Compare/contrast two characters: Edna in The Awakening (novel) by Kate Chopin, and Nora in A Doll's House (play) by Henrik Ibsen.

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jerseygyrl1983 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One very stark difference between Edna Pontellier and Nora Helmer is the social environments from which each woman comes. Though both are middle-class, married women with children, Edna is a product of the social hierarchy of New Orleans. Chopin narrates the ways in which every aspect of that society, even its architecture, determines Edna's position and how her identity is inextricable from that society.

There is a moment in the novel in which Edna contemplates the possibility of leaving her family, which Nora successfully does. However, she feels that it would be impossible. For her, this remains a fantasy because independence, for a woman of her station, is a foreign concept. In the United States, white femininity had its privileges, mainly in its ability to dominate black people; but, it placed restrictions on one's life, too. White women did not have the sexual freedom of their male counterparts, they could not stray far from home without being in the company of their husbands, and they had little financial independence.

Both stories are often described as tragedies, though I have never perceived Nora's outcome as tragic. Both characters achieve an "awakening" of sorts—this is, after all, the title of Chopin's novel, but Nora's awakening results in her embracing death because of the perceived futility of her leaving her existence as a Southern wife. Her walk into the ocean is an attempt at rebirth, given the the association of water with baptism. There is also the possible metaphor of the Gulf of Mexico—a warm, soupy body of water at night—with the womb. Though she walks out into the sea, her act is a rather passive one—she allows the waters to overtake her so that she no longer has to choose. Nora walks out of her home and claims a life of agency in an effort to discover who she is. The pursuit of self-discovery is active.

booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kate Chopin's The Awakening and Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House present two strong female protagonists that are at the same time similar and different.

Edna is a woman looking to find herself, presented with the opportunity to do so in a society dominated by social conventions, as well as husbands or fathers. Edna, who is married to a successful business man and has two children, goes with the family on a vacation. While her husband returns to his job, Edna and the children stay behind, and Edna becomes involved in a romance with Robert.

Edna goes through a life-altering experience which changes the way she views the world and her place in it. However, things with Robert do not work out—how could they, really, given the time and place, and her responsibilities if not to her husband then to her children; one day Edna walks into the ocean and never returns.

Nora is also a woman married to a successful business man. She, too, has two children, and has a wonderful life.

Like Edna, Nora also confronts a life-altering event: she risks everything to save her husband's life when he is ill, but breaks the law to do so. When Torvald finds out what his wife has done, he cares not that she saved his life, but that it might damage his reputation. For the first time Nora sees her husband more clearly, as well as the lie that she is living. Like Edna, she awakens to a new world, along with a new sense of self...or more accurately, the realization that she does not know herself at all. In both stories, both women choose to leave husband and children behind.

Whereas Edna chooses to end her life, Nora decides to leave her husband and family, believing she cannot be a good parent if she needs to grow up herself. Edna chooses to end it all; Nora looks to a new beginning in her life.