Free Masculinity And Femininity In Chopins The Awakening Argumentative Essay Sample

Published: 2021-06-21 23:37:43
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Category: Literature, Life, Life, Time, Family, Women

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The Awakening, an early twentieth-century novel by Kate Chopin, is often cited as one of the first feminist pieces of literature written for a modern audience. The novel follows a woman named Edna through her everyday activities, as she goes through a transformation that can only be described as an “awakening.” Chopin’s work is heavily concerned with the difference between masculinity and femininity in Victorian-era society. Throughout the work, her protagonist’s continual self-awareness is tempered by her increasing isolation from everyone in her life; thus, Chopin suggests that society, as it existed, does not allow femininity to be self-sufficient without being incredibly isolated.
Edna begins the novel as a traditionally-sequestered, upright Victorian woman. She begins to associate with a woman named Adele, but her true realization that she could potentially be more than she is does not come until she swims for the first time. Chopin, speaking through Edna, writes: “A feeling of exultation overtook her, as if some power of significant import had been given her to control the working of her body and her soul. She grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before” (Chopin 25). This initial swim-- the feeling of power that it gives her, and the feeling of overwhelming freedom that she experiences as a result of swimming out far-- begins the spiral into self-actualization that encompasses most of the novel. After her initial swim, she begins to burrow deep into herself, realizing certain things about herself: her love of painting, for instance, and her romantic and sexual interest in Robert. She notes that when she first begins the affair with Robert, it is the first time in her twenty-eight years that she has experienced passion. These two events-- Edna’s swim, and then the beginning of her affair with Robert-- mark a notable change in her personality and feelings of self-awareness.
The swimming that Edna does throughout the novel foreshadows her eventual death, of course, but as a symbol of her femininity it is also powerful. During her swims, she is completely isolated, free, and strong; it is once she is back on land that she once again becomes tethered by the expectations of her society and social group. The men in the novel consistently talk about the women of the novel as though they are strange creatures, buffeted about by emotional tides and eddies that the men cannot fathom. When Edna begins to try to express her newfound self, she is met with resistance and utter bafflement from the men in her life: indeed, her husband even approaches a doctor about her new self-realization. The doctor asks if Edna had been associating with other “intellectual women;” he then imparts this advice on Edna’s husband: “‘Pontellier let your wife alone for a while. Don't bother her, and don't let her bother you. Woman, my dear friend, is a very peculiar and delicate organism—a sensitive and highly organized woman, such as I know Mrs. Pontellier to be, is especially peculiar. It would require an inspired psychologist to deal successfully with them. And when ordinary fellows like you and me attempt to cope with their idiosyncrasies the result is bungling. Most women are moody and whimsical. This is some passing whim of your wife, due to some cause or causes which you and I needn't try to fathom. But it will pass happily over, especially if you let her alone. Send her around to see me’” (Chopin 126). Rather than treating Edna as a human being who is experiencing a sort of coming-of-age, the men in the novel treat her newfound sense of self as something brief that will pass, given enough time. She will, they assure each other, sink back into her role of mother and wife in due course.
In a way, Edna’s eventual death was the only way for her to find freedom after she experienced her awakening. Once she became aware of the realities of her world, she could no longer bear to live in it; the repression and the pain it took to deny her true self and her true identity was too great. The first time Edna swam, she felt free and powerful; the last time she swam out to see, she drowned in the waves. She became the master of her own destiny in the only way a woman of her status could at that time period: she took control of her death. While suicide may not be the ideal way to deal with issues, it is a powerful literary device for Chopin to use when discussing the implications of femininity and masculinity in Victorian culture.
Once Edna became aware of the oppression and repression she faced in her society, she had no choice but to end her life. It was the ultimate act of defiance against the masculinity in the culture; she drowned in the waves, acting out against her oppressors in the only way she knew would be effective. Rather than being a sad ending for Edna, her suicide seems inevitable, as if once she became aware of the realities of her life, she was bound on an inexorable journey towards her own death by drowning.
Works cited
Cantwell, Robert. 'The Awakening By Kate Chopin'. Georgia Review 10 489--94. Print.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. 1st ed. New York: Avon Books, 1972. Print.
Smith, Daniel Scott. 'Family Limitation Sexual Control And Domestic Feminism In Victorian America.'.New York Harper and Row 1974. (1974): n. pag. Print.

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