Suicide In The Late 1800

′S As It Relates To The Protagonist In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening Essay, Research Paper

Suicide by Artists in the Late 19th century

In the 19th century behavioral and social problems such as problems in the home, intense worries, misery and inebriation were among some of the reasons for artists to commit suicide. Other strong contributions to suicide included social disorganization and alienation. Furthermore, people believed that the denial of the will to live could be found in the fact that some the ways people expressed themselves were not accepted at that time. It was also believed that some of the people who committed suicide had the will to live, but were dissatisfied with the conditions under which they were forced to live. Edna Pontellier, the protagonist in Kate Chopin s novel The Awakening, was an aspiring artist whose life was filled with passion and turmoil in a time of social change. Although, in the end she too met her demise.

Edna s family background can foreshadow her demise by illustrating the kind of social structure she was brought up to live in. Edna comes from a very strict and religious family which might ultimately have caused her demise. Falret attributed suicide to four major causes; (4) civilization and religious fanaticism, (Evans, 20-1). This proves that suicide by artists in the late 1800 s was thought to be caused by civilization or religious fanaticism. Since She was the middle child of an ambiguously religious family, (Griffin-Wolff, 156), she too, an artist of her time fit that same scenario. Moreover, The family has two faces, then it sins (during the week) with its racing and land grabbing;

and it atones (on Sundays) with pious condemnations. (156). This shows that Edna s family contributes to her death by being very religious in that they went to church on Sundays.

Edna s father, a distinguished tall and thin man who wore his coats padded and had a silky mustache and hair to match, further portrays her family life and social expectations. The old gentleman, her father, I have heard, used to atone for his weekday sins with his Sunday devotions, (156). First of all, this shows that her father, much like the rest of her family, too was a very religious person. Secondly it says that her father was an old gentleman which can also show what type of man he might be. This suggests that he is an old fashioned man, which means that he expects the woman to attend to her husband s every command. You are too lenient, too lenient by far, L once, he tells him Authority, coercion are what is needed. Put your foot down good and hard; the only way to manage a wife. (Justus, 73). Moreover, her father shows here how society was in those times, not to mention how strict he was with women. Edna was probably exposed to this type of thinking as she was growing up, leading her to think that expressing herself was wrong and shouldn t be done. She believes that to defy her husband would be looked upon as a sin in the community. This, in the end, might have given her a final reason for her suicide.

There were many reasons for Edna and other artists like herself to commit suicide in the late 19th century. fatalistic suicides, where expressive and repressive constraints would produce an extreme feeling of lack of freedom and choice, says

Evans, (23) . This fits Edna so well; she, as an artist, is not accepted by society because being an artist means expressing your feelings and emotions, where in that 19th century New Orleans society it was forbidden to do so. In Edna s time it was believed that women should give their hearts and souls to their home, husband, and children. However, Edna could never accept that. For Schopenhaur the denial lay in shunning the joys not the sorrows of life. He felt the suicidal person had the will to live but was dissatisfied with the conditions under which he /she was forced to live. (22). Edna, I believe, was a free spirit and could never have given herself to her husband and children. Apparently, Griffin-Wolff agrees, saying that, Edna sees herself as L once s possession, even as she sees herself the prisoner to her children, (156). Since expression was practically forbidden to women in this society, Edna must have been very dissatisfied with the conditions under which she was forced to live.

Social causes, such as demographic values, also contribute to Edna s self- destruction, as quoted from Evans, Suicide in former could be found in demographic variables, such as civil status, age, sex, religion, and marital status and others, (21). Edna was not really accepted in New Orleans society because she was an outsider. She was married and came from a strong Presbyterian background. Being and outsider makes anyone feel unwanted and lousy. Having a strong religious background, as previously stated, must have had a strong contribution to Edna s suicide. Also, the fact that Edna was married gave her more worries because she wasn t happily married and she had many meetings with other gentlemen.

In addition, Social disorganization and alienation also were identified as strong contributors to suicide, (21). Edna definitely feels alienated. Throughout the novel she is not accepted by society because she is different from other members of Creole society. Disorganization was mainly caused by problems or worries she had in her life. As stated by Evans, Among the behavioral and social causes, he identified such items as trouble at home and family, intense worries (21). Edna had both these problems. She had troubles with her family because she was considered L once s possession, and intense worries about fitting in. Other conflicts arise in Edna because of her society, causing more disorganization. In Edna s society it was thought that suicide was either a mental disability or a social product. The perception of suicide crystallized in the 19th century as either a mental illness or social product,

according to Jassin, (15). Edna wanted to express herself as an artist in a world where women expressing themselves was considered immoral. This causes disorganization in Edna s life. She found no other alternative then suicide to alleviate the problem other then committing suicide.

Suicide was Edna s way out and a way of self-fulfillment in that she was following her compulsions.

For some of Chopin s other female characters who suffer from radical imbalance, resolution is nearly always achieved in terms of their environing world-and that world s values. The imbalance that haunts Edna is within the self, and the dilemma is resolved in terms of her psychic compulsions. (Justus, 73).

When Edna commits suicide, she isn t just killing herself, but also expressing herself by telling her society that she doesn t care anymore. Furthermore, this act, to her society shows immense defiance. Griffin-Wolff states, Edna s final act of destruction has a quality of uncompromising sensuous self-fulfillment as well, (156). Here it shows how, through her suicide, she fulfills herself by defying all that she was taught.

Passions outside the home greatly contributed to Edna s self-destruction by causing problems due to her defiance of society. Critics characterize their final choices ( for the four female protagonists including Edna.) as a result of love conflicts, these conflicts happen all throughout the novel. Edna s outside passions started with Robert Lebrun, then made their way to Alcee Arobin. Society looked at outside passions as if they were the ultimate defiance. Outside passion, incidentally, breaks one of the Ten Commandments, bringing into account Edna s religious background and yet another motive for her suicide.

Edna s first love affair was with Robert Lebrun. “Robert’s return and his sensuous

Awakening to her kiss precipitates the final crisis from which she must flee,” Edna must flee because she will fall in love with Robert, which will lead to many problems in the future. Another occurrence in her love affairs is when Robert comes back from Mexico and Edna finds herself feeling childish because she was worried about him. (Justus,73). Here it is shown that Edna cares for Robert; since, people only worry about other people when they care a great deal for them. Finally Edna shows her true emotions for Robert when she sleeps with Arobin, and all she thinks about is what would Robert think? Moreover, when she thinks this, she isn t thinking of L once, she is thinking of Robert. (Chopin,129). Her passions with Robert in these cases majorly contribute to her death in the novel.

Edna s second love affair was with a man by the name of Alcee Arobin. Arobin is the man who Edna sleeps with, cheating on her husband and Robert.

He stood up beside her and smoothed her hair with his soft magnetic hand. His touch conveyed to her a certain physical comfort. She could have fallen quietly asleep there if he had continued to pass his hand over her hair . He brushed the hair upward from the nape of her neck. (Chopin, 154).

This is how her magnetism towards Arobin began, it is also the root of her cheating on Robert. Through this type of foreplay, she fell in to his web of seduction.

He stood close to her, and the effrontery in his eyes replied the old, vanishing self in her, yet drew all her awakening sensuousness. He saw enough in her face to impel him to take her hand and hold it while he said his lingering goodnight. (Chopin, 127).

Again Edna is seduced more and more into the final act of adultery, which contributed greatly to her demise. This is because adultery is not only shunned by the bible but also by her society. This causes high conflict in her due to, not only her husband but also to her love Robert. So

Edna s unfaithfulness to her husband happens not only with one man but two, making it twice as bad in the eyes of the community. Furthermore, Edna s feelings for Alcee and Robert may be a way of expressing herself through self-fulfillment.

To my belief, Edna was an artist to every sense of the word. She was courageous and very artistic.

The very first chords which Mademoiselle Raiez struck upon the piano, sent a keen tremor down Mrs. Pontellier s spinal column. It was the first time heard an artist play the piano. Perhaps it was the first time she was ready, perhaps the first time her being was tempered to take an impress of the abiding truth. She waited for the material pictures which she thought would gather and blaze before her imagination. She waited in vain. She saw no pictures solitude, of hope, longing, or of despair. But the very passions themselves were aroused within her soul, swaying it, lashing it, as the waves daily beat upon her splendid body. She trembled, she was choking, and the tears blinded her. (Chopin, 45).

This illustrates that Edna is finally awakening, and letting herself actually listen to the music as an artist instead of just a normal person. The difference is clearly shown, when Chopin writes perhaps it was the first time she was ready, in the quote above, that she wasn t listening to the music quite the same way before. Furthermore, at the end of that quote where is says that the passions themselves were aroused within her soul, swaying it, lashing it, as the waves daily beat upon her splendid body, foreshadows Edna s death as an artist in the words that were chosen to describe the music. Mademoiselle Reisz further portrays Edna as an artist when she says You are the only one worth playing for. Those others? Bah! (Chopin, 45). Edna finally recognizes herself as an artist through her paintings. Painting! laughed Edna. I m becoming an artist. Think of it! Through her self-recognition as an artist, her eyes open to a new world of defiance.

Another way to define an artist according to Mademoiselle Reisz, is by courage. The artist must possess a soul which dares and defies, and Edna is an artist in every sense of this definition. She dares and defies society, her husband, and sometimes even herself. She began to do as she liked and to feel as she liked, (Chopin, 95). This shows how Edna starts awakening to her artistic curiosities and how she slowly becomes an artist. As written by Jasin, female suicide puts into question the very essence of that image and constitutes an act of defiance, (11). This shows how her suicide, her final act of defiance, make her an artist in every sense of the word. Also in her final act of suicide she is showing the ultimate act of defiance to her society.

The decision to renounce life in the process of defending religious, philosophical, or political beliefs has historically been interpreted as a sign of an individual s courage and has elicited general admiration. (Jasin, 11).

Edna renounces life for philosophical reasons, she sees no other way to stand for what she believes other then to pay the ultimate price, her life.

In conclusion, I believe that Edna was an artist in every sense of the word. She defied her entire society while standing up for everything she believed. I believe that makes her a true artist.

According to all of my sources artists committed suicide in the late 19th century for may different

reasons and Edna seems to fit all of the profiles which constitutes her bring an artist. Because of the way society tried to mold Edna, and the way she truly was were so different, I believe that her suicide may have been her only true way out while still maintaining the principles she believed in. Her suicide in the end being the ultimate act of defiance was, and showed her in the end to be a true artist.


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