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Each time I read The Awakening, I am drawn to the passage on page 69 where Edna and Madame Ratignolle argue about “the essential” and “the unessential.” Edna tries to explain, “I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself.” What most would see as essential—money (you need it for food, clothing, shelter, etc) and life—Edna sees as “unessential.” Edna is speaking of more than that which one needs for physical survival; she would not hesitate to give her life to save the life of one of her children. On the other hand, Edna’s being, her “self,” is something quite different from her physical form.
Madame Ratignolle simply does not understand Edna; to her, sacrificing one’s life is the utmost that a mother can do for her children. It is as if Edna was not even “talking the same language.” In fact, the two women might well be speaking different languages. Unlike Madame Ratignolle who seems to have a baby every couple of years, Edna’s head is not filled exclusively with thoughts about her children. Whereas Madame Ratignolle is motherly at all times, Edna often seems irritated by her role as mother, and her attentions to her children often occur as an afterthought. Madame Ratignolle’s entire being is bound to her children; Edna’s being is of her own design. For her there is more to life than marriage and babies and social obligations. Edna might well, at least in this passage, be asserting an early version of what Betty Friedan discusses in The Feminine Mystique.
Previously, the narrator has intimated, “She had all her life long been accustomed to harbor thoughts and emotions which never voiced themselves. They had never taken the form of struggles. They belonged to her and were her own.” Her thoughts and emotions engulf her, but she does not “struggle” with them. They “belonged to her and were her own.” She does not have to share them with anyone; conversely, she must share her life and her money with her husband and children and with the many social organizations and functions her role demands.
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"An Analysis of Page 69-70 of Chopin’s The Awakening." 123HelpMe.com. 18 Nov 2018
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