A key aspect of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening is its narrator. The novel is written from a third-person omniscient point of view and employs a literary technique known as free indirect discourse, which allows the narrator to relay the thoughts and feelings of all characters. The Awakening has an unreliable narrator in that she often gives judgements that are in agreement with the views of a patriarchal society.
Edna’s awakening is framed within the societal constraints of the Gilded Age South. The unreliable narrator highlights the novel’s irony. When these patriarchal viewpoints are put in context and contrasted with Edna’s awakening, it only emphasizes the ridiculous nature of the narrator’s views.
- For example, the narrator describes how Edna begins to see herself as an individual with a place in the world around her. The narrator then claims that to view one’s self as an individual is a “ponderous weight” for a woman.
In other instances, the narrator shows the perspective of Edna’s husband, Léonce. By providing access to Léonce’s thoughts, readers are shown Léonce’s selfishness and inability to understand Edna. Léonce expects Edna to adore and idolize him, and when Edna does not do so, he becomes upset. These other perspectives in the novel offer insights into Gilded Age societal conventions and opinions while simultaneously arguing for women’s individuality, freedom, and control over their own destinies.
Setting and Historical Context
Setting is important within The Awakening because different locations reflect Edna’s constraints as well as her search for freedom. However, as her identity shifts, Edna begins redefining even the restrictive spaces in her life. For instance, she uses Léonce’s home for her dinner party and goes to win money from the horse races. These acts of rebellion within oppressive spaces highlight Edna’s search for autonomy.
The Awakening describes in detail the setting and local culture of Grand Isle and New Orleans in Louisiana, adhering to a literary style called regionalism. Regionalism stems from both realism and Romanticism, and explores the local customs and cultures of particular settings.
- For example, both settings are home to Creole people whose customs, language and culture differ from other residents there. Each setting also represents parts of Edna’s journey. Grand Isle stands as a place that is free from societal constraints, where Edna becomes aware of her identity and place within the world. It is also where she dies at the end of the novel after realizing that she never wishes to be owned by her husband, children, or another man again.
The middle of the novel takes place in New Orleans, where Edna lives with her family in a large home, which Léonce owns and has full control over. All of Edna’s married life has been spent there, where she attends to the duties expected of her as a wife and mother. Léonce’s house in New Orleans stands as a place of oppression and constraint for Edna. But New Orleans is also home to places where Edna feels free. Mademoiselle Reisz’s house, for example, is where Edna learns of Robert’s love for her. Furthermore, the old garden that Edna finds is a place of peace set apart from society, while Edna’s “pigeon” home represents her individuality and autonomy.
The Awakening is set at the turn of the 20th century, a period often called the Gilded Age. The Gilded Age is known for its strict division between the public and private spheres:
- Men were a part of the public sphere, participating in politics and engaging in business.
- Women, on the other hand, attended to the private sphere of the home by caring for their children, their husbands, and the household in order to uphold moral standards.
These gender roles are the core subject matter of The Awakening. Edna Pontellier actively works against her role in society once she becomes aware of the constraints placed upon her.
Women in the Gilded Age were expected...
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