Margit Stange’s Literary Criticism of Chopin’s The Awakening Essay

Margit Stange’s Literary Criticism of Chopin’s The Awakening Essay

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Margit Stange’s Literary Criticism of Chopin’s The Awakening


Kate Chopin created Edna Pontellier, but neither the character nor her creator was divorced from the world in which Chopin lived. As a means to understand the choices Chopin gave Edna, Margit Stange evaluates The Awakening in the context of the feminist ideology of the late nineteenth century. Specifically, she argues that Edna is seeking what Chopin’s contemporaries denoted self-ownership, a notion that pivoted on sexual choice and “voluntary motherhood” (276). Stange makes a series of meaningful connections between Kate Chopin’s dramatization of Edna Pontellier’s “awakening” and the historical context of feminist thought that Stange believes influenced the novel. For example, she equates Edna’s quest for financial independence with the late nineteenth century’s Married Women’s Property Acts, which sought to give married women greater control over their property and earnings. Ultimately, Stange believes, Edna’s awakening, her acquisition of self-determination, comes from identifying and re-distributing what she owns, which Stange argues is her body, much as contemporary feminist thinkers discussed what she calls women’s “sexual exchange value” (281). Additional references to reformers such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, as well as the legal standards of femme seule and femme couverte buttress Stange’s position that Edna’s experiences are a reflection of historical reality, even if some of the equations are a bit rough.

Chopin, Stange notes, is careful to separate Edna the wife from Edna the woman – “Mrs. Pontellier” becomes “Edna” in the text, and then “Mrs. Pontellier” once more when her sense of self-ownership again seems lost. Chopin...


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...alls a “moment of extreme maternal giving,” Stanton argued for women’s right to a public voice because “‘alone [woman] goes to the gates of death to give life to every man that is born into the world; no one can share her fears, no one can mitigate her pangs; and if her sorrow is greater than she can bear, alone she passes beyond the gates into the vast unknown’” (289). Chopin may have had a clearer grasp of the immense hold of the rhetoric of motherhood than Stange acknowledges. Edna at “the gates of death” may be a woman caught in an evolving conception of self-ownership, burdened by the sorrow of realizing that she can only really own what she no longer wants, because what she does want is yet beyond her grasp. Edna’s trap is indeed a historical reflection, a comment on the tumultuous, even violent, evolution of ideologies, expectations, choices, and realities.

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