feminaw Seeking a New Identity for Women in The Awakening Essay

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Seeking a New Identity for Women in The Awakening

In The Awakening, Chopin questions gender roles. Chopin seeks an identity for women that is neither wife nor mother. To achieve this end, she incorporates progressive feminist ideas into her writing. Yet, in the end, Chopin also shows that, because of years of conditioning, many women are unable to escape society’s stereotypical roles by any satisfactory means. The protagonist of the novel, Edna Pontellier, does not possess the skills needed to become independent and, despite attempts to escape, succumbs finally to the doomed dream of romantic love.

Chopin sets up a contrast between Adele Ratignolle, "the bygone heroine of romance" (Chopin 888), and Mademoiselle
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Albeit shocking, she finds this freedom desirable, even though she would not adopt the chastity that reconciles such freedom in the motherly, angelic Creole woman. While desiring to emulate the Creole confidence and sensuousness, she wishes to leave out the austerity which in the end conforms the Creole woman to the patriarchal society of her extended family. She wants to be a part of scandalous books being "openly criticised and freely discussed at table" (890), and begins to rebel instinctively against the narrowness of her upbringing, which has forced her to hide her opinions and criticisms on literature and life "in secret and solitude" (890). Madame Ratignolle becomes her model of sensuality, but not her model of behavior.

Edna admires her friend with an almost sexual interest. Chopin writes that she "liked to sit and gaze at her fair companion as she might look upon a faultless Madonna" (890), mirroring the oppressive male gaze. She paints her portrait because "Never had that lady seemed a more tempting subject at that moment, seated there like some sensuous Madonna, with the gleam of the fading day enriching her splendid color" (891). However, Edna sees this woman as more than a pretty picture, an ornament, or an elegant possession, in the way her husband might--she sees her as a living, sensuous woman. The influence of
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