Kate Chopin's The Awakening is often said to triumph the exploration on the emotional and sexual needs of women, and the novel certainly is about that to a great extent, but even more importantly, it is a quest for individuality and the meaning of love. Through the protagonist, Edna Pontellier, Chopin describes in her novel one woman's journey towards self-consciousness. Several stages of 'awakenings' can be detected on the road, which are discussed in detail, along with the themes of romantic love, possession and an individual self. Darwinian theories are used to some extent to explore the nature of love and the meaning it had for Chopin.
According to Bert Bender, Kate Chopin was very interested in Darwin's theories of the descent of humans. In his article "The Teeth of Desire: The Awakening and The Descent of Man" he argues that Chopin studied Darwin closely and especially his theories of sexual selection. It first seemed to offer a liberating explanation for human behaviour, "sense of animal innocence in the realm of human courtship" (p. 460) in the strict atmosphere of Victorian etiquette and moral codes.
The principle of natural selection and the "survival of the fittest" is well known, and sexual selection is a specified form of that principle. It "depends on the success of certain individuals over others of the same sex in relation to the propagation of the species" (Darwin, p. 638). There are two kinds of sexual struggle which take place between the same sex. In the one individuals, generally of the male sex, try to drive away or kill their rivals in order to win a partner, the females remaining passive. In the other individuals, again generally mal...
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...ad her wings to fly. She broke her wing and fell "down, down to the water" (XXXIX, p. 587). Still, "it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one's life" (XXXVIII, p. 584).
Bender, Bert. "The Teeth of Desire: The Awakening and The Descent of Man" American Literature Vol. 63, No 3 (1991), 459-473.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. In Norton Anthology of American Literature. Vol. 2. 2nd Ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1985.
Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man; and Selection in Relation to Sex. 2nd Ed. New York: Prometheus Books, 1998
Franklin, Rosemary F. "The Awakening and the Failure of Psyche" American Literature Vol. 56, No. 4 (1984), 510-526
Showalter, Elaine. Sister's Choice: Tradition and Change in American Women's Writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994
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