Edna Pontellier, the main character in Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening, is a woman trying to form her own identity, both feminine and sexually, in the repressive and Victorian Creole world of the latter nineteenth century. She is met by a counterpart, Mademoiselle Reisz, who is able to live freely as a woman. Edna herself was denied this freedom because of the respectable societal position she had been married into and because of her Presbyterian up bringing as a child. The role that Mademoiselle Reisz played within society, a society that failed to view her as being a truly respectable social member, was quite opposite to that of Edna’s respectable position in society.
Edna was ordained in the Presbyterian ways as she became an adult in Kentucky and Mississippi (Companion 123); as one critic put it, she was of “solid old Presbyterian Kentucky stock” (Petry 58). Edna was raised in a truly “restricted Victorian” (Nikerson) manner to be “an American woman…with a graceful severity of poise and movement” (Companion 123). To understand the social order she was born into you have to look at the Presbyterian background she grew up in. Presbyterianism took the view that women were “regarded as equal to men…[but women were] the weaker vessel…and should become subordinate to the husband” (Wolff 2). In broader terms, this is saying that women are equal, but are still below men in society. This construct was reinforced by the fact that “married women in Louisiana…[, in Edna’s time,] were legal property of their husbands” (Chopin 121). By a broad range, women of high Victorian society were greatly scrutinized if they tried to step out of any of the normal set boun...
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Chopin, Kate and Cully Margo, Ed. The Awakening: A Norton Critical Edition. New
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Mahon, Robert Lee. “Beyond the love triangle: trios in “The Awakening.” The Midwest
Quarterly 39.2 (1998) : 228-236.
McCoy, Thorunn Ruga. “Chopin’s ‘The Awakening.’” The Explicator 56.1 (1997):
27-26 InfroTrac SearchBank. Online. 30 Nov. 1998.
Nickerson, Megan. “Romanticism in The Awakening.” Online. 29 Nov. 1998
Petry, Alice. Critical Essays on Kate Chopin. Printice Hall International., 1996
Thorton, Lawrence. “The Awakening: A Political Romance.” American Literature
52 (1980): 50-66.
Wolff, Cynthia Griffin. “Un-utterable longing: the discourse of feminine sexuality in
‘The Awakening.’” Studies in American Fiction 24.1 (1996): 3-23. InfroTrac SearchBank. Online. 30 Nov. 1998.
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