To what extent does Edna Pontellier, in Kate Chopin's The Awakening, mark a departure from the female characters of earlier nineteenth-century American novels
The Awakening was published in 1899, and it immediately created a controversy. Contemporaries of Kate Chopin (1851-1904) were shocked by her depiction of a woman with active sexual desires, who dares to leave her husband and have an affair. Instead of condemning her protagonist, Chopin maintains a neutral, non-judgmental tone throughout and appears to even condone her character's unconventional actions. Kate Chopin was socially ostracised after the publication of her novel, which was almost forgotten until the second half of the twentieth century. The Awakening has been reclaimed by late twentieth-century theorists who see Edna Pontellier as the prototypical feminist. A woman before her time, Edna questions the institution of marriage, (at one point she describes a wedding as 'one of the most lamentable spectacles on earth')  has sexual desires of her own, and becomes completely independent of her husband. The central purpose of this essay is to assess to what extent the figure of Edna Pontellier marks a departure from the female characters of earlier nineteenth-century American novels, such as the character of Hester Prynne, of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Cora Munro from James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, and the unnamed protagonist (and narrator) of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper. How does society, and its effect on women change throughout nineteenth-century American literature?
Society of the nineteenth-century gave a heightened meaning to what it means to be a woman. According to the co...
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...le. She strives to find a room of her own, yet towards the end of the novel, she realises that Robert will not follow her in her rebellion against the codes of their society, which would mean that she would live a solitary, and lonely existence, which turned out to be worse than death, in her mind.
1 The Awakening, Kate Chopin, Oxford World Classics, p. 73
2 Ibid. p. 91
3 Ibid. p. 117
4 The Last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper, Oxford World's Classics, p. 124
5 The Awakening, p. 53
6 The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan
7 The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne, p. 83
8 Ibid. p. 113
9 Ibid. p. 164
10 Ibid p. 165
Kate Chopin. The Awakening. Oxford World Classics
James Fenimore Cooper. The Last of the Mohicans. Oxford World's Classics
Betty Friedan. The Feminine Mystique
Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Scarlet Letter
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