Feminism and Identity the Awakening" by Kate Research Paper

Pages: 6 (2157 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Sports - Women

Feminism and Identity

The Awakening" by Kate Chopin was published in 1899 and stirred a great deal of controversy in contemporary society. Centered on the main character of Edna Pontellier, a woman who decides to leave her husband and embark on an affair with another man, the novel tackles sensitive issues in late-nineteenth century Southern society such as divorce, social norms, and sexual freedom for women. Edna Pontellier rebels against social norms, and assumes control of her life by shaping her own identity. The voice of the narrator is rather neutral, and non-judgmental; in fact, at times it appears as if Chopin was condoning the actions of her character. It was the tone of the narration in the "The Awakening" which led to Chopin being ostracized following the publication of her novel. In many ways, Edna Pontellier is the prototypical feminist, a woman who dares to question the institution of marriage, and claim her independence both as a human being, and as a woman. Thesis: "The Awakening" has been called one of the first Feminist novels. Although it was written long before the birth of the movement, Chopin's novel is centered on a Feminist character, i.e. Edna Pontellier. Kate Chopin tackles nineteenth- century taboo issues such as women's liberation, and sexual equality through the theme of self-expression. This paper strives to evaluate the implications of self-expression and independence and their connection to the Feminist movement of the twentieth century.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Research Paper on Feminism and Identity the Awakening" by Kate Assignment

Feminism as a social movement was born in the 1950s, and developed in the decades which followed. In order to acquire a better understanding of Feminism as presented in Chopin's "The Awakening," it is important to note that Feminism as a movement was officially formulated at the middle of the twentieth century. Also, a brief look at the focus of Feminism is in order because critics have labeled Chopin's novel as Feminist based on criteria which was developed after the birth of the movement. Feminists fought for political and social changes. Their strife was translated into an American society in which sex was no longer the main criterion for success. This new society granted men and women equal rights which were reflected in the opportunity to participate in all aspects and processes of society, and provided equality as far as political justice.

The rebirth of the Feminist Movement of the 1950s was attributed to a great extent to the publication of Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mistique" (Freeman: 798), a book which encouraged women to liberate themselves from the social conventions which kept them confined to the domestic space and role. The main goal of Feminism, at least during its early stages, was to seek equality between men and women. The existing inequalities were assessed in a report issued by the Commission on the Status of Women - that had been created by President John Fitzgerald Kennedy - which presented the inequalities in the American workforce that were based on sex discrimination (Freeman: 797).

Edna's journey towards self-discovery and self-awareness which represent the basis of her self-expression starts with frustration. It is very interesting to note here that her freedom is acquired one step at a time. In fact, this step-by-step approach to the consolidation of selfhood is based on Edna's process of self-discovery in the sense that she must first find out what she is not in order to determine what defines her as a woman. From this point-of-view, Edna finds herself incarcerated in a marriage which does not bring her any joy or happiness but feelings of repression and frustration. Her frustration increases as she realizes that the roles that she had assumed - those of mother and wife - impede self-expression and the creation of selfhood (Spangler 251). Her means of self-assertion is resistance and disobedience towards her husband: "She perceived that her will had blazed up, stubborn and resistant. She could not at that moment have done other than denied and resisted. She wondered if her husband had ever spoken to her like that before, and if she had submitted to his command. Of course she had; she remembered that she had. But she could not realize why or how she should have yielded, feeling as she then did. "(Chopin 79)

The relation between language and gender has always reflected societal power relations. Chopin's novel, "The Awakening," makes no exception thus the connection between the means of expression of the main character, and her strength, be it inner or outer, is a very important aspect that must be tackled in the attempt to decipher the development of the protagonist in relation to the theme of self-expression. Edna Pontellier faces great difficulty in expressing herself in the strongly patriarchal society of nineteenth century New Orleans. She is unable to vocalize her frustration or her desires because "the registers available to her are unsuitable for that purpose" (Brightwell 37). In this context, her inability to express herself is directly related to the lack of a suitable vocabulary which does not allow her to actually name what she desires (Ibid). Historically speaking, men have traditionally been the political leaders, as well as the most acclaimed artists, writers and grammarians so in this sense, their language has been encoded in language. From this perspective, Edna lacks the words which could express her desires, and it is only through the power of the narrator that she becomes able to create new words which could define, or at least label, female experience in a patriarchal society.

Edna's strife for self-assertion also extends to her romance with Robert whom she genuinely loves; nonetheless, romantic sentiment does not come before her determination to protect and fully express her selfhood: "I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier's possessions to dispose of or not. 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" (Chopin 282). However, what is even more striking about Edna's determination to assert herself as an individual by rejecting the roles that society had imposed on her is the fact that she also rejects her children, and sees them as part of her incarceration. Her newfound thirst for identity and independence do not include, or are affected in any way, by motherhood: "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" (Chopin 122).

These steps are all stages in her process of awakening. The highly metaphorical title of the novel points towards self-discovery, and the creation of identity on a very personal conception of life as opposed to one dictated solely by social norms. The metaphor of the awakening also represents a reference to the myth of the sleeping beauty: "How many years have I slept?" Edna inquires. "The whole island seems changed. A new race of beings must have sprung up, leaving only you and me as past relics" (Chopin 96). Robert answers jokingly: "You have slept precisely one hundred years. I was left here to guard your slumbers; and for one hundred years I have been out under the shed reading a book (Ibid). However, this process of spiritual awakening is not identical to the fairytale in which a love stricken princess awakens with a kiss only to find her lover sitting by her bedside. Edna awakens to life in a more complex manner which enables her to take control of her "libidinal energies" (Griffin Wolff 461) that "had been arrested at a pre-genital level" (Ibid) - so she awakens "very hungry" (Chopin 95). Her hunger should not be restricted solely to sexuality because it encompasses all aspects of human life which she had not had access to during her marriage.

Edna's final awakening or her final step towards self-assertion reveals that her nature is devoid of hope (Ringe 586). After learning that Robert has left her for good, Edna is faced with the truth about herself. This stage is very important because she becomes aware of the fact that no profound understanding of one's nature can be acquired in the absence of human interaction and communication. At this point, what Edna learns about herself is deeply unsettling. She lies awake throughout the night and ponders the futility of her unions, and her impossibility to forge meaningful connections with other people. Although she feels she wants to be with Robert, she acknowledges that her inner nature would not allow her to be happy with him: "she realized that the day would come when he, too, and the thought of him would met out of her existence, leaving her alone" (Chopin 130). Even her children represent instances of her failure to give herself to anyone completely, and they become "antagonists who had overcome her; who had overpowered her and sought to drag her into the soul's slavery for the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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