The Awakening Essay, Research Paper
The Awakening, written by Kate Chopin, tells the story of a woman, Edna Pontellier, who transforms herself from an obedient housewife to a person who, is alive with strength of character and emotions which she no longer has to repress. Playing the role of a wealthy New Orleans housewife, Edna searches for fulfillment in her customary 19th century life, where the Creole society had high expectations of their women. Even with children, a generous husband, and financial stability, Edna finds herself wanting more from life. In the novel, two women friends of Edna, Adele Ratignole and Mademoiselle Reitz signify her awakening and the consequences of her new found self.
Edna was attracted to both women for their prospective connection to the two existences within which Edna struggles to find herself. Adele Ratignolle is Edna’s close friend and confidante, but the two women are nothing alike. Adele is the perfect housewife and mother; she is the epitome of what a Creole woman and mother ought to be. She lives her life for her children, always being sure that they are properly cared for, clothed, and educated. Unlike Adele whose life is fulfilled through loving and caring for her children, Edna is “fond of her children in an uneven, impulsive way” (Chopin, p. 18). They are not enough to justify her life. Adele could not understand how Edna could say that she “would never sacrifice herself for her children, or for anyone” (Chopin, p. 47). Edna’s being is taking on a new importance in her life. She is starting to realize just how important it is to be true to herself. She has never done that before. She went along with the way things were supposed to be, holding her socials and tending to her house until she became aware that she needed more from her life.
The person whom Edna truly admires is Mademoiselle Reitz, who is a brilliant pianist. Her talent is somewhat lost on the other people on the island. They cannot appreciate her artistry, as does Edna because Mademoiselle Reitz does not fit their idea of what a proper woman should be; she is eccentric and bold. Her music touches Edna to the very core of her being. Something inside her is stirred, and she feels alive like never before in her life. Edna respects Mademoiselle Reitz because she has the courage to be different. It is Mademoiselle’s music that starts to “awaken” Edna and allows her to see the beauty and passion in life.
An amazing transformation takes place in Edna throughout the course of a few months. The people with whom she interacts and the culture in which she is submersed play a significant role in her “awakening.” Edna is able to break away from the restraining world of Adele in which she will never find her place. Stirred by the magic and intrigue of Mademoiselle Reitz’s world, she finds the strength to reach for that, which is real for her, and she allows her true being to shine.
In the beginning of her search for herself, Adele was what Edna wished she could be, but knew she could never be. Adele was very beautiful and had an adoring husband and adored her children. It seemed that without them she would cease to exist. At the end, Edna felt sorry for Adele, and goes on to say that she pities her blind contentment and the fact that she will never have a taste of life?s delirium.
The lifestyle of Mademoiselle Reitz was similar to the one of which Edna dream for herself. She was a free spirit who did not agree with oppression of women at that time. Mademoiselle Reitz lives in a world in which a woman is her own woman and lives for herself, stands up to the world and insists on having life on her terms. In return for this free lifestyle she was looked upon as being weird and mentally disturbed. According to the Creole society something was definitely wrong with a woman who did not care what others thought and whom chose her own path in life.
In the end, Edna Pontellier discovered a need for a world in between the two extremes of Adele and Mademoiselle Reitz existence. She could become the wife/mother, as Adele personified, or the lonely, bitter artist as Mademoiselle Reitz, but she saw nothing in between. Edna’s suicide is a result of her desire not to think of the consequences because those consequences are so unattractive. She does not want to be like Adele or Mademoiselle Reitz. She wants an undefined, unexpressed, ineffable life that she cannot articulate or shape. Rather than live one of these options, or live a life that society dictates, Edna chooses to live self-forgetfully in the moment. In following this unexpressed creed, Edna knowingly places herself in a position where the consequences of her swimming out are inescapable.