Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.

Sexuality and Selfhood Through Music in The Awakening

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In Kate Chopin‘s controversial and iconic novel, The Awakeningshe touches on many subjects which where appalling to readers in 1899, such as sexuality and selfhood. Mrs. Pontellier, the protagonist of the work, undergoes a tremendous “Awakening”, beginning most prominently with a sensual, powerful and exhilarating experience with music.

“The very first chords which Mademoiselle Reisz struck upon the piano sent a keen tremor down Mrs. Pontellier’s spinal column. It was not the first time she has heard an artist at the piano. Perhaps it was the first time she was ready, perhaps the first time her being was tempered to take an impress of the abiding truth” (713).

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“She saw no pictures of solitude, of hope, of longing, or of despair. But the very passions themselves aroused within her soul, swaying it, lashing it, as the waves daily seat upon her splendid body. She trembled, she was choking, and the tears blinded her” (714).

Chopin’s use of words such as “passions,” “aroused,” and “splendid body” transformed Mrs. Pontellier’s musical experience into something much more profound and life changing, rather than just hearing a piece and creating a small anecdote in her mind. By listening to this Madame Reisz at the piano, she tapped into a party of her sexuality, which had been tightly clasped in a metaphorical jar of oppression, locked by her husband and even children.  The constant need to be a “Mother Woman,” completely hinders a woman’s sense of sexuality and selfhood. By abiding to the constant need to be a perfect mother and wife, a woman loses a self of herself and her sexuality. Edna’s musical experience along side Madame Reisz gave light to the green and yellow parrot which had been caged tightly.

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