The Awakening is a novel written by Kate Chopin in 1899. I particularly enjoy reading this novel. Edna Pontellier’s awakening and self-discovery process from her own perspective is indeed intoxicating and enlightening. I also admire Chopin’s courage to criticize such a conventional society. Though first I have to admit, I thought the story is going to have a happy ending. I have not, in any way, expected the ending of the story. Due to the complexity of the character’s personalities and plots, the reading process raises a lot of questions related to societal constraints, gender stereotypes, and love. Commenting on the story plot, the story is sophisticated. The authorial choices are brilliant in terms of summarizing and infiltrating Chopin’s personal opinions in the plots. Every single detail that Chopin has written matters and contributes greatly to Edna’s coming-of-age.
Love is one of the main issues explored in this novel. The relationship between Edna and Robert Lebrun is one main factor that propels and perhaps, initiates Edna’s desire to awaken. Moreover, to pursue what she truly wants deep inside after living and sleeping in the dream that society sets for women. Edna’s emotions are complicated, and so are the other characters. Their emotions are always contradicting, which confuses me sometimes. I could neither figure out what is their ultimate intention for carrying out specific events nor answer the question “What is love?”. Robert’s inconsistently leaving Edna is a great example. Mademoiselle Reisz is the one who guides and accompanies Edna during her awakening. Also, the one who points out the reason for Robert repetitively leaving her is because he loves her. It seems to me, if you truly love a person, you would do anything to protect her, be together with her, and not hurt her feelings. There are some phrases that indicate Robert’s romantic feelings toward her through his body language and facial expression. But does Robert truly loves Edna?
“The house was empty. But he had scrawled on a piece of paper that lay in the lamplight: ‘I love you. Good-by —- because I love you.'” (p. 133)
This quote shows the last time Edna sees Robert before she commits suicide. Robert is leaving Edna again even after Edna has expressed to him that the idea of him leaving again and again is making her suffer and depressed. Robert does not accompany Edna when she is depressed and needs him the most. Instead, leaving to escape his feelings every time. Robert is the one male character that interacts most with Edna. He has way more intimate communication with Edna than Léonce Pontellier and Alcée Arobin do. So, if he understood his leaving has hurt Edna’s feelings over and over again, why would he keep leaving and breaking her heart? This action shows he cares about society’s impression of him more than his desire to be with Edna. Robert is practicing this desperate action to save his appearance and reputation. Since he does not want to give the impressions that Arobin gives (Arobin always flirts and seduces married women, so he has a bad reputation). He would rather choose his reputation over Edna. So, if Robert truly loves her, he would have embraced her identity as Léonce Pontellier’s wife and stayed with her.
Societal constraints and gender stereotypes are interrelated in Edna’s awakening process. These two factors are interrelated and raise a lot of questions, for example, “Is Edna a bad person? A bad wife? A bad mother?” and “What obligations do parents have to their children?”.
“‘The trouble is,’ sighed the Doctor, grasping her meaning intuitively, ‘that youth is give up to illusions. It seems to be a provision of nature; a decoy to secure mothers for the race. And Nature takes no account of moral consequences, of arbitrary conditions which we create, and which we feel obliged to maintain at any cost.'”(p. 132)
This quote is spoken by Doctor Mandelet. The 19th century was a patriarchal society that was dominated by men’s privileges while women have no rights. Most men in that society only care about their personal interests and simply treat women as their business possessions. So, it confuses me how a male doctor is able to successfully summarize Edna’s perspective. Other than that, it shows Edna does not understand why women must follow the constraints set by society. The societal constraints are greatly related to gender stereotypes. Since the 19th century hopes people to obligate to the arbitrary moral standard that society creates without questioning it. And the moral standard for women is to be good wives and mothers to take care of the family because according to Mr. Pontellier,
“If it was not a mother’s place to look after children, whose on earth was it?” (p. 6)
This quote shows that society has normalized and set a particular type of “job” that each gender should be responsible for within a family. This societal constraint is set by men’s prejudices toward women. Men think that women are unable of doing anything, except take care of the family. Edna does a good job in terms of pleasing and serving her husband, and family. So, this shows Edna is a good wife. During the awakening, Edna prefers to be alone and away from her family. But that doesn’t mean she is a bad mother because she still goes to visit her children in Iberville and replies to their letters cheerfully.
“‘I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself.'” (p. 56)
In this quote, Edna states that she would give up all things for her children, except her freedom. Her unwillingness of giving up her freedom does not make her a bad mother. Although she has obligations to take care of her children, she attempts to find the balance point between having alone time and spending time with her children.
Overall, I have reflected on how society’s views have changed toward the above societal issues in the past two centuries. The 21st century is comparatively less constrained, conventional, and more open. Though, some people are still affected by those issues because they still exist nowadays. One thing I greatly admire is Chopin’s courage to freely express herself and set standards for a new women’s generation. In the novel, Edna’s courage to pursue what she wants even under tons of social constraints greatly encourages me to pursue what I value and allows me to speak for myself more often.