The Search for Language in The Awakening Essay

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The Search for Language in The Awakening

Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening, tells the story of a late nineteenth century woman trying to break away from the male-dominated society to find an identity of her own. Edna Pontellier is trying to find herself when only two personas are available to her: the ‘true woman,’ the classic wife and mother, or the ‘new woman,’ the radical women demanding equality with men. Patricia S. Yaeger, in her essay “‘A Language Which Nobody Understood’: Emancipatory Strategies in The Awakening,” argues that what Edna is really searching for is a female language of her own. Edna is prevented from finding her own language and ideal and therefore is trapped until she discovers that suicide is her
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Much of her entrapment comes from Edna’s having been raised to believe that happiness only comes with male words and companionship. Because of this lack of linguistic and social autonomy for women, Edna can never find either a paradise or a language of her own.

Edna Pontellier has no ‘lost paradise’ to search for in the novel. Leslie W. Rabine says that women are lacking an ideal they wish to reach and so they do not have a circular or linear path to follow, but wander in search of a paradise. In many ways The Awakening follows this pattern. Edna Pontellier, a late nineteenth century woman living among the Creoles of New Orleans, discovers that she is not happy with her life, but seems unable to figure out why or how to remedy the situation. She begins “going and coming as it suited her fancy, and, so far as she was able, lending herself to any passing caprice” (Chopin 76). She had no fixed direction, but seems content to let the tide of her whims carry her where it would. Rabine talks about the social and symbolic concepts of gender, and how they can both strongly affect a person. Both of these aspects of the subjugation of women affect Edna. There are set social ideas of what happiness should be for men and women. A man’s paradise may be financial or business success, political power, happiness in marriage, strong, healthy sons to carry on the family tree, or even a life of frivolity and gaiety. A woman’s
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