Monday, December 28, 2020

Edna's Quest

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Edna's Quest

The female hero is sometimes hard to identify in nineteenth century literature, novels that portrayed a woman going against the social normalcy of the time were suppressed and disappeared from print forever. In the novel The Awakening by Kate Chopin however, a true female hero is introduced. Edna Pontellier is a woman who was willing to rebel against society's restraining presence and try and live her own life, something that does not only take strength but courage as well.

At the beginning of the novel, Edna exists in a sort of semi-conscious state. She is comfortable in her marriage to Leonce and her relationship with her children but is not particularly happy with her life. Her journey to completing her life and finding the courage to rebel against the society starts on Grand Isle. The people she meets there awakens her desires for music, sexual satisfaction, art, and freedom that she can no longer bear to keep hidden. It opens up her eyes to the world around her and starts her on her quest for her own life.

Perhaps the most blatant rebellion against what was thought to be a woman's place in the world was that of her adulterous relationships with Robert Lebrun and Alce Arobin. To acknowledge and act on sexual desires outside of marriage was taboo at the time and caused a great deal of scandal throughout the literary world ( ). In truth, the act of loving someone, either emotionally or physically, that was not her husband showed great strength and courage on Edna's behalf. If it was ever to become common knowledge that Edna was behaving that way, there wouldn't be a quick divorce and then she would move on, Edna would be cast out of society and left to fend on her own in a very unfriendly world. To let herself feel this way about other men was her first step in her journey of self-discovery.

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The sharp contrast in the novel between Edna and the other Creole women, especially Madame Ratignolle, is another way of demonstrating Edna's deviation from the norm. ( ) Early on in the novel it is stated that Edna is "not a mother-woman" as most of the married Creole ladies are (Chopin 8). In fact Edna's seeming indifference to her children is another way she rebels against her culture. While the novel makes clear that she loves her children, it also clearly states that she is not willing to give up herself for them. The most poignant example of that is the conversation she has with Madame Ratignolle, "I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself." (Chopin 51) In the nineteenth century Creole culture this sentiment was unheard of; a Creole girl lived to get married, have children, and be a dutiful wife, and Edna's attitude does not hold with any of that (Fletcher 17).

Although this was mostly a solitary journey, Edna did receive help in her quest for self-discovery from Madame Reisz. Even though introverted herself she introduced Edna to a world of female independence. Not married but respected for her musical talent, she is a part of society but not restrained by it. It is from Madam Reisz Edna learned that she could find pleasure in art and other acts of solitude. Of course Edna is not able to find peace in painting for very long, driven by her need for sexual contact with men; it was Madame Reisz friendship that showed Edna that there was more to the world then what she knew. ( )

The act of ultimate rebellion was the way Edna took her own life. Unable to live her own life and unable to passively sacrifice her integrity by putting her life in the hands of controlling power of others she drowns herself in the sea. Too modern for her time she is destined to be held captive and misunderstood if she is to remain alive she chose death-the ultimate sacrifice-rather then live her life like Madame Lebrun's green and yellow parrot. This act is the end of the quest she has been on ever since she first set foot on the Grand Isle.

Edna Pontellier has every characteristic of a female hero. Unhappy in her marriage and her life she searches for completion in things outside of her domestic sphere. Her arrival at these things that will fulfill her; men, for a short time painting, and finally her death at her own hands break from what was classically a woman's role. She does not allow her self to be controlled by the world around her, which is a heroic act in and of itself.

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