Edna Pontellier versus Society
In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, the main character Edna Pontellier’s will opposes the society’s will during the late nineteenth century. During this time period, women are still viewed as pieces of property belonging fully to their husbands and they have certain responsibilities and standards to meet. However, Edna has trouble keeping up with the duties of a wife in 1899, which included staying at home, taking care of her children, and staying loyal to her husband. Struggling in regards to her will in opposition to society, Edna Pontellier is left feeling alienated because she does not uphold the duties of the role of a wife indicating that happiness is not always in line with the expectations of society.
Throughout The Awakening, Edna does not carry out the responsibilities of a wife in the aspect of following the demands of her husband. Edna and Leonce Pontellier live in a mansion on Esplanade Street in New Orleans, but Edna is not happy in their house. She instead chooses to move to a small apartment around the corner. The feeling Edna possess is described as “a feeling of having descended in the social scale, with a corresponding sense of having risen in the spiritual” (94). Edna feels that her pigeon-house is a more comfortable atmosphere which allows her to grow closer to herself. She decorates the house in a manner that suits her own personality alone. Similarly, she finds herself wandering on the streets, searching for new acquaintances as she drifts away from her old lifestyle. Mr. Pontellier does not know of Edna’s move until he returns from his business trip, so he is not aware of her decision. Edna’s moving out of her and Mr. Pontellier’s house into a small house clearly demonstrates that she is opposing society because women are supposed to follow their husbands.
In addition, Edna strays from society’s expectations of a wife when she decides to begin a career as an artist. In the earlier days of Edna’s marriage to Mr. Pontellier, she is a receptionist at their house some days. She greets visitors and socializes with her guests like most other women of her time during the nineteen hundreds because women are not seen as capable of working. Edna notices that she is not happy doing the job of a typical nineteenth-century woman, so she decides to take advice from Mademoiselle Reiz and follow her dream of becoming an artist. Edna develops more of a sense of her true self through her art. As Edna begins her new career, she neglects her children by sending them away with a nanny. She visits once, but she does not feel complete or in tune with her children. Women are expected to be inferior to their husbands and work below them, so Edna is rebelling against society by having her individual career. Edna’s art becomes an important aspect of her awakening as she realizes what leads her to happiness is not what society expects her to do.
Finally, Edna’s relations with other men demonstrate her straying from the mold society has for women. Throughout The Awakening, Edna has three men who love her: Leonce Pontellier, Robert Lebrun, and Alcee Arobin. Edna’s role as a wife includes her loyalty to Mr. Pontellier, which she does not keep. She stays with Mr. Pontellier because she knows doing so is the proper thing, and divorce during the nineteenth century is frowned upon. Edna meets Mr. Arobin and sparks a relationship with him. Although she likes his romantic side, her love for Alcee is not genuine. She keeps herself occupied with him while she awaits the return of Robert Lebrun, her true love. Edna has a love for Robert that is unlike her love for Leonce or Alcee. She likes his youthful, friendly, charm that she does not find elsewhere. When Robert finally returns from Mexico, Edna knows that she cannot be with him; she would be considered an unloyal wife and looked down on. Edna then decides to commit suicide at one of the places where she and Robert shared an intimate moment together. Edna’s relationships with Leonce, Alcee, and Robert show how she is ignoring the expectations set for her by society in the late nineteen hundreds.
In conclusion, Edna Pontellier does not follow the obligations of a wife and goes against society’s will in the nineteenth-century due to following her heart to her own idea of happiness. By Edna moving out of her and her husband’s house into a small house by herself, Ednashe rejects her role and denies the aspect of being inferior to her husband through making her own decision. Additionally, Edna’s rejection of holding her position as the receptionist at her home and her pursuit of her career as an artist leads her out of the mold of a good wife during the time. Lastly, through her relationships with Alcee and Robert during her marriage to Leonce, Edna is breaking her loyalty as a wife and contradicting the beliefs of society. Edna Pontellier guides her actions, not by caving to society, but by focusing based on her own happiness, leading her to commit suicide, which she thinks is her only solution to be herself.