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Sydney Cayas

Mrs. Morris

English IV

11, December 2016

Feminism and Gender Roles in The Awakening

The novel The Awakening, written by Kate Chopin, shows the difference between

characters who have gender roles that are expected in society. Edna tries her best to not be

defined by her title as wife of Leonce Pontellier and mother of Raoul and Etienne Pontellier. She

strives to be her own, self-defined individual. The life of freedom and individuality that she

wants to achieve goes against society. On the other hand, Adele is portrayed as the perfect ideal

Victorian woman. Through the contrast between Edna and Adele, Kate Chopin shows that not

conforming to society will lead to a downfall.

Edna Pontellier doesn't represent the Victorian ideals of femininity but rather, the

nonconformist romanticist because she isn't satisfied in her marriage, so she seeks other options

such as men to fulfill her needs. Her husband Léonce doesn't satisfy her emotional and sexual

needs because she has high expectations and he is always on business trips. Léonce wishes she

acted like the other Creole women even though she wants to be her own person. Because of this,

she starts to see a single man named Robert who eventually falls in love with her. Although their

relationship is passionate and fulfills her desires that Léonce can't do, she becomes vain and

ultimately chooses to stop seeking altogether. Edna slowly realizes her self worth and becomes

independent by living for herself instead of relying on her husband or Robert.

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She's not a Creole which makes her relationship with her husband very difficult because

she doesn't act like a wife or a mother to her own children. Edna states that "I would give my life

for my children; but I wouldn't give myself" (Chopin, 56). Creole women devotes their whole

lives to their husbands but Edna doesn't want to have a label, but, rather be her own person. Edna

decided she doesn't want to belong to anyone other than herself. By not wanting to conform to

society, Edna doesn't feel like she fits in and isn't satisfied with her life, which leads to her

ultimate downfall.

Adele represents the perfect Victorian ideal for femininity. By giving back to others,

she feels content about her life. She obtains "grace and majesty which queens are sometimes

supposed to possess" and her children run to "her own fond, encircling arms" (27). Adele is a

great mother because she is loving, caring, and embodied "grace of every step, pose, gesture" (9).

Adele, who is very different from Edna, acts different towards her children and her husband

because she puts them first in her priorities. She portrays what every perfect Victorian women

should act and present themselves.

Chopin uses Edna and Adele as foils of each other to represent the different types of

women in society in the 1800's. By doing so, she shows that not conforming to society, will lead

to a downfall. Unlike Edna, Adele is the typical Victorian woman and goes along with the normal

standards that are expected. She is proud to be a mother and shows her appreciation by

constantly bring up her pregnancy. Since Adele goes along with the expectations of acting like a

Victorian woman, she is trapped in the idea of gender roles throughout her life. It is shown that

Adele doesn't struggle and lives the perfect life because she is just like any other women in the

1800's.
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Through the contrast between Edna and Adele, Kate Chopin shows that since Edna

doesn't conform to society, she will struggle along the way. Since Adele is portrayed as societies

standards, she doesn't have obstacles and lives a perfect life. This shows the two paths a woman

can take in the 1800's whether to conform to society or be their own person. Although they both

expressed their individuality and personal beliefs though their actions, Chopin shows that taking

a different path will have obstacles. On the contrary, by following the ideal path there won't be

any struggles and live the perfect life just like everyone else.

The difference between the characters who have gender roles that is expected out

of society foreshadows how they will end up. Edna feels hopeless and finally frees her herself by

committing suicide. She drowns herself in the sea of despair which represents freedom in her

point of view, because thats the only place she feels like herself. Throughout the novel it shows

her struggles along the way because she didn't conform to society. On the other hand, the novel

also shows how Adele lived the perfect life because she followed the rules and didn't go against

everyone else. In the Victorian Era, it was looked down upon if anyone didn't follow what was

expected of them so as a result, it will lead to consequences. By comparing and contrasting Adele

and Edna, Chopin wanted to portray the routes a woman can take and how their life would turn

out if they did or didn't conform to the ideal standards.

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Works Cited

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening and Selected Stories of Kate Chopin. New York: New

American Library, 1899. Print. 1-137.