feminaw Edna Pontellier’s Predicament in Kate Chopin's The Awakening

feminaw Edna Pontellier’s Predicament in Kate Chopin's The Awakening

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Edna's Predicament in The Awakening


Dr. Mandelet, speaking more as a wise, older man than as a medical authority, seems to understand Edna's predicament. When Mr. Pontellier asks for his advice concerning the strange behaviour of his wife, the doctor immediately wonders, "Is there any man in the case?" (950). While Edna thinks she is expressing her independent rights, Dr. Mandelet knows her heart is still tied to the need for a man in her life, and to an uncontrolled submission to sexual passion. After her self-proclaimed release from her husband's narrow world of prescribed gender roles, Edna begins to act spontaneously, without considering, as Leonce would wish, "what people would say" (977). During a visit to Mademoiselle Reisz, she boldly displays her new attitude, refusing the more modest hot chocolate in favor of a "man's drink":

"I will take some brandy," said Edna, shivering as she removed her gloves and overshoes. She drank the liquor from the glass as a man would have done. Then flinging herself upon the uncomfortable sofa she said, "Mademoiselle, I am going to move away from my house on Esplanade Street." (962)

However, she will be moving "[j]ust two steps away" (962), she admits, betraying the fact that her feminist step forward will be hindered by at least two steps back. Her new assertiveness will not be enough to shield her from the difficulties of her changing life. Although she expresses herself to Robert in what she deems an "unwomanly" style (990), she is still a victim of societal conditioning, wanting to surrender her identity to another person.

     Cristina Giorcelli writes that "Transitional states are inevitably states of inner and outer ambiguity. In her quest for her true self, Edna loses, or enhances with the addition of the opposite ones, her original gender connotations and social attributes" (121). Such a reading, however, risks simplifying the story in its attempt to clarify exactly that which is ambiguous. Although Giorcelli agrees that the story's message is blurred, she seems to contradict herself when she argues that,

Through her androgyny Edna succeeds in achieving the wholeness of a composite unity, both integral and versatile, both necessary and free. Triumphing over sex and role differentiations ontologically implies sub- jugating that which substantiates but curtails, and ethically it entails mastering the grim unilaterality of responsibility.

The bourgeois crisis that Edna endures--the discrepancy between duty toward others and right toward herself[--] .

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. . may be overcome in the grasped fullness of her dual being. (123)

But Edna never does achieve "the wholeness of a composite unity," and this, I believe, is Chopin's point. In the context of this transitional period in women's history, total success is an impossibility, partly because the goal itself is not yet established. The "quasi-divine wholeness" that Giorcelli claims that Edna has achieved by "overcoming gender restrictions" (122) seems to be the product of a critical reading derived more from feminist myth than from close analysis of the text.
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