A Deconstructionist Critique of Chopin’s The Awakening Essay

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A Deconstructionist Critique of Chopin’s The Awakening

The multiplicity of meanings and (re)interpretations informing critical studies of The Awakening reveal a novel ripe for deconstructionist critique. Just as Chopin evokes an image of the sea as symbolic of Edna’s shifting consciousness (“never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in abysses of solitude,”138), likewise the deconstructionist reading of a text emphasizes fluidity over structure: “A text consists of words inscribed in and inextricable from the myriad discourses that inform it; from the point of view of deconstruction, the boundaries between any given text and that larger text we call language are always shifting,” (297). From this
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In her attempt to uncover the “grain running against the grain” in Chopin’s novel, Patricia Yaeger dismantles conventional approaches to The Awakening that regard the work as an emancipatory text by virtue of its rebellious, adulterous heroine alone. Using Tony Tanner’s analysis of Edna’s infidelity as “belonging to the tradition of transgressive narratives,” highlighted in his work, Adultery in the Novel, Yaeger conversely emphasizes how Chopin’s development of the romance plot between Edna and Robert supports rather than subverts patriarchy. Although Edna credits Robert with “[awakening] me last summer out of a life-long, stupid dream,” her love for him interrupts rather than inspires her awakening, for Edna has simply jumped from the shelter of Leonce’s money and the social stability he affords to the school-girl fantasy of romantic love Robert represents. In each relationship, whether financially or emotionally, Edna remains dependent upon a man, but more significantly, men exist as the mirror through which Edna perceives herself. Without Robert, Edna forfeits the life she began to construct for herself, as well as the burgeoning female subjectivity awakened the summer before.

Though Yaeger unveils the “social acquiescence” underlying the romance plot as distorting what most scholars identify as Edna’s social defiance, she unearths emancipatory strategies within Chopin’s text that prove far more

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