A character with as many complexities as Edna Pontellier would suffice as a focal point in a feminist analysis of the novel The Awakening.
Having Edna as your central point of analysis, you can break your inquiry in many different points. Here are some examples.
- Edna awakening to the call of feminism
Edna is too unprepared for her new discoveries. She is awakening a bit too late in life and has realized how much she has missed out on. While she sees that there is another way to view life as a woman, but she is still too fresh and new to discern how she is supposed to behave. Hence, her actions are too brash and radical to the regular eye. While this is a direct indication of her "awakening to the call," it is still too dangerous for someone who has waited so long to wake up.
- The male view of feminism
This second topic elaborates on the first one, and uses the mindsets of the men who are witnessing Edna's behavior. A suggestion would be to dissect the conversation that takes place between Leonce and the doctor in chapter 22. In their conversation, there is direct allusion to the feminist movement and the overall anxiety already lurking in the air among men.
Doctor: Has (Edna) ...been associating of late with a circle of pseudo-intellectual women- super-spiritual superior beings?..."
Notice the derisive way in which the doctor expresses himself about this up- and-coming new mentality among females. He cannot pinpoint exactly what this new mentality is. He is also unable to give it a positive trait. It is either pseudo-intellectual or super-spiritual. In other words, these are radical women, nevertheless, and should not be taken too seriously.
Now, check out Pontellier's response:
Mr. Pontellier- That's the trouble...she hasn't been associating with any one. She has abandoned her Tuesdays at home, has thrown over all her acquaintances, and goes tramping about by herself, moping in the street-carts, getting in after dark. I tell you she's peculiar...I don't like it.
On one end we have the doctor making assumptions that Edna (and other females) are too weak-minded to make up their own minds, and that they let other women snatch their brains and thought processes.
On the other hand, we have Mr. Pontellier agreeing with the doctor in the first premise, and then emphasizing in that Edna's expected female behaviors are becoming extinguished. Now, what exactly is Edna doing wrong?
- Edna versus her reality
This third point is to show Edna, awake indeed, but lost in the midst of this new social mindset. Here are her drawbacks.
According to the husband,
- Edna is NOT expected to change any course of action in her life, much less change her course of thoughts.
- She has "abandoned" (terminal word used by her husband) her "at homes"- Meaning: "How dare Edna not be a good hostess and servile to others, as well as her family".
- She has "thrown over" her acquaintances- Meaning: "How could Edna be independent if women are meant to need company, support, and a hear to listen to their endless chatting?"
Moreover, is Edna allowed to choose her friends, or is she stuck with the friends that came with the marriage?
4. Edna goes "tramping about" by herself- Meaning: "How dare Edna show herself without a husband, or a companion, as a sole woman, out in the streets?" That would make her look "available" or "loose".
5. Edna is moping in street-carts and getting in late: In other words, Edna is engaging in behaviors that make her look bohemian, self-assured... too dangerously independent.
This aspect of Edna's life alone is a source of ample discussion.
Another great point to make, or add, to this would be:
- Edna and her role models
The other female characters in the novel either break or fit the mold of socially-expected behaviors bestowed upon the women of the time when the setting is placed.
On one hand, you have an Adele Ratignole, wife and mother extraordinaire, who plays the piano and fits the nurturing crux of the woman as the "angel of the household."
On the other hand, you have the exiled Mademoiselle Reisz, devoid of any human, sexual, or female emotion, and given entirely to the pleasure of music and art.
This is the factor that confuses Edna the most: Which of those models is she supposed to fit. Which of them is she, internally, most like? Which of them is she supposed to be like?
One last point to take into consideration is:
- Edna's awakening to sexuality and the reality that she discovers
We know that Edna Pontellier has issues that go beyond her marriage. We find out later in the novel that she has had emotional connection issues since a young age, when she would fantasize what things would be like, only to realize that her fantasies superseded all the realities that she found later.
This is a common topic in this type of literature and genre. You see a very similar line of thought in Madame Bovary, and even in Anna Karenina, where the females are indeed disappointed by life in general, but express their deepest regrets in their personal relationships.
Therefore, add sexual dissatisfaction to one of the many disappointments that Edna encounters in her awakening. She may have found a way to please her body, but her passion, her innermost desires, are never fulfilled. This is when Edna realizes that all has been quite futile; it is always great to wake up to a new reality, but it does not always bring with it the gifts we all expect to find. Edna gets to live and experience a degree of feminism, but she continues to be devoid of what she really is looking for.