What does Kate Chopin's "The Awakening" says about the women and culture at the turn of the century as a feminist text?How did the wives defeat their patriarchal cultures and attitudes of their...
How did the wives defeat their patriarchal cultures and attitudes of their husbands?
This story reminds me of the play "Lysistrata" where all the women of Athens and Sparta refuse to have sexual relations with their husbands until the men decide to end the war between their two cities.
Like these women, Edna exercises her rights as an individual. In her search for the person she is--trapped inside herself and also inside the confines of society's rules and regulations where women are concerned--she refuses to have sexual relations with her husband.
She also attempts to express herself creatively through painting and writing. Her final act as her own person is suicide since she realizes that the price for being herself is more than she can afford to pay. It is a tragic story of a woman who is not valued for the individual she is unless (as society has determined) she is willing to perform within the expectations set up for her by generations of women who came before her. Edna is not a conformist. She was a woman ahead of her time, and if she had been in our modern society, she would have achieved amazing things.
It is important to consider the foil to Edna's behavior and consider the character of Adele Ratignolle. Adele is the perfect example of the Creole society's understanding of the role of women. They have a inherent concept of the "mother-woman," and the word itself is indicative of the priorities: mother first; woman second. Edna is not born and bred in this society and doesn't see herself in her role the same way that Adele does. Edna shocks Adele when she explains that, "I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself." She loves her children and would do what she needs to do for them, but she isn't willing to lose her own self, own interests, own passions, for the sake of her children. Adele can't begin to understand this, anymore than Edna can reshape her attitudes to completely match those of the Creole society.
In the story you have a few women who certainly challenge the expectations of men and surface as quite independent characters mainly acting against the oppression or expectations of their husbands. Edna, of course, challenged her husband in every way. Not only did she openly admit to not caring about him, but she even moved to a house next door, making him feel embarrassed from overseas when he found out. Imagine a woman NOT tending her home?!
In the story we have women who are artists and live alone, some are dowagers, and some are plain rebellious. In that specific time and place, a woman artist would have been seen the lowest of the low, and those who preferred to live alone were looked down on. The fact that they are still essential to the story denotes Chopin's strong belief that women should just let be.
Mrs. Highcamp is a fashionable married woman in her forties who flits about in much younger social circles in an attempt, apparently, to find a suitable husband for her daughter. Instead, though, she spends most of her time flirting. She is at least part of the catalyst which brings Edna and Alcee together. Here is a married woman acting out of the norm and influencing (or at least enticing)another married woman to do the same.
Clearly this is an important feminist text in terms of how the characters of women attempt to resist categorisation in a patriarchal, male-dominated society. #2 gives a number of different ways in which female characters break free of the stranglehold of male-based expectations on them, and certainly Edna is a memorable character for her strident determination to live her own life - even when that involves committing suicide.
Chopin's views of marriage as suffocating and in many ways a form of bondage in the times in which she wrote, held many ideas for her characters to over come their obstacles. While a few did, many affairs were carried on illicitly and other actions were surreptitious to other character actions.