards. An Illustrated Historical Miscellany. The Hastings Press. The Victorian Web: Literature, History, and Culture in the age of Victoria.
America: From the Age of Discovery to a World at War, 1492-1914. Thomas Nelson Inc, 2006. Print Jordan-Lake, Joy. Whitewashing Uncle Tom's Cabin: Nineteenth-Century Women Novelists Respond to Stowe, Vanderbilt University Press, 2005. Print Tompkins, Jane.
Reading Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre through a feminist perspective reveals Jane’s fight for independence, individuality, and equality in a society controlled and dominated by men. Before Jane’s situation can be dissected thoroughly, however, one has to put the Victorian era into perspective. In Victorian England the woman’s main purpose was to “serve others…please her husband and society,” (Barrera, “Etiquette of a Victorian Lady”). As well women were for years the managers of the household and, therefore, confined to it and all of its duties. Even the clothing that women wore served only to emphasize the womanly parts and the “separation from the world of work” (Abrams, “Ideals of Womanhood in Victorian Britain”).
Women at the time were typically unable to better educate themselves beyond minimal knowledge of household duties because in essence men ruled society. “A woman was inferior to a mam in all ways except the unique one that counted most [to a man]: her femininity. Her place was in the home, on a veritable pedestal if one could be afforded, and emphatically not in the world of affairs” (Altick, 54). “Current views concerning Victorian femininity continued to be dominated by the 19th century concept of domestic purity and the association figure of the ideal woman, the ‘angle in the house’, carrying out her mission as wife, mother and daughter” (Swisher). During this era men had ... ... middle of paper ... ...n People and Ideas.
Smith, Bonnie G. Changing Lives: Women in European History Since 1700. Lexington; D.C. Heath and Company, 1989. Print. Sun-Joo Lee, Julia. “The (Slave) Narrative of Jane Eyre” Victorian Literature and Culture 36.2 (2008): 317-329.
New York: Person Longman, 2006. Fortin, Elaine. "Early Nineteenth Century Attitudes Toward Women and Their Roles as Represented by Literature Popular in Worcester, Massachusetts." Teach US History. http://www.teachushistory.org/detocqueville-visit-united-states/articles/early-19th-century-attitudes-toward-women-their-roles.