Wolff's Analysis of Chopin's The Awakening

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Wolff’s Analysis of Chopin’s The Awakening

In her essay "Un-Utterable Longing: The Discourse of Feminine Sexuality in Kate Chopin's The Awakening", Cynthia Griffin Wolff creates what Ross Murfin describes as "a critical whole that is greater than the sum of its parts." (376) By employing a variety of critical approaches (including feminist, gender, cultural, new historicism, psychoanalytic and deconstruction) Wolff offers the reader a more complete (albeit complex) explanation of Edna Pontellier's behavior and motivations than any single approach could provide. Wolff contends that locating the source of Edna's repression is the key to understanding Chopin's story.

Wolff's perspective is feminist in that she focuses primarily on the
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Women who displayed sexual tendencies were characterized as emotionally unstable or immoral. In this Victorian context, sexuality distinguished not only gender, but also class and race. Frigid women were deemed "normal" and childbirth was the only sexual expression available to women. (Many contemporary women would argue that childbirth is possibly a consequence of female sexuality, but not an expression of it.) Because female sexuality was linked to procreation, motherhood was viewed as a "divine" state. Wolff elaborates further on this idea of sacred divinity by noting that in childbirth women were not only sacrificed to pain, they literally and figuratively sacrificed their own lives for their children. (Is not such pain and sacrifice reminiscent of Christ's crucifixion?) In The Awakening "the sensuous Madonna" Madame Ratignolle embodies this ideal "mother woman" who is both physically brutalized and "emotionally mutilated" by childbirth. (381) Influenced by Freud's method of psychoanalysis, Wolff surmises that whereas "Men owned their libido; woman's was owned by their prospective children." (383) By utilizing a gendered approach, Wolff is able to understand what happens when individuals such as Edna Pontellier do not fit into the roles that society has constructed for them. Male dominated nineteenth-century society viewed women who would not accept…