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The awakening, portrays a character conflict of conformity against personal question in Edna Pontellier, wife to a typical deeply rooted man into Creole culture, Leonce Pontellier (Strebel, Sabine 10).
According to Creole culture, the stipulated role of women were commonly subjective to pleasure of their husbands, who most of the time embodied as busy men of the society. Women of the creole culture majorly display as possessions, expected to give birth into multiple children, engage in utmost role of motherhood and grace the social expectations of the classical families. The husbands, however appear to occupy a supreme position in the culture, reflecting rather more positive regard to their existence, unlike those of women.
Due to these role of constraints, Edna as a character, finds herself in a deep fix of personal conflict, following her childhood trait of conformity to culture, simultaneously with self-questioning. The whole idea of creole customs comes out as the basis of antagonism against which a modern feminist would easily object and criticize vigorously, as it entails constraints and roles that limit the personal realization of women inner goals of humanity, denying them a personal achievement of independence. As such, they tend to remain subjects to men, with most of their interests exclusively meant to suit the fraternity of their male counterparts. The creole culture comes out as regressive against development in women, who struggle as much to explore inner deeper potential and interests, against the objective of their enslaving husbands.
In the novel, Edna faces out numerous personal conflicts, having failed to conform perfectly to norms of the creole society. She winds up as an outcast, due to her isolated nature that earns her a lot of disrespect from her husband and the society in which she lives. Following a series of frustrating circumstances, the creole society subject Edna to state of confusion amid awakening moments, within which she finds an opportunity to gain self-actualization, but to the disguise of stigmatizing society.
During summer visits to the Grand Isle, off the coast of Louisiana by the upper class Creole families, Edna find s an opportunity to meet a young gallant, Robert Lebrun, with whom she spends most of her time onwards and remarkably enjoys the opportunity to receive maximum attention for once in a lifetime. She becomes so much engraved into the company of Robert that her husband's preoccupation with business turns out more as an opportunity rather than inadequacy. It was during this visit that Edna's moments of self-discovery actively began, awakening a deep sense of personal neglects that she had long been blind to. In her initial moment of metaphorical rebirth, Edna falls asleep for hours on the island during a boat trip with Robert, which creates even a more personal attachment between the two to an extent of panic in Robert.
Upon realizing the deep inclination that develops between him and Edna, Robert makes a move that entirely brings a frustrating attention and deep disappointment in his new company. As a result of his departure from the island, basically to create distance from Edna and venture into business prospects, depression and subsequent friendships offset in Edna's life that brings her close to two more personalities of great conflicting characters, Madame Ratignolle and Mademoiselle Reisz. The former is an epitome of maternity, with deep regard for family attention and loved ones, while the latter, an eccentric, unmarried woman with great talent in piano. Edna even falls easily into tears at her piano performance.
On their return to the city after the summer event at Grand Isle, Edna becomes, to her husband's displeasure an assertive personality, with little regard for norms of the creole society. At first however, she tries her best to resume her routine as a woman and wife, among which were reception of callers in the afternoon, as a mark of goodwill within creole families. During these caller sessions, Edna is expected to embrace family friends for the sake of her husband's business image, a culture she soon becomes less appreciative of after the summer experience. To her, she simply prefers to do what she wants, gradually becoming more assertive to her husband. Probably, owing to her experience with Mademoiselle, she gains a spiritual orientation towards awakening her love for music. Leonce's doctor, Mandelet, suspects though that Edna has been associating with pseudo-intellectual women-super-spiritual superior beings, a context he hears from his wife. In this form of personality, one uses a medium to tap energy from the dead, possibly due to close contact they still had with the living.
Regardless of what the society may think, Edna takes a standing position outside Creole culture, by which she intensifies her quest for freedom.
Generally, women in the Orlean Creole community mostly among the upper class are discriminated and are denied some of the freedoms and rights of the community. Those who tend to oppose such customs are either neglected or looked down on as rejects. In the novella, women are not allowed to do any economic activity instead to focus on their families. Theirs is to ensure children are taken care of and husbands kept happily (Salajová, Gabriela 12). Another duty set aside for them is to constantly be pregnant as in the case of Adele Ratignolle. The few women who try to go against are taken as a perfect example of say rejects in the society and end up being in solitude. Reisz Mademoiselle, for instance, is a childless woman whose passion for music and arts makes her pay dearly by social isolation and a reputation for eccentricity.
A negative implication of self-expression is also exhibited among women. The female being in this setting is not free to self-realize one's self. To begin with, Edna discovers to express herself through the art from Reisz Mademoiselle but her expression is opposed by the oppressor which is the community (GradeSaver 2). She also realizes that she can do some kind of business in partnership with Robert but her motive is greatly opposed by the husband. The changes of self-realization force the husband to refer her to a specialist Doctor Mandelet for treatment. This shows how women in this society are restricted on what they can do.
As an outsider in this community and culture, Edna finds herself in a position where every custom of the said community contradicts her beliefs and upbringing (Nagel, James 9). This position of being outsider later exposes her to being dissatisfied with her marriage. She no longer wants to sleep with her husband and at times don't follow the commands as well. This exposes to a series of squabbles and intense quarrel with the Mr. Pontellier on several occasions. Through a series of awakenings, Edna becomes independent and leaves her husband and children thereby solely responsible for herself. Eventually, this awakening isolates her from others leading to a total state of solitude.
She also self-realizes herself and changes the attitude she has towards the husband. This is evident when Mr. Potellier gets back from the beach and asks her to come inside the house but she refuses (Smith, Paul 17). He commands her to the house after refusal but all in vain forcing him to go to where she is as he smokes. After she gets exhausted and fatigued, she requests his man to also get into the house but he insists that until he is through with the cigar he was smoking. She even wakes up very early when people are still sleeping to go to Robert's house. Edna ends up falling in love with other men, Robert and Alcee Arobin neglecting and abandoning the loved ones.
Another aspect of the self-awakening is the neglect of duty which eventually destroys her completely. Edna goes out with Robert and leaves the children (Etienne and Raoul Pontellier) with the pregnant Madame Ratignolle (Gale, Cengage 3). Mr. Potellier even views her as abnormally independent and treats her as a nuisance since whenever the children are injured they pick themselves up instead of rushing to the mother for comfort.
The self-realization also makes Edna be regarded as a disrespectful woman to the husband and society at large. Having refused to receive the callers the work she has always done on every Tuesday for six years, the husband demands to know the reason behind all these behaviors. Her answer is that she didn't feel like doing it and instead went out with the friend Robert and need not be bothered. At some point, the issue of being an imperfect woman comes into her mind where a perfect one in society is one who; self-sacrifices as a mother, a devoted wife as well as behave like a maiden. Ironically she doesn't feel sorry for herself and her status and the only regret she is left with is sleeping with someone she didn't love but simply because of lust although she considers herself a free woman in society (Hembrough, Tara 15).
In conclusion the Creole culture of the upper class who discriminates their women and denies them the self-realization while treating them like lesser human beings. This, in return, may make the oppressed look for their freedom as in the case of Edna who turns against the norms of the society due to the fact that she is an outsider. This makes her abandon her husband and children and instead sleeps and loves other men, abandons her daily chores. Edna eventually decides to even move to town and start a business with the man he loves as men do. She also undergoes a complete rebirth and baptism in the ocean both socially and sexually.
Gale, Cengage Learning. A Study Guide for Kate Chopin's"Desiree's Baby". Gale, Cengage Learning, 2016.
GradeSaver. "The Awakening Summary."Study Guides & Essay Editing | GradeSaver, 24 Jan. 2018, www.gradesaver.com/the-awakening/study-guide/summary
Hembrough, Tara. "MARY LAMBERT'S FILM ADAPTATION OF KATE CHOPIN'S THE AWAKENING: EDNA PONTELLIER AS AN APHRODITE/VENUS FIGURE IN GRAND ISLE."Moravian Journal of Literature & Film 6.2 (2015).
Nagel, James. Race and Culture in New Orleans Stories: Kate Chopin, Grace King, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and George Washington Cable. University of Alabama Press, 2014.
Salajová, Gabriela. "Gender, Race, and Class: Intersectional Analysis of Kate Chopin's The Awakening and Selected Short Stories."(2016).
Smith, Matthew Paul. "Translating Chopin's Parrot: Local Color Louisiana and the Limits of Literary Interpretation, 1865-1914."(2017).
Strebel, Sabine. "The Self-Inflicted Crisis of Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin’s"The Awakening"."(2017)
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