Essay about Yaeger’s Critique of Chopin’s The Awakening

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Yaeger’s Critique of Chopin’s The Awakening

In “‘A Language Which Nobody Understood’: Emancipatory Strategies in The Awakening,” Patricia Yaeger questions the feminist assumption that Edna Pontellier’s adulterous behavior represent a radical challenge to patriarchal values. Using a deconstructionist method, Yaeger argues that in the novel adultery functions not as a disrupting agent of, but, rather, as a counterweight to the institution of marriage, reinforcing the very idea it purports to subvert by framing female desire within “an elaborate code [of moral conduct] that has already been negotiated by her society.” A reading of The Awakening that can envision only two possible outcomes for its heroine – acquiescence to her role as
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Yaeger takes issue with Tanner’s contention that extramarital desire functions in the 18th and 19th century novel as “an attack” on the rules governing “the opposed demands of private desire and public law,” rules that are “mediated” by the institution of marriage. (Tanner 13) While Yaeger agrees with Tanner that adulterous behavior by literary heroines does challenge one expression of patriarchy, Yaeger characterizes this challenge as only “mildly transgressive,” noting that “adultery remains well within the arena of permissible social trespass.” According to Yaeger, Edna’s falling in love with Robert Lebrun is an act of social misconduct that is easily imagined by, and indeed is anticipated by, the bourgeois Creole society she inhabits. Thus, Tanner errs when he equates adultery in the novel with “the possible breakdown of all the mediations on which society itself depends”; rather, Yaeger notes, for Edna “the thought or practice of adultery…is actually a conservative gesture within the larger scheme of things, another mode of social acquiescence.” Indeed,
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