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Kate Chopins tone in The Awakening is one of disdain for the position of women in society. She often compares Edna to a caged bird that can only repeat what is said to her. Although she believes women should have the freedom that Edna wishes for, she shows understanding that it is impossible for them in the type of society that she lived in. The awakening helps Edna realize that she cannot escape the bounds of society, despite her newfound desire for freedom and independence. These awakenings to the realities of society show the feelings of Chopin about that society.
Chopin shows Edna as a selfish woman who wants things only for herself without thinking of the consequences that would be placed on Robert or her children. However, she does not express the thought that this rebellion is intrinsically wrong, and even leans toward the thought that it is better to rebel than to accept what society tells her to do. Although Chopin shows Edna as a flawed woman, she still has an attitude that agrees with the needs she has for independence, and the actions she took to gain that. She would not give up the freedom she has craved, but instead will commit suicide and give her children her life. Swimming out farther than any other woman is a comparison to gaining more freedom than any other woman has had by giving up her life. Her tone rejects the judgmental views of Edna’s community and is one of disappointment as to what that community realistically is. The awakening that Edna goes through may have points of selfishness and conceit, but Chopin believes that women should not be caged like parrots forced to sit and watch the mockingbird fly free.
-Donald A. Ringe describes the images that are presented in the novel. He begins with describing the term “awakening” as not simply a sexual awakening, but one that holds something deeper, or could be a drastic change for the character that is having that revelation. He also describes the images of the city and the sea and their contrasting symbolic meanings. The sea represents something that is infinite, but also doubles in allowing a character to look deeply into his or her mental self. In contrast, the city is full of different ideologies and social bounds, which is why, after learning to swim in the sea, Edna basically rejects the entire process. He also talks about the lady in black and the young lovers, who represent the opposite of Edna with their unquestionable, selfless loss in God and each other, respectively. He then talks about Edna’s selfishness in that she wishes to possess others, such as Robert, although she will not allow herself to be possessed.
-Carole Stone describes the original effects of Chopin’s novel, which were disdain for even the idea of having sexual pleasures outside the confines of marriage, especially for a woman with children. It describes the importance of children and birth, and how Chopin disagrees with the idea that women do not have control over their own bodies. This is seen by the assertion that women must give their bodies to the birth of their children, who they then must give themselves to. Chopin’s dislike for this is augmented by the fact that women could not even choose from whom they get their pleasure. It also goes into the aspect of Edna as an artist and looks at her creativity as part of what could be called her rebirth.
-Marion Muirhead describes the way that Edna completely ignores common sense social values, such as the marriage of her sister, or living in the house of her husband. For example, when she begins to paint she undermines her husband’s self-esteem and social status because it would seem to the outside world that Edna needs to paint because her family needs the money. This view shows how even artistic expression can be destructive to the social process that Edna, and Chopin, are trapped in. However, one can also see the way that Edna’s actions can be perceived as selfish, despite Chopin’s view on independence. Muirhead is helping to show how Chopin looks down on the values that society holds, while still understanding the importance of upholding those values.
-Xianfeng Mou describes many ways and levels to look at the writings of Chopin. She first analyzes the free indirect discourse, in which the character and the narrator can share different opinions in one sentence. This is beneficial to show the views of Chopin compared to what Edna is seeing, sometimes falsely. Mou describes different levels of the awakenings that Edna goes through and how the critics of the novel view them. With sexual awakening, there is a lot of dissatisfaction, as people believe that Edna is only trying to please herself. This is how Chopin depicts Edna as selfish and somewhat ignorant. With her artistic awakening, however, there is a question of the standards that society has put upon Edna; be like Adèle, or be like Mademoiselle Reisz. Chopin seems to want a third option, but in the novel, there is clearly no other way out besides Edna’s suicide.
-Patricia S. Yaeger describes the psychological aspects of the novel, especially with Edna, who chose to follow the “voice” of the sea as opposed to the voice of reason, Dr. Mandelet. This aids Yaeger into discussing the value of language within the text, and how Edna uses and reacts to language. An important point she gives to think about is that Edna has somewhat of a language of her own, one that she cannot express because she cannot go to the two extremes that society presents her with. This is ultimately her demise.
-Robert Treu describes Edna’s death at the end of the novel and how it can be interpreted. While Edna’s death has been regarded as a suicide, there are certain points that can be made to say that it something between an accident and a suicide, as Edna might not have been consciously aware of the consequences of her actions. This is not the only debate about her death, however, because there is the question as to whether Edna is simply escaping the consequences of her actions and the judgmental eye of society, or whether she is being noble in that she can give up her life to further the quest for another way out for women in society. Treu states that because certain authors end their stories abruptly or without giving a direct statement of what happened, there will be different inferences of what did happen.
Mou, Xianfeng. “Kate Chopin’s Narrative Techniques and Separate Space in The Awakening.” The Southern Literary Journal 44.1 (2011): 103-120. Project MUSE. Web. 6 Jan. 2013.
Muirhead, Marion. “Articulation and Artistry: A Conversational Analysis of The Awakening.” The Southern Literary Journal 33.1 (2000): 42-54.
Ringe, Donald A. “Romantic Imagery in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.” American Literature 43.4 (1972): 580-588.
Stone, Carole. “The female artist in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening: Birth and creativity.” Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 13.1-2 (1986): 23-32.
Treu, Robert. “Surviving Edna: A Reading of the Ending of” The Awakening”.” College Literature 27.2 (2000): 21-36.
Yaeger, Patricia S. “A Language Which Nobody Understood”: Emancipatory Strategies in” The Awakening.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction. Brown University, 1987.
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