LeBlanc’s Gender Criticism of Chopin’s The Awakening

LeBlanc’s Gender Criticism of Chopin’s The Awakening

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LeBlanc’s Gender Criticism of Chopin’s The Awakening

Tomorrow marks thirty years since the Roe vs. Wade decision that gave women a reproductive choice in America. The occasion reminds me that women are continuously struggling to attain and maintain various levels of freedom. Elizabeth LeBlanc’s gender criticism of The Awakening---a novel published before women acquired suffrage---highlights one such freedom: the freedom to live on one’s own terms.

The discussion delineates how Kate Chopin’s tale of one woman’s “choices, actions and attitudes may be construed as the attempts of a woman trapped in a sexually (in)different world to reconstitute herself as lesbian” (241). LeBlanc clarifies that Edna is a “metaphorical lesbian” who “creates a narrative or textual space in which she interrogates accepted norms of textuality and sexuality and constitutes herself as subject” (238). The use of the word “trapped” connotes a state of being cornered, with few choices and at the mercy of someone else.

At first, Edna does seem trapped to a drone existence of bourgeois Creole society. But once she was “initiat[ed] into the world of female love and ritual,” (247) she began “seeking fulfillment and selfhood” outside of marriage and motherhood (244). Her gravitation toward a woman-centered existence, outside of culturally defined spaces, is an act of self-reconstruction. For example, at the risk of damaging her reputation, she rejects the obligation of her social class to host ‘callers.’ This is a figurative loosening of the ties that bound her to a tradition of waiting for life to happen. She defies that tradition and, in doing so, restructures her existence as a woman.

Edna progressively moves away from all-things-traditional, or culturally predefined, into a space all her own. As a metaphorical lesbian, she “engages in a variety of woman-identified practices that suggest but stop short of sexual encounters.” One such practice is finding solace in a woman who already lives on the margins of society, Mademoiselle Reisz, who LeBlanc suggests is the actual lesbian in this narrative. Edna, LeBlanc writes, “is drawn to [her] whenever she falls into despondency and hopelessness” because Reisz’s “music penetrated [Edna’s] whole being like an effulgence, warming and brightening the dark places of her soul” (Chopin 103). It is she, who describes herself as “captivated” by Edna, who “fosters in Edna a sense of the possibilities for joy and fulfillment outside the realm of male tradition and meaningless codes” (252). Edna learns not to define herself in relation to her familial attachments, such as mother or wife.

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She reclaims her identity and, therefore, her freedom. “I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions to dispose of or not” she explains, “I give myself where I choose.” In the end, she gives herself to the sea in a scene that LeBlanc is hesitant to call suicide. Instead she describes it as the ultimate ‘lesbian moment’ in which “borders are dissolved between self and other, subject and object, lover and beloved, reader and narrative” (255). Either way, she is free at last.
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