Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.


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Hulme and Chopin’s works against motherhood

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One Whale, Singing written by Keri Hulme and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening both depict situations involving mothers who do not want to be mothers.

In One Whale, Singing, Hulme writes,

“Don’t refer to it as a person! It is a canker in me, a parasite. It is nothing to me. I feel it squirm and kick, and sicken at the moment” (856).

Obviously referring to the fetus in her womb, the protagonist is very angry and uneasy about this soon-to-be child.

 

In The Awakening, Chopin writes,

 

“An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish. It was like a shadow, like a mist passing across her soul’s summer day” (700).

 

This “oppression” is referring to being the perfect “mother woman” and wife, which Edna feels chains her and her self being.

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Unlike Edna in The Awakening, the protagonist in One Whale, Singing, eventually embraces her motherhood.

“‘I am now alone in the dark,’ she thinks, and the salt water laps round her mouth. ‘How strange, if this is to be the summation of my life.’

In her womb the child kicked. Buoyed by the sea, she feels the movement as something gentle and familiar, dear to her for the first time.

She begins to laugh.

The sea is warm and confiding, and it is a long long way to shore”  (860).

This gente and familiar feeling which she finally feels shows how much the child truly means to her. By identifying with the whale, she helps to realize how important and wonderful the gift in her womb was.

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If you love them let them go: The Awakening

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The Awakening by Kate Chopin was probably my favorite stories.  The story was slow in the beginning but it began to pick up the pace when the reader started seeing the connection between Edna and Robert. I could not imagine being a woman in that time and reading The Awakening and being shocked by that a woman is falling in love with another man but she is married and has kids. It just was not common back then because marriage back then was for the social reasons. If a man and woman were not in love then it was too bad for them and they should have to suck it up or society would look down upon them. Girls could not just leave their husbands, if they did people would talk about them and being part of a social circle was a pretty big deal back then.

I guess the part that shocked me the most in the book was after Robert and Edna confessed their love for each other and Edna finds him gone when she comes back. I was hoping when she came back that they would just have this big, sappy moment together. But she finds a note instead, “I love you. Goodbye-because I love you.” (p. 776) It shocked me because I thought Robert really wanted to be with her but then I realized while they were confessing their love for each other, Edna pretty much said that she would not marry Robert. “I give myself where I choose. If he were to say, ‘Here, Robert, take her and be happy; she is yours.’ I should laugh at you both.” (p.772) Edna admits here that even if Robert is the love of her life, she will never marry him because she does not want to be tied down. It just shows that Robert decided to leave because he knew that he could never have Edna. Edna wanted to be a free spirit. She loved Robert with all her heart buts he just didn’t want that kind of commitment. Robert was also had a good spot in the social world and he did not want to ruin that because of Edna and he knew that she was still married and he had respect for that.

I do not think Edna really knew the reason why Robert left or understood it at all. I think she was just heartbroken and she couldn’t understand what she said wrong. I do not think sherealized that she actually did tell Robert that she would never be his. Image


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Kate Chopin: A Woman Before Her Time

Awakening Cover 1899

“She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before” (715).  This sentence by Kate Chopin can sum up the whole novel of The Awakening.  It shows how Edna dares and defies all societal expectations of the time.  We have learned in class that there were men and women who enjoyed and rejected the book.  Willa Cather, a female author who often wrote about frontier life on the Great Plains, called it “trite and sordid.”  To understand why Chopin would want to create a book that “swam far out” we may want to look at her earlier life.

Chopin grew up knowing how to speak English and French.  She was taught by her mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and the nuns at Sacred Heart.  Here we can see how she was heavily influenced by adult women.  Her father died in a railroad accident in 1855.  Chopin was married to Oscar Chopin in 1870 and lived in New Orleans for a couple of months in 1872.  They even went to Grand Isle for vacation.  Below, is where the Chopins ended up living in 1879: A home in northwestern Louisiana.  The house ended up burning down in 2008.

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Mr. Chopin ended up dying in 1882, which left Kate to raise six children on her own. We can see already that Chopin faced many deaths of people that were close to her and how she had to take on bigger responsibilities.  Her obstetrician encouraged her to write.  She was described as a woman who “could express her own considered opinions with surprising directness.”  Not only do we see this “surprising directness” in The Awakening, but we can see it some of her other short stories, such as “Desiree’s Baby” and “A Story of An Hour.”

Chopin once commented, “human existence in its subtle, complex, true meaning, stripped of the veil with which ethical and conventional standards have draped it.”  This comment is useful in understanding what Chopin may have meant by The Awakening.  There is more meaning to life, then just obeying conventional rules.  Chopin may have been trying to say that without these standards, a woman (or anyone) had the opportunity to find the true meaning to life.  When Chopin’s grandmother died in 1897, she began to work on The Awakening.  I was hoping to find out that Chopin died of some magnificent death that defied all societal expectations, but I was let down.  Doctors say that she died of a cerebral hemorrhage.

A lot of her life experiences were reflected her in works.  We can see that her education came from many women and that her father wasn’t around long enough to make a significant impact.  Maybe Chopin did not have an exact feminist view when she wrote The Awakening, but just wanted to convey that women had feelings and desires too.

In Chopin’s “A Story of An Hour” we see how the main character is set free once she learns of her husband’s death.  (The death was caused by a railroad accident, which can be connected to Chopin’s father’s death).  In a way the female character is elated by the fact that she does not have to succumb to a man’s wishes.

By the end of the story, once the woman finds out that her husband was in fact not dead, she died herself.  We can read this short story with a feminist view and say that the woman died because she was upset that she would have to be forced back into a lifestyle she thought she escaped.  Or, we can say the woman died because she was so happy to see her husband, her heart just could not take.

For me, I think Chopin did write to express her views.  People of her time characterized her as having “surprising directness,” so I do actually think Chopin wrote of her own awakening.  She may not have had a husband that never took care of the children, like Edna did, but Chopin might have seen other experiences where this was the case and she wanted to express her views on the matter.  Without an interview from Chopin, we are able to tell that she put many of her real life experiences into her works.  So, part of me wants to assume that Kate Chopin was before her time and wanted the same rights as men.  Of course, this may not be the case, but we can agree that an awakening did occur.


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Love and Water

Edna Pontellier’s appending suicide has been considered one of the most controversial endings in the history of literature.  The sacredness of the sea and her lack of interest in her domestic duties elude to the notion that Edna does indeed drift off into the water with the intention of killing herself, but this is not known for sure.  Chopin writes:

The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to waner for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lost itself in mazes of inqard contemplation.

The voice of the sea speaks to the soul.  The touch of the sea is senuous, enfolding the body in its soft, clost embrace. (705)

There is an interesting article written by Rich Christie that connects Edna’s need for independence and self-discovery with her growing passion for the sea.  What once was an irrational fear has turned into an escape from reality.  As a small child, Enda felt a deep fear of drowing and instability while wading through the water.  It is not until she is an adult that she begins to realize that the water creaetes a sense of peace and isolation.  Chopin says, “Once she turned and looked toward the shore, toward the people she had left there. She had not gone any great distance – that is, what would have been a great distance for an experienced swimmer. But to her unaccustomed vision the stretch of water behind her assumed the aspect of a barrier which her unaided strength would enver be able to overcome” (715).  As Edna looks longingly toward the shore, there is this sense that the sea represents the “infinite” and “engulfing” emotions that flow through her.  The fact that her husband is away, her children are at their grandmother’s and she had thought about buying a small house for her own eludes to Edna’s deperate attempt at forming her own inderpendence away from the typical Creole lifestyle.  Edna is attracted to everything that goes against her society.  She begins a quest to find her individuality and find the things in life that satisfy her needs rather than the needs of her family.  “Edna looked straight before her with a self-absorbed expression upon her face. She felt no interest in anything about her” (733).  Edna no longer felt no interest in attending to anything other than her own happiest, and even that was not on top of her list.

The past was nothing to her; offered no lesson which was willing to heed. The future was a mystery which she never attempted to penetrate” (728).

When Chopin says that Enda’s future was never a concern of hers, there is this sense that the future was not important because she never planned on having a future.  Her suicide could have been pending and building up for a very long time.   She didn’t think about the future because her death was pre-determined, the future simply did not matter.  This quote backs up the idea made by many critics that her suicide was intentional; that Edna drifted into the water with the intention that she was going to kill herself.  I do not think that this is the case at all.  Edna’s previous irrational fear of water is wiped away, and as she drifts into the sea there is this sense that she is finally able to trust what she has feared just as she has been able to stand up for herself in a society that did not accept women as equals.  The water represents her finally liberating herself from what was unjust; and just as she felt a barrier between herself and the shore earlier in the novel, Edna feels an isolation that finally brings her at peace.


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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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Rejecting the Domestic Role

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”.

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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: 

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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: