Recognized as one of the leading writers of her time, Kate Chopin has lead us to explore maternity, sexuality, and selfhood in her well known work, The Awakening. For this novel Chopin faced critical abuse and public denunciation as an immoralist, and she consequently abandoned writing. But without her fearless, bold writing style we would have never gotten the chance to explore the world of women and their expectations in society; what finally pushed Edna over the “edge”.
In the late nineteenth century, a woman’s role was to be a housewife and to be…”devoted to home and children… and that she serve, so far as her husband was concerned, as the means by which he might display his wealth and social standing.” (Baym 36) The only hopes women had for financial prosperity were in marriage or inheritance. Even in marriage, many women were virtually enslaved; not treated cruelly, but pigeon-holed into certain tasks and affairs. The virtual enslavement is shown by Edna in the beginning of the novel but soon changed as she romanticized a better life in which she wished to be known as someone other than Mr. Pontellier’s wife. Within the novel, we first see Edna start to break free from the traditional roles of women as she refuses to her husbands order to come inside as she relaxes on the hammock on a breezy summers night.
Leonce reckons, “This is more than folly I can’t permit you to stay out there all night. You must come in the house instantly” (717).
Edna snaps back: “Leonce, go to bed. I mean to stay out here. I don’t wish to go in, and I don’t intend to. Don’t speak to me like that again; I shall not answer you” (717).
Even though she was expected to obey her husband and go inside, Edna does as she pleases and remains outdoors leading her husband to become worried and think of her as selfish and not as a typical “mother woman”. Kate Chopin reads,
“In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother- woman. They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels” (701).
Edna is portrayed to be more concerned about herself rather than her children which simply places her far from the “norm.” Edna states within the text,
“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. I can’t make it more clear; it’s only something which I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me” (729).
By rejecting such an important role, Edna is seen as selfish and absurd. She tries to escape her realities by involving herself in various relationships, however the past doesn’t just go away. She knows she has the responsibilities of being a mother and wife but she simply wants to escape. As we read, we see her slowly break free from roles and expectations as she plunges far into the water and breaks free from her life struggles and reality.
To learn more about women and their roles in the 19th century, take a glimpse at this video below:
To extend even further on the topic of rejecting the domestic role, we can take a look at the Disney movie Tangled. The plot shows how a woman breaks free from what is expected and creates her own journey and reality. Rapunzel begins the story as a woman trapped in her house. She paints. She cleans. She reads. She is firmly under the authority of someone else. But she always dreams of more, much like many women growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s dreamed of more.Even though the plots are fairly different, both characters portray the expectations of women and how women can sometimes be bold and courageous.
To take a look at the movie trailer click the link below: