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Identity in The Awakening
Kate Chopin's The Awakening is about a woman's growing sense of identity. The novel takes place on an island south of New Orleans and in New Orleans. Edna Pontellier is 28 years old when she "wakes up". Her husband Leonce Pontellier is much older than she - forty years old.
The Awakening opens when Mr. Pontellier - a businessman- is disturbed by the noise some parrots are doing. They repeat "Allez vous-en!" which means go away. It sounds such as an invitation to Edna to leave her cage of marriage. This is what she is doing in steps throughout the novel. The "parrot" image is very interesting because parrots can be trained to talk, and they repeat only what someone taught them. Edna refuses more and more to follow the rules women are trained in. She starts to look for a self-determined life. In Chapter VI Chopin writes "Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being." She realizes this after going to the beach with Robert for a bath in the sea. The sea and swimming play an important role in this novel. The sea is an archetype of death and rebirth. In the beginning Edna experiences "the touch of the sea" as sensuous, and she seems to feel renewed. At the end she enters the water of the Gulf naked and feels "like some newborn creature." When she dies, it seems that death and rebirth have met and the circle has closed. ( Teachers comment: Something is very wrong with the grammar here).
To underline that Edna is different from the typical women at Grand Isle and New OrleansChopin creates the character of Adele Ratignolle. She is described as the embodiment of the "mother- woman." She seems to accept and enjoy her role as a wife and mother. She knows her duties and (in XIV) leaves Edna alone because Monsieur Ratignolle is alone at home and "he detested above all things to be left alone." When Edna tells Adele "that she would never sacrifice herself for her children," Adele does not understand. She fulfills her role as a mother and wife, whereas Edna wants to define her role new. She asks in Chapter XIII "How many years have I slept?" and Robert mentions later "All but the hundred years when you were sleeping.
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In the same paragraph Chopin seems to be ironic when she mentions that even the "Holy Ghost" is not pleased to give women wisdom. I guess many readers were shocked by this statement because it contains an underlying critique of christian religion. This paragraph is formulated in a way that some readers can use it also as a warning to women not to question their "wifely" duties.
Edna’s nakedness in the end could not only mean that she is a newborn creature but also that she is vulnerable like a newborn. She is finally without cover and presents herself without protection. She knows now “There was no one thing in the world that she desired.”