The Awakening 5 Essay, Research Paper
In the novella The Awakening by Kate Chopin, two supporting characters, Madame Ratignolle and Mademoiselle Reisz, represent two distinctively different females of the Victorian Age. Madame Ratignolle serves as society s idea of the ideal woman. There [is] nothing subtle or hidden about her charms; her beauty [is] all there, flaming and apparent: the spun-gold hair that [neither] comb nor confining pen could restrain; the blue eyes that [are] like nothing but sapphires; two lips that pout, that [are] so red one could think of cherries or some other delicious crimson fruit in looking at them. Her beauty is complemented by her extreme devotion to her family. They come first in her life. She is the quintessential mother-woman. [Mother-women] [are] women who idolized their children, [worship] their husbands, and [esteem] it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels. She gave up her individuality by taking marriage vows and became one half of the Ratignolle family. The Ratignolles understood each other perfectly. If ever a fusion of two human beings into one has ever been accomplished on this sphere it [is] surely this union. Madame Ratignolle has surrendered to her husband s world as proper wives at the time were expected to do. She obeys her husband and assumes the responsibility of keeping him satisfied. She would not consent to remain with Edna [when] Monsieur Ratignolle was alone, [because] he detested above all things being alone.
While Madame Ratignolle is the ideal Victorian woman, Mademoiselle Reisz is a disagreeable little woman, no longer young, who [quarrels] with almost everyone, owing to a temper which [is] self-assertive and a disposition to trample on the rights of others. When Edna asks the proprietor of the neighborhood grocery store if he knew where Mademoiselle Reisz had moved, the man answers that he [thanks] heaven that she had left the neighborhood, and was equally thankful that he did not know where she had gone. Mademoiselle Reisz is in no way the beautiful Aphrodite that Madame Ratignolle is. She is an old woman who is past her physical prime, although the reader gets the impression that, during her prime, her looks still left something to be desired. The community snickers at her because she wears false hair has poor taste in fashion. Mademoiselle Reisz has always lived on the top floors of apartment buildings, which takes her far away from reality and the problems of others. She lives completely devoted to herself and her art. She bears no responsibility to a husband or children and seemingly harbors no guilt or regret about their absence in her life. She remarks that she would never deem a man of ordinary caliber worthy of [her] devotion. Mademoiselle Reisz lives for the truth. She derives no pleasure from mingling with socialites and their fake personalities. Mademoiselle Reisz easily sees past Edna s front, welcomes Edna into her life, and helps usher in the biggest change of Edna s life. Mademoiselle Reisz s independence serves as a catalyst for the changes that Edna makes in her life.
Both Madame Ratignolle and Mademoiselle Reisz are pianists. Madame Ratignolle has established popularity throughout the community with her playing, and Monsieur Pontellier thinks highly of her talents. However, she does not play for artistic reasons. She plays to please her husband and children and to entertain others at parties. On the other hand, Mademoiselle Reisz plays for herself. She is overwhelmingly disliked publicly and only Robert and Edna recognize her as an explosively talented musician. Unlike Madame Ratignolle, Mademoiselle Reisz shies away from showing off her talents and claims that Edna is the only one worth playing for. In fact, Mademoiselle Reisz s emotion inducing piano playing is what first drew Edna to her.
Both Madame Ratignolle and Mademoiselle Reisz serve as two essential references in the story. Madame Ratignolle is the example of the type of woman that Mr. Pontellier wants Edna to be. Madame Ratignolle is revered by the community and viewed as the perfect woman. She follows the mold and becomes what society wants her to be but loses her individuality in the process. Conversely, Mademoiselle Reisz is the type of woman that Edna wishes to be. Edna strives for the freedom and passion that Mademoiselle Reisz possesses. Mademoiselle Reisz holds tightly to her independence and liberty. She never allows anybody to control her. She defies societal rules and expectations, and she is consequently shunned for it.