Awakening Eyes




Awakening Eyes
With few exceptions, our male dominated society has traditionally feared, repressed, and stymied the growth of women. As exemplified in history, man has always enjoyed a superior position. According to Genesis in the Old Testament, the fact that man was created first has led to the perception that man should rule. However, since woman was created from man’s rib, there is a strong argument that woman was meant to work along side with man as an equal partner. As James Weldon Johnson’s poem, “Behold de Rib,” clearly illustrates, if God had intended for woman to be dominated, then she would have been created from a bone in the foot, but “he took de bone out of his side/ So dat places de woman beside us” (qtd. in Wall 378). Still, men have continued to make women submissive to them while usurping their identities in the process: “[s]elf-determination is a mark of adulthood for American males; for American females of the nineteenth and part of the twentieth century, self-determination was neither expected nor encouraged” (Leder 104). However, not all women were intimidated by the stereotypical expectations imposed by the social norms of their era. Defying their traditional roles, Kate Chopin and Zora Neale Hurston wrote The Awakening and Their Eyes Were Watching God, respectively; in each work a woman reaches independence and freedom by overcoming male dominance in her relationships. Chopin’s protagonist, Edna, and Hurston’s feminist, Janie, discover that through their “radical attempt to be free…the struggle for freedom is not linear but dialectic; the price of change is doubleness, and out of contradiction emerges a new self”—a self that is determined, dominant, and, most importantly, free (qtd. in Dyer 116).
The first indications of emancipation are evidenced by Edna and Janie’s first marriages. Edna weds Leonce Pontellier, a Creole, to retaliate against her father and sister. In defiance, Edna marries, not for love, but to punish her family for their disapproval. Edna’s first marriage is her initial attempt towards self-determination. Janie, on the other hand, in her initial attempt towards self-determination, rejects the idea of marriage, but is forced into a loveless union to Logan Killicks because of her grandmother’s persistence. Janie had always believed in marrying for love, not security—a virtue her grandmother adamantly preached. Ironically, these oppressive marriages make these women stronger. Initially, these women are looked upon as possessions, and, thus, their identities are degraded. Leonce treats Edna as a belonging and looks upon her “as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage” (Chopin 7). Janie is regarded in the same way by Logan, who “refuses to accept essential parts of her heritage, personality, and experience” (Kubitschek 23).
Because their husbands limit their avenues of opportunity to pursue any individual growth, they become more determined to rebel against the status quo. Edna and Janie are expected to play the roles of a typical woman of their times: keeping home, cooking meals, and raising a family. The concept that either woman could be capable of supporting herself was alien to this period. Edna demonstrates determination in learning to swim after Leonce orders her to cease in her endeavors. Ignoring his admonition, she swims “for the first time alone, boldly and with overconfidence…she grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out where no woman had swum before" (Chopin 47). By completing a seemingly trivial feat, Edna’s inner self is awakened, and she realizes that life is more then staying at home following her husband’s orders. After this triumph, “she brings new power with her [. . .] she issues orders and speaks more honestly than she ever has before” (Dyer 57). Edna finally finds the faith in herself that her husband does not see. By excelling in learning to swim, she proves that anything is possible. Janie learns the same lesson by refusing to do extra labor on the farm. She resists Logan’s attempt to add to her chores. When he calls her spoiled she responds, “Ah’m just as stiff as you is stout. If you can stand not to chop and tote wood Ah reckon you can stand no to git no dinner” (Hurston 25). Janie stands up for herself and