In The Awakening, Chopin questions gender roles. Chopin seeks an identity for women that is neither wife nor mother. To achieve this end, she incorporates progressive feminist ideas into her writing. Yet, in the end, Chopin also shows that, because of years of conditioning, many women are unable to escape society’s stereotypical roles by any satisfactory means. The protagonist of the novel, Edna Pontellier, does not possess the skills needed to become independent and, despite attempts to escape, succumbs finally to the doomed dream of romantic love.
Chopin sets up a contrast between Adele Ratignolle, "the bygone heroine of romance" (Chopin 888), and Mademoiselle Reisz, a bluestockinged recluse. Edna Pontellier falls somewhere in between, but distinctly recoils with disgust from the type of life her friend Adele leads: "In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman" (888). Madame Ratignolle is described as "the embodiment of every womanly grace and charm" (888) and Edna respects her for it, but without a corresponding desire to replicate her charm. To be womanly by traditional standards apparently requires the kind of self-sacrifice at which Madame Ratignolle excels, and the narrator is much less in awe of this quality than Edna. But Edna wants to be womanly in her own way--to keep her own identity, her goals, her artistry, and to live a sexual life, liberated from the confines of societal expectations. Mrs. Pontellier admires the Creoles with which she is thrown together at Lebrun's, Adele among them, because they represent something which she longs to have: "A characteristic which distinguished them and which impressed Mrs. Pontellier most forcibly was th...
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...r Seyersted. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969. 881-1000.
Delbanco, Andrew. "The Half-Life of Edna Pontellier." New Essays on The Awakening. Ed. Wendy Martin. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988. 89-106.
Gilmore, Michael T. "Revolt Against Nature: The Problematic Modernism of The Awakening." Martin 59-84.
Giorcelli, Cristina. "Edna's Wisdom: A Transitional and Numinous Merging." Martin 109-39.
Martin, Wendy, ed. New Essays on the Awakening. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.
Papke, Mary E. Verging on the Abyss: The Social Fiction of Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1990.
Seyersted, Per. Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969.
Showalter, Elaine. "Tradition and the Female Talent: The Awakening as a Solitary Book." Martin 33-55.
Skaggs, Peggy. Kate Chopin. Boston: Twayne, 1985.
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