June 2, 2008
Society in the 1900's was a trap where the sole purpose of a woman was to care for her children, to worship her husband, and to remain an eager socialite. In the Awakening by Kate Chopin, Edna Pontellier struggles to find love in a loveless world meanwhile neglecting her children and her husband. Her desire to be free in a society which cages women and in unaccustomed to a head-strong woman causes Edna to become distant from her family and even her closest confidant. A glimpse of independence frees her from all duty, but creates an identity which isolates her and consumes her in the end.
Women at the time had preconceived role in life—to marry and bear children, afterwards devoting her life to the two. Women like Madame Adele, Edna's confidant followed society's strict guidelines, she was “the embodiment of every womanly grace and charm” (10). Though at first Edna seeks Adele's companionship, the two soon come to recognize the stark difference in morals concerning the woman's role towards her children. A “heated argument [followed]; the two women did not appear to understand each other or to be talking the same language” (64). Adele believes a woman should give her entire being to her family and that it is all she can contribute to society.
On the other hand, Edna is willing to sacrifice nothing for her children and thinks that beyond the household, is a woman's independence and greater opportunities. Edna avoided the duty of being a mother, often times relaying the responsibilities to her mother-in-law. “She was fond of her children in an uneven, impulsive way …The year before they had spent part of the summer with their grandmother Pontellier in Iberville (25).” Edna cannot assume the role that society had planned for her; she cannot be the loving mother who tends to her children's every need. By disconnecting herself from the role as a loving mother, a duty created by society, she creates a gap between herself and the other women who can always give up the “essential” for their children.
Edna also distances herself from her husband, a man who viewed his wife as merely a piece of property. However, after returning from a business trip, Mr. Pontellier is surprised when he thought “it very discouraging that his wife, who was the sole object of his existence, evinced so little interest in things which concerned him, and valued so little his conversation” (96). It came to a shock how his wife became disconnected with him, how she no longer heeded to his every command. By going on his business trip, he gives Edna not only physical space, but emotional space which allows her to disconnect more from her husband.
Edna did not love her husband as she did Robert, but both she and Robert realize that she is a possession of Mr.Pontellier and cannot be freed. Even after she stomps on her wedding ring it “did not make an indenture, not a mark upon the little glittering circlet” (71). It proves that Edna is permanently a possession of Mr.Pontellier despite any force of retaliation. She thinks that in remaining an object of her husband and her children, they will “drag her into the soul's slavery for the rest of her days” (155). The only way to truly free herself is to break away physically from society and her family.
When Edna married Mr. Pontellier, she would “…close the portals forever behind her upon the realm of romance and dreams” (24). For a time, Edna lives behind the portals, keeping her true feelings for Robert Lebrun at bay. However, in her husband's absence, she becomes more aware of her purpose in life and the life beyond the portals. She proclaims her love for Robert and tells him that nothing in the world matters to her except for him, not even her family. However, realizes that “…the day would come when he too, and the thought of him would melt out of her existence, leaving her alone” (155). No matter who she leaves, who she loves, she will always be alone because her new identity thirsts for independence, and calls for a woman without obligation.
At first it was simply ignoring her duties as a mother and disobeying her husband, not heading to his every request without thinking. However her will to be free grows to where she moves from the family house to a “pigeon house” where she lives alone, which represents her disconnection from her family and her role as a wife and a mother. Though she is free, the society cannot simulate the independent woman, even her closest confidant cannot understand Edna's rejection of conformity. In the end, her consciousness of her independence forces her to the complete and ultimate form of isolation—death.

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