female characters in Chopins Awakening

Lauren Valva
Prof. Principe
WMS 274
April 7,2000

The Struggle to Be a Womyn

“Every step which she took toward relieving herself
from obligations added to her strength and expansion as an
individual” (93)

The Awakening by Kate Chopin introduces the reader to
the life of Edna Pontellier, a woman with an independent
nature, searching for her true identity in a patriarchal
society that expects women to be nothing more than devoted
wives and nurturing mothers. In this paper I will describe
Edna’s journey of self-discovery and explain why her
struggle for independence is no easy task. I will also
discuss the relationship Edna has with two other main women
characters and describe how these women conform or rebel
against a society with many social constraints. Finally I
will discuss how the issues brought up in Chopin’s novel are
still relevant today.
The Journey
The Awakening begins in the vacation spot of Grand
Isle. At first we believe that Grand Isle is a utopia,
wealthy families relaxing at oceanside, but it is here where
Edna first begins to realize her unhappiness. The first sign
of dissatisfaction is when Edna allows herself to feel that
her marriage is unsatisfying; yet she must agree with the
other women that Leonce Pontellier is the perfect husband.
Edna can now ask herself if she has a good husband and is
not happy than should marriage be a component of her life.
Edna has two close relationships with other males in the
book but both prove unsatisfying, and a block to her
independence. The first relationship is with Robert Lebrun.
They swim, they chat on the porch and offer each other
companionship. This is a flirtatious relationship; a
relationship similar to those Robert has had previous
summers with other married women; but different because
Edna, being a “foreigner” allows herself to take Robert
seriously and she falls in love with him. This proves tragic
because during the course of the novel the two will pine for
each other but Robert not wanting to mar his reputation as a
“gentleman” moves to Mexico. Even after his return the two
meet for a short time and then again Robert flees before
anything happens.
The second role Edna begins to question is her role as
mother. Edna’s husband scolds her for her unattentiveness to
her children. Although Edna is fond of her children she,
unlike the other women on Grand Isle, would rather have a
nurse look after them. Edna says that she would “give up the
unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for
my children; but I wouldn’t give myself.”
Edna needs more out of life. She is moved by music.
During that summer Edna sketches to find an artistic side to
herself. She needs an outlet to express who she is. Edna
sees art as important and adding meaning to her life. “She
felt in it satisfaction of a kind which no other employment
offered her.”
After the summer is over and they are back to the city
Edna is a changed woman. She makes many steps towards
independence. She stops holding “Tuesday socials;” she sends
her children to live in the country with their grandparents;
she refuses to travel abroad with her husband; she moves out
of the Lebrun house on Esplanade Street; and she starts
selling her sketches and betting the horses to earn her own
money. She also starts a relationship with another man Alcee
Arobin. He meant nothing to her emotionally but she used him
for sexual pleasure. Edna evolved above her peers she did
not believe that sexuality and motherhood had to be linked.
The last step of her “awakening” is the realization that she
can not fulfill her life in a society that will not allow
her to be a person and a mother. Edna commits suicide in the
ocean at Grand Isle.
“To a certain extent, The Awakening shows Edna at the
mercy of a patriarchal husband, a hot climate, a Creole
lifestyle, and the circumscribed expectations of a
particular class of Louisiana women.”(Taylor,p.195) Edna
questions these wife and mother roles because they are roles
she was forced into. She married Leonce not because she
loved him but because she could not refuse his admiration
and persistence. This marriage thrusts Edna into a foreign
culture. She questions her role as a mother because she is
different from the typical Creole “mother-woman.” Edna
defies “the central perception of her century that women are
mothers first and individuals second-or not at all. She
never denies the value of motherhood...But she does deny its
supremacy over larger truths of human existence.”(Dyer,
p.106) This is what leads to her suicide. “Edna