Literary Analysis of The Awakening
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In “The Awakening,” Edna and Adele, the protagonist and antagonist, are both mothers trying to make it in the Creole society. Edna’s character rejects the roles of society given to her and the burdens of these expectations are expressed throughout; whereas, Adele is viewed as a motherly figure who is confident, and powerful in her life. The main topic that is expressed throughout the story is feminism, the process of creating equal rights for both men and women. Chopin reveals how women are being defined by a male construct of motherhood that not only denies their individual identity but also reinforces a sense of inferiority for women (Streater 407). Ironically, Adele and Edna are faced with the same limitations and situations; they just choose to handle them differently.
Adele’s character is introduced as a “motherly-woman” (Streater 406). Her role as a feminist shows how she is selfless outside of her societal roles. Adele is a devoted wife and mother, the ideal nineteenth-century woman. Adele spends her days caring for her children, performing her domestic duties, and ensuring the happiness of her husband. Her character “refuses to be silenced and this makes her a powerful feminist role model” (Streater 410). Adele is portrayed as “a mother, femme fatale, a saint, and a wild woman” (Streater 409), in doing this, she reveals an identity that confuses the reader about her “authority of the mother-woman role beyond the male prescribed definitions” (Streater 409).
Her position in the feminist issue is widely expressed throughout the story, she accepts the reality of a male dominated-society, but does not disregard the position of women in the human race. “…she doesn’t let everything else go to chaos” (Chopin 95). This allows her to retain a romantic aspect to her life while remaining happily married. In Adele’s marriage, she is treated as an equal, maybe even dominant in the relationship. This is the complete opposite in Edna’s marriage (Streater 410). In the last paragraph of chapter thirty-seven, Adele exclaims, “think of the children Edna, remember them” (Chopin 182)! Adele is urging Edna to consider everything she has, but the power of motherhood is very strong and Edna feels she cannot withstand with the society she has put herself into.
This shows Adele again trying to help others and look out for Edna’s children, except this advice wasn’t completely successful, because it led to Edna’s suicide. Kate Chopin gives us a vision of feminism, through Adele, that only addresses patriarchal reality, but also addresses women’s existence in reality. Kate Chopin utilizes Edna’s character to “expose how deeply imbedded the traditional gender role of selfless mother exists in our society” (Streater 409). Edna is fighting against the societal and natural structures of motherhood that force her to be defined by her title as wife and a mother, instead of being her own, self-defined individual.
“He reproached his wife with her inattention, her habitual neglect to the children. If it was not a mother’s place whose on earth was it” (Chopin 13)? This shows what kind of mother Edna really is, though she cares for her children, she desires for a life that is not constrained by filial obligations, a life different from a traditional marriage like the one with Leonce, her husband. In Edna’s marriage, for the most part, she uses silence to communicate with Leonce, again, this is related to the male dominant-society (Streater 410). Edna pities Adele and figures out that she is not suited for the lifestyle of a mother-woman.
“It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious blood. They were the woman who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow as ministering angels” (Chopin 16). Kate Chopin explains through imagery an example of a mother who is accepted in the society. Adele is definitely portrayed as the feminist and motherly figure; whereas, Edna has a different way of living, that doesn’t include being a mother.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. 1899. Ed. Margo Culley. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1994.
Streater, Kathleen M. “Adele Ratignolle: Kate Chopin’s Feminist At Home In “The Awakening..” Midwest Quarterly 48.3 (2007): 406-416. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web 2 Jan. 2013.