How does Edna's transformation relate to the historical context of The Awakening?

Quick answer:

Edna's transformation relates to the historical context behind The Awakening by describing the limited roles for women in the nineteenth century. Despite following all social conventions, Edna remains disappointed and unhappy. The artistic world of New Orleans in this time period creates a temporary outlet for her emotional transformation.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In New Orleans in the late-nineteenth century, as elsewhere in the United States, it was widely assumed that women aspired to be married. Working-class women often worked outside the home or ran small businesses from their homes, but middle- and upper-class women had few opportunities to earn their own living. Even women from wealthy families rarely owned or controlled property, and upon marriage their personal assets were transferred to or managed by their husbands. Among the elite, because marriage represented this combining of assets, many people expected marriage to be more like a contract between families. After marriage, the wife was also expected to have children quickly and to expend her energy in childcare—although wealthy women had paid, in-home assistants—and maintaining a well-appointed home.

While Kate Chopin places Edna and Léonce Pontellier squarely into this environment, she calls attention to the disparities between social conventions and individual women’s aspirations. Edna has followed the rules, but she has not gained the contentment, much less happiness, that she thought would result from doing so. Instead, she finds herself increasingly miserable as well as guilty for feeling that way. Her peers believe she has an ideal life. Another characteristic of the time period is that Edna has few outlets for expressing her unhappiness, and there is no institutional structure through which she might find counseling or therapy. The problem is presumed to be hers. She believes that loving the right man is a solution until her affair proves unsuccessful. Another facet of the historical reality is that New Orleans had a long-standing reputation as an avant-garde or counter-cultural center where creative, eccentric people congregated. Through the character of Mademoiselle Reisz, Chopin introduces that artistic world into which Edna temporarily believes she might escape.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial