The Awakening by Kate Chopin introduces the reader to the life of Edna Pontellier, a woman with an independent nature searching for her true identity in a patriarchal society that expects women to be nothing more than devoted wives and nurturing mothers.
The Awakening begins in the vacation spot of Grand Isle. At first we believe that Grand Isle is a utopia, wealthy families relaxing at oceanside, but it is here where Edna first begins to realize her unhappiness. The first sign of dissatisfaction is when Edna allows herself to feel that her marriage is unsatisfying, yet she must agree with the other women that Leonce Pontellier is the perfect husband. Edna asks herself that if she has a good husband but is unhappy, then should marriage be a piece of her life.
Edna has two close relationships with other males in the book but both prove unsatisfying, and a block to her independence. The first relationship is with Robert Lebrun. They swim, they chat on the porch and offer each other companionship. This is a flirtatious relationship, a relationship similar to those Robert has had previous summers with other married women; but different because Edna, being a "foreigner", allows herself to take Robert seriously and she falls in love with him. This proves tragic because during the course of the novel the two will pine for each other, but Robert not wanting to ruin his reputation as a "gentleman" moves to Mexico. Even after his return the two meet for a short time and then again Robert flees before anything happens.
Edna begins to question her role as mother. Edna's husband scolds her for her insensitivity to her children. Although Edna is fond of her children she, unlike the other women on Gra...
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...here is an ideal truth greater than that of motherhood. Motherhood becomes another allusion that Edna must dispel. That final truth, the greater truth, can not coexist with the social, moral, or the biological obligations of motherhood. Edna's suicide is tragic and victorious. Tragic, because Edna could not become the person she wanted to be because of the restrictions society placed on mothers; victorious, because Edna did not conform to a patriarchal society.
The main question Chopin ponders in this novel is can a woman have both a marriage and children while fulfilling an independent life. Although the ending is not a very happy one, it shows the process of a woman struggling for self-survival. The Awakening shows Edna at the mercy of a devoted husband, a hot climate, a Creole lifestyle, and the restricted expectations of a particular class of Louisiana women.
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