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19th Century, but is also a tale of the beginnings of feminism and the individualism of the female. The main character in this story is Edna Pontellier. Through her experiences the reader is able to understand what was overcome to become an individual, and how those experiences and required actions created a type of prison for the suffragettes and women of the time. Edna Pontellier is a young woman, not even thirty, who is married and has two young sons. She has been raised to act in accordance to the societal norms and values, but for as long as she can remember, she has always had a dual personality, one for the outer existence that all see, and the one for the inner existence that questions everything in her world (Birnbaum, 306; Chopin, 705; Parvulescu, 478). Throughout this summer and probably a little beforehand, Edna began to feel the discontent of her life as wife and mother (Birnbaum, 301; Spangler, 250). She believed that there was another option in the world that would be for a woman or her essential self that was created by her inner existence (Chopin, 729; Spangler 250). The story opens up and we see Edna beginning the journey to her own individualism and self actualization. The first hint that she is warring within herself is when we are told that she cries in the middle of the night quite often (Parvulescu, 478; Spangler, 251). Even she realizes this is the outcome of the two sides fighting for equality and/or dominance over her personality. As more of her individualistic actions and thoughts rise to the surface, the actions of those around her hold her back from realizing her dream. She relinquishes the children to Mr. Pontellier¶s mother. She stops considering her husband as part of her life. He is there, but nonessential. During his business trip, she begins to sell her paintings and making her own money.
She feels independent and wants to prove it to herself by renting a small house on her own (Spangler, 251). With the one man who started her self-examination and new found freedom in Mexico, she found a different lover in Alcee Arobin. As the relationship grows from friendship to lover, she is constantly caused to retreat. She, herself, fears her actions initially, but she always overrides them and continues on her path to individualism (Spangler, 253). Everywhere she turns there are people in her life telling her to ³think of the children´ (Chopin, 774) or to be at home on Tuesday afternoon (Chopin, 731). She was constantly being told by others how to act and what to do, even by Arobin and his instigations and prods to be an individual. The reader is led to believe that she has taken her final step when she moves out of the home she has with her husband and moves into her own little house (Chopin, 755). It is in this house that the values of society and the actions that are expected of her take her to the climatic ending of the story. She runs into Robert and tells him of her love for him. She explains that she is her own woman and ready to be with him. Robert does not understand, because he wants to ask Mr. Pontellier to divorce her, so that he can marry her. This is funny to Edna, who laughs. She wants freedom, and he wants marriage. In the end, Edna losses everything in her bid for individualism. She is not longer comfortable in her own world or in the general society of her time. For her dreams to be true she would rather die than conform to what others tell her to be. She is an individual and chooses to take her last stand of her own free will as she enters to the sea and her assumed death (Parvulescu, 487). There are critics that say that this death is just symbolic, however, there would be no turning back and accepting the mores and values that she feel make her less than an individual (Spangler, 250). I believe that it is a true death that allows her to be an individual and
fulfill her dream even though it is in death. ³She looked into the distance, and the old terror flamed up for an instant, then sank again´ (Chopin, 778).
Works Cited Birnbaum, Michele A. "µAlien Hands¶: Kate Chopin and the Colonization of Race." American Literature 66.2 (1994): 301-23. JSTOR. 17 July 2009 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/ 2927982>. Chopin, Kate, "The Awakening." Deshazer, Mary K., ed. The Longman Anthology of Women's Literature. New York: Longman, 2001. Parvulescu, Anca. "To Die Laughing or To Laugh At Dying: Revisiting µThe Awakening¶." New Literary History 36 (2005): 477-95. ProjectMUSE. 17 July 2009 <http://muse.jhu.edu.ezproxy.umuc.edu/journals/new_literary_history/v036/ 36.3parvulescu.pdf>. Spangler, George M. "Kate Chopin's µThe Awakening¶: A Partial Dissent." NOVEL: A Forum of Fiction 3.3 (1970): 249-55. JSTOR. 17 July 2009 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/ 1344917>.