Oppression From Male Dominance Essay, Research Paper
Oppression from Male Dominance
The Awakening by Kate Chopin is a novel that focuses on a female heroine. Unlike many female heroines, Edna Pontellier does not allow her life to be surrounded by male control. Many novels of this time allow a female to be the main character but ultimately the men that surround her decide upon her fate. Rebecca Dickson wrote ?With Mrs. Pontellier, Chopin rejects assessing women according to their sexual status (38).? Chopin?s novel focuses on the ?awakening? of Edna Pontellier from oppression from male dominance.
Edna Pontellier was a victim of male dominance from an early age. Her father, a colonel, was the head of her household throughout childhood. It is obvious that he made a majority of the decisions for Edna and her mother. As a child, Edna was unable to visualize a life without this oppression. It was normal, a way of life. Edna?s ?awakening? begins in her early adulthood. When she decides to marry Leonce, her father disapproves. By marrying Leonce against his wishes, she begins to break from this oppression. Little does she know that this is only a taste of what is yet to come.
Edna is able to settle with Mr. Pontellier for a while before her need for freedom strikes again. She lets Leonce work while she had the children and maintains the household. While on vacation for the summer, she starts to ?awaken? again. She begins to stop following her husband?s orders. For example, Edna refuses to come inside when Leonce asks her to. He gives many reasons for her to come inside (temperature, insects) but she kindly refuses. Then, when he decides to join her outside, she goes into the house (30-31). ?Edna began to feel like one who awakens gradually out of a dream, a delicious, grotesque, impossible dream, to feel again the realities pressing into her soul (31-32).? Chopin uses this passage to convey how Edna is feeling. She is getting a second taste of breaking from this male dominance oppression that surrounds her. The reader is left with the impression that Edna now understands what she wants. This ?awakening? is the initial clue given to the reader that the men that surround her will no longer oppress Edna.
Once the summer comes to a close, Edna?s ?awakening? is in full bloom. She liberates herself financially by starting to paint. Leonce sees this change in her behavior but knows that there is nothing he can do to change it. When he leaves for business, Edna goes so far as to move out of their house. She informs Leonce in letter which does not ask for his permission, but simply states what her plans are and that he can be sure that she will follow through with them. The oppression that she once felt form her husband is now shattered. She has stepped up toward liberation from his male dominance, which has now controlled her life for so many years. Barbara C. Ewell wrote ?Edna?s central insistence on her ?own way? exposes intolerable constrictions on southern places for women (35).?
As Edna is breaking away from the male control of her husband, she is also entering the possibility of more male dominance from Robert. As she is also setting herself up for the possibility that the whole cycle may repeat. While Robert is gone, Edna is able to keep breaking away from male dominance by wanting to be with him. She fantasizes how she could be with Robert and not her husband, which draws into the central part of the story, her ?awakening? from this oppression.
When Robert returns, though, she makes it quite known that he will not control her either. Edna and Robert are talking in their second meeting (at the coffee house) about why Robert never made any effort to see or write Edna. His justification is that she is still ?owned? by Leonce. She makes him aware of her new found liberation by stating,
?You have been a very, very foolish boy, wasting your time dreaming of impossible things when you speak of Mr. Pontellier setting me free! I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier?s possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose. If he were to say, ?Here, Robert, take her and be happy; she is yours,? I should laugh at you both.?
His face grew a little white. ?What do you mean?? he asked (108).
Robert is rather surprised by this comment. He is unaware of how free Edna has become since he left for Mexico. When she explains to him that neither he nor Mr. Pontellier can control her, he gets his first taste of Mrs. Pontellier?s ?awakening.? Rebecca Dickson and I shared the same response to this passage. In her literary journal, she wrote,
?Certainly Robert should go pale, for this woman wants to control not only her story, but his as well, which is contrary to everything he has learned about the known universe. It is hardly surprising that he disappears after Edna?s announcement that she is no longer a possession (42).?
Mrs. Pontellier has now completely broken away from male dominance. Her husband has been left uncontrollable with all of her decisions. She undermines his authority in every way possible: painting, selling the house, falling in love with another man, no longer having visitors on Tuesdays, etc. She also has realized the mistakes she has made in the past. Therefore, she will not make these same mistakes with Robert. She is sure to tell him upfront that men will no longer control her. Her ?awakening? has taken over every aspect of her life.
There is another man in her life, though, that also attempts to take control of her. Alcee Arobin, a practiced womanizer, tries to dominate Edna through illicit liaisons rather than marital proprieties. While Edna is exploring her own character and potential to be set free from this oppression, Alcee tries to reduce their relationship to a mere adulterous affair that he manipulates through shallow compliments, practiced sensuality, and oily devotion. But he fails and is often frustrated when Edna?s attention wanders. Edna so firmly maintains control of their affair that Alcee becomes passive and the roles actually reverse. While she is moving out of Leonce?s house, we find Alcee in a dust cap almost acting as if he were one of her servants.
Chopin uses Alcee as a character to show the reader how Edna?s new ?awakening? is taking control of her life. Instead of a man telling her what to do, she is now instructing men. Her new freedom is now proven. She may come and go as she pleases. When Robert tries to tell her to stay with him instead of going over to Madame Ratignolle?s house for the birth of her baby, she defies his wishes and goes anyway. She is not allowing a man to take control of any situation in her life, even if she loves him. All of these actions that Chopin decided Edna should take are repeatedly proving that Edna is ?awoken.? She is no longer a subject to the oppression she once felt from the male gender.
Dr. Mandelet also tries to intervene in Edna?s life. Although he is only trying to give her advice, she refuses to let him have anything to do with her life. Also, she is probably aware that Leonce has spoken to the doctor about her behavior and letting him intervene would not only allow the doctor to make her decisions but it would also give Leonce the control in which he desires. After the baby is born, he tries to interrupt Edna?s narrative, gently convincing her to confide in him. But Edna will not cooperate. She is wary of the doctor?s efforts and will not allow Dr. Mandelet to advise her on how to handle her marriage or her children, however well intentioned he may be.
Chopin puts the doctor in the story to reiterate the fact that Edna has broken free of this male dominated world. He symbolizes that even the most well intentioned, harmless males will never have a say in her life again. It doesn?t even really have to do with what he is trying to help her with. All it concerns is the fact that he has male genitalia. She has been suppressed for so long that she will not chance loosing this freedom in which the whole novel is focused on.
Chopin uses every encounter that Edna has with a man in this book to prove that she has ?awoken? from oppression from male dominance. Through Edna?s father, Leonce, Robert, Alcee, and Dr. Mandelet there is no doubt left in the readers mind that Edna will no longer be oppressed. She steps up to every male in different ways proving her newfound liberation. Through out the story, the reader may watch Edna grow and watch her become more and more ?awake.? When the book is coming to a close, Chopin writes, ?She looked into the distance, and the old terror flamed up for an instant, then sank again (116).? This passage gives the reader the knowledge that Edna is going into this final seen of her life with open eyes. She is ?awake? and aware of her actions. She realizes that she will drown because of her, not Leonce or the children will she turn back for. Sadly the oppression is gone, and so is her life.