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Response to “Maternal Discourse and the Romance of Self-Possession in Kate Chopin's the Awakening”
I really enjoyed The Awakening, partly because of how well-written it was. The author, Kate Chopin, is often considered to be a pioneer of the feminist movement. While reading the book, I noticed how many women in the early 19th century were willing to live in captivity in a world controlled by men.
I found the ending very sad; however, it really drove the point home that, at the end of the day, freedom is worth dying for.
I found an extremely well-written article by literary critic Ivy Schweitzer that explains the events that occurred in The Awakening.
Background: What is meant by "The Awakening"?
Ivy Schweitzer realized that from the very beginning of The Awakening, Edna Pontellier realized that she had a "dual existence". "The outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions" (Chopin, 15). And though at first she kept her “inward life” hidden, I noticed that it affected her relationships, especially with her children. She was inwardly at war because her lust for freedom conflicted with her motherly nature. Ivy Schweitzer noticed a certain prevailing theme throughout the novel; over and over again, it considers whether a mother could become a “hero of romance” (Schweitzer, 158). She believes that Kate Chopin, author of The Awakening and a mother of five wrote the novel to question the idea of female “self-possession” during the early 19th century (Schweitzer, 162).
"She [Edna] had all her lifelong been accustomed to harbor thoughts and emotions which never voiced themselves. They had never taken the form of struggles: they belonged to her and were her own, and she entertained the conviction that she had a right to them and that they concerned no one but herself" (Chopin, 47-48).
Edna's Inner-Struggle Between Motherhood and Freedom
Schweitzer noticed how the novel portrayed Edna’s strive to close the gap between her inner existence (her want for freedom) and her external existence. In order to close this gap, Edna had to break social, matrimonial, and motherly rules and norms. Edna did not have difficulty casting off the chains of society or matrimony; however, she was unable to reject her children. It came down to a battle within Edna’s mind, a battle between her inner self and the bond of motherhood. "Edna imagines her struggle for autonomy and self-fulfillment in a world of traditional roles and values as a battle between a mother and her children” (Schweitzer, 165).
I noticed that, in the beginning of the book, Edna loved her children almost like a normal mother. However, during that time she was repressing her inner self. As she became more and more in tune with her inner self, and as she cut her ties with society and with her husband in order to assume her inner self, she began to realize the unbreakable bond she had with her children. Near the end of the novel, Edna realized that her children were like a wall blocking her from closing the gap between her external self and her internal self; she saw her children as chains holding her down, trying to keep her from assuming her “self-awakening” in its entirety.
Edna's Final Resolution
Edna was unable to overcome natures bond of motherhood. She could not reject her children. However, she was committed to freedom. Therefore, at the end of the book, she because "reborn into nature", which liberated her from the bond of motherhood.
“The children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her, who had overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul’s slavery for the rest of her days. But she knew a way to elude them” (Chopin, 113).
Edna’s “new-born creature” has reversed the usual developmental process and the conventional plot structure by metaphorizing and integrating the mother function and by turning an ending into a beginning (Schweitzer, 163, 164).
I realized from the beginning of the book that Edna Pontellier was living a life that she did not wish to live. Her life was not in line with her true “inner self.” She always loved her husband’s person, and she loved her children’s persons. However, she hated the emotional chains, caused by her husband, her children, and society. Those chains kept her from living life the way she always dreamed about deep down inside.
I completely agree with Ivy Schweitzer, I believe that the most important theme in the novel is that of motherhood, and what it really is. However, I do not believe that Schweitzer expounded enough on what began Edna’s “awakening.”
I believe that Edna’s awakening first began when she fell in love with Robert and felt distanced from her husband. Robert was always with her, he truly cared about her, and that made her comfortable to start bringing out her inner self. I also believe that Mr. Pontellier’s financial interests and his frequent traveling separated him from Edna. He loved her; however, he loved her as a possession. He was like the steel hand within the velvet glove. Edna realized that she misjudged her husband’s love in the beginning of their relationship; she did not realize that it would one day confine her.
During Edna’s time period, it was commonly thought that a woman found her identity through her husband, and her children; it was uncommon to believe that women made their own identity.
Instead of living with her fate and her external reality, Edna decided to rebel against it. I do not believe that Edna ever stopped loving her children or her husband; she rebelled against the chains that were emotionally holding her in place, not the people themselves. She had no problem breaking loose from her husband or society, but she could not break nature’s chains of motherhood. She could not reject her children. However, in order to attain her inner self she had to emotionally reject them. I agree with Ivy Schweitzer, Edna closed the gap between her inner self and her external self by becoming “reborn.” She faced nature as a completely free and innocent human being. She made her inner self reality by rejecting her emotional chains, embracing nature, and leaving reality.
In my opinion, Edna embodies the “caged” woman’s strive for self-possession, and self expression. I believe it is very possible that Kate Chopin had personal motives for writing The Awakening. Closing the gap between the inner self and the external self was something many women dealt with, yet few talked about.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. St. Louis: Herbert S. Stone and Co., 1899. Print.
Schweitzer, Ivy. “Maternal Discourse and the Romance of Self-Possession in Kate Chopin's the Awakening.” JSTOR 17.1 (1990): p. 158-86. Web. 14 June 2012.
Thank you for reading!!!