LITERATURE: The Awakening – Character and Story Development

Chopin had the opportunity for–and in fact has been credited with–raising the consciousness of her readers of the time regarding the subservient position women held in their own households.  Perhaps it is my own mistaken notion that her protagonist is not quite representative of the ladies of that particular position of status, but I feel that Chopin has let us down with Edna. Perhaps in retrospect with the evolution of women’s liberation eventually forming a different brand of wife, our understanding of Edna is limited to her desire rather than inclusive of her behavior.

In other words, this doesn’t do it for me:

Before dinner in the evening Edna wrote a charming letter to her husband, telling him of her intention to move for a while into the little house around the block, and to give a farewell dinner before leaving, regretting that he was not there to share it, to help her out with the menu and assist her in entertaining the guests.  Her letter was brilliant and brimming with cheerfulness. (p. 136)

I well understand Edna’s happiness at the prospect of freedom from the burden of house, husband and kids–no, I really, really do–but to expect her husband to receive this letter with dismay because he couldn’t select the beef or the chicken for a party she’s giving to celebrate her leaving him, well come on!

Something that Chopin could have done to make this more realistic (that is, I hope it would be more realistic to think that Edna would have some thought of those around her) would be to show her notice of this little house she intends to move into, to show it drawing her into it and away from her family, and to have at least a twinge of remorse at hurting her husband and two little boys.

There needs to be a more gradual change to this character who indeed is making a major move not just as an individual, but as a woman of the times.  Flaky and pompous she can be, but it does not elicit the necessary empathy from the reader.  There is the additional confirmation of this character’s lack of same in that she is not truly in love with either man, Robert or Arobin who have paid her so much attention, and doesn’t grasp somehow that the men, regardless of their avowals of love, offer not freedom but yet another constraint similar to what she’s desperate to escape.

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