Social Classes and the Strains They May Cause in The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Social Classes and the Strains They May Cause in The Awakening by Kate Chopin

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Social Classes and the Strains They May Cause in The Awakening by Kate Chopin


In the novel The Awakening by Kate Chopin, class structures are a significant key to some of the actions of three main characters. Leonce, who is married to Edna, is the character who goes along with the upper-class structure because he wants to be accepted by his peers. Robert, who falls in love with Edna, is too scared to go against the traditional thinking of the upper class. Finally, Edna, who is the main character in the novel, does go against her upper-class structure for her own happiness.

Leonce is the typical husband; he wants to please his wife, Edna, but he also wants to be recognized by his upper-class friends. He truly does love Edna, but he treats her as though she were a child. He also thinks of Edna as his chattel. For example, at the very start of the novel, while looking at his wife like a piece of property, Leonce says, "You are burnt beyond recognition" (24). Leonce looks at her as if she were a lower- class citizen since it would be those that labor in the sun who would be "burnt" (24).

During that time period, most upper-class husbands did treat their wives as if they were a valuable possession. However, Edna does not want to be looked at in a manner that gives her a sense that she is property. Edna wants to be her own person. She wants to have her own opinions about her life, without having her husband tell her whether she can or cannot think for herself. She basically ignores her husband. Margit Stange in her essay "Personal Property: Exchange Value and the Female Self in The Awakening" mentions that "what Edna Pontellier considers as her property is [. . .] her body" (277). Edna doesn’t see herself as property of h...


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...es within herself; she as a flower has begun to die and wilt. She was the only person through the novel who is brave enough to think in a new way. Before Edna commits suicide, she feels that no one understood her. No one knew why she was trying to change things within her class. One reason why she does kill herself is the fact that she knows that she cannot live in such close societal boundaries. The simple way to face this reality for Edna is to just forget all together and put an end to her life.

Works Cited

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. 1899. Ed. Nancy A. Walker. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: Bedford-St.Martin’s, 2000.

Stange, Margit. "Personal Property: Exchange Value and the Female Self in The Awakening." The Awakening. Ed. Nancy A. Walker. Case Studies Contemporary Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: Bedford-St.Martin’s, 2000.

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