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Breaking Down Patriarchy - Amy McPhie Allebest EPISODE 17, 16th March 2021
The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
00:00:00 01:54:53

The Awakening, by Kate Chopin

Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Just this past week I received an email from a friend who has been listening to the podcast, and she said that these essential texts have been helping her make sense of things that she hasn’t been able to make sense of, and helping her feel validated and empowered… so of course I was so thrilled and gratified, because that’s the effect these books have had on me too, and that’s why I’m doing this project. In her email she said “ I feel like I’ve woken from a deep sleep and have been starving for this knowledge.” Today we will be reading a passage from a book where the main character literally and metaphorically wakes up from a deep sleep, and she’s literally and metaphorically starving. So I think a lot of our listeners will relate to this text! It’s “The Awakening,” by Kate Chopin, published in 1899. The setting is similar to the one in “The Yellow Wallpaper” last week - it’s the United States in the late nineteenth century -  but Kate Chopin has a unique perspective as a Southern writer, and her story caused a huge scandal when it was published. It talks about adultery and women’s sexuality, so it flagrantly challenges the social norms of the day. Also the book is considered hugely important because it represents the rich inner world of a woman’s thinking and it carved new paths for authors who came after her. But before I get ahead of myself, I want to introduce my reading partner today, Shauna Rensch. Hi, Shauna!

Shauna: Hi, Amy!

Amy: Shauna and I met through our husbands - my husband Erik and Shauna’s husband Danny work together at chess.com, and they are like brothers. And then in recent years, Shauna, you and I have gotten to hang out, and we can bond about how ridiculous our husbands are when they’re together. And I also think you are so smart and well-spoken, always weighing in on any topic with really informed insights. I’m so excited to have you join me for this discussion - thank you so much!!!


Shauna: Thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be part of this project with you. I’ve really learned a lot from listening to the other episodes. Especially because I felt like it was a lot of things that I kind of knew but definitely didn’t have the real facts to back it up or hadn’t heard the real stories about why certain things were true.


Amy: Before we talk about Kate Chopin and “The Awakening,” can you tell us about yourself?


Shauna: Sure. I was born in the suburbs of Chicago and lived there until the end of high school. I was raised by a single mom after my parents divorced when I was 7. This was very impactful as I saw her reinvent her life post divorce. She started her own graphic design company which made it possible for her to work from home while raising me and my three younger siblings. We all moved in with my grandparents after the divorce and lived close to them until my grandma passed away when I was 17. They helped raise me and were a very big part of my life. My grandma was a school teacher which I think is part of the reason I was drawn to teaching. 


My family moved to Arizona right after I graduated high school. I started dating my husband when I was 19 and was at ASU trying to decide what I wanted to do. I jumped from wanting to be a naturopathic doctor to spanish translator and had finally settled into teaching when I got married and had my first son at 22. Since I was two years through college and couldn’t figure out how to do student teaching while wanting to stay home with him, I decided to take a break. My husband taught chess lessons and we ran tournaments on the weekends. When I was pregnant with my second I decided to finish my bachelors and picked a humanities degree so I could complete it online. I graduated when he was 9 months old. It was nowhere near where I started but was great for me because it gave me a lot of appreciation for history and writing that I didn’t have previously. Then I took tests to get highly qualified so I could teach at a charter school. I taught for 6 years and then I went back to school online and got my teaching certificate by completing a Masters degree in elementary education between my third and fourth kids. So now I have two boys (15 and 12) and two girls (9 and 5). I officially shifted into being a stay at home mom the last few years which has been a big change for me. I’ve always had a job in some way or been in school. The last year has been a major overhaul in my life, as it has been for many people, and now I’m just looking to transition into whatever this next stage of life brings.



Amy: And then really quick, your thoughts on Patriarchy or on this project. What interested you in doing an episode?


Shauna: Well, as I said I was raised by a single mother. Her parents were first generation immigrants. Their parents had all moved to the United States from Greece. My parents divorced when I was 7 and my mom moved us all in with my grandparents while she got on her feet. This was really interesting because I grew up watching different generations with very different beliefs dealing with each other. They were Greek orthodox but my mom hadn’t stayed part of the church and raised us to be more spiritually centered. Living with them felt like a clash of worlds and made me understand a lot about my mom and her rebellion. She was the first in her family to marry a non-Greek and then the first to get a divorce. But she was a warrior. And a lot of her fight was with patriarchy. She grew up with a lot of cultural norms that diminished her value because she was a woman. And I grew up with a lot of family stories about the negative effects of these practices on the women in my family. She wasn’t given a middle name because she was a girl but her brothers had middle names. Her grandmother had three girls and by the time she had her third, I was told, she wouldn’t even hold her because she was so upset about not having a son. My mom talked to us about her pain in this way and really wanted something different for us. And it made me aware of male dominance in the world around me. My mom passed away last year, very suddenly from cancer and it made me reexamine the stories and attitudes in my family and what I am passing onto my children, the girls and boys. I want to be a part of bringing more understanding to the systems and stories we are taught within our individual families and from the larger society. Especially the ones that seem to limit us or box us in, as a woman or a man. \


Amy: Thanks, etc. :) Now as a set-up to this famous novella, let’s learn about Kate Chopin.


Amy: Bio of Chopin


Chopin was born Katherine O'Flaherty in St. Louis, Missouri, on February 8, 1850. Her father, Thomas O’Flaherty, had immigrated from Galway, Ireland. Her mother, Eliza Faris, was a well-connected member of the French community in St. Louis. The family was Roman Catholic, following their French and Irish traditions. At the age of five, Kate was sent to Sacred Heart Academy, where she loved to read, how to handle her own money and make her own decisions - we talked a bit about nuns a few episodes ago, and how women  had more autonomy in convents than they did in the outside world, and apparently they passed on some of that skill and independence to their pupils, even if they didn’t become nuns!


Upon her father's death, Kate was brought back home to live with her mother, her grandmother, and  her great-grandmother, comprising three generations of women who were widowed young and never remarried. So between the convent and her family life, she was surrounded by relatively independent women. For two years she was tutored at home by her great-grandmother, who taught her French, music, and history. After those two years, Kate went back to Sacred Heart Academy, where she had a wonderful teacher who guided her to write regularly and to develop her critical thinking skills. 


In St. Louis, Missouri, on June 8, 1870, Kate married Oscar Chopin and settled with him in his home town of New Orleans. Kate gave birth to their first baby the following year, and in total had six children in eight years. Then, the year the last child was born, in 1879, Oscar Chopin's cotton brokerage failed.

The family left New Orleans and moved to Cloutierville, to manage several small plantations and a general store. They became active in the community, which was what was then called “Creole” society, meaning at the time, ethnic and culturally French. (Important to note that “Creole” today usually means biracial people who are of European and African descent. But in Chopin’s day and time it meant white, French people, so when she refers to “Creole” in the book, that’s what it means.)

In 1882 Kate’s husband Oscar died. She was 32 years old, with six children from age 12 to 3. And when Oscar died he left her $42,000 in debt (which would be approximately $1 million today). For awhile the widow Kate ran Oscar’s business, and a scholar named Emily Toth describes that Kate “flirted outrageously with local men; (she even engaged in a relationship with a married farmer)." Although Chopin worked to make her late husband's plantation and general store succeed, two years later she sold the business and moved to St. Louis to live by her mother. Her children gradually settled into life in St. Louis, but Chopin's mother died the following year.

Chopin struggled with depression after the successive loss of her husband, her business, and her mother. And this is so interesting, especially in context of last week’s episode on “The Yellow Wallpaper”: Chopin went to her obstetrician and family friend, Dr. Frederick Kolbenheyer for help with her depression, and he suggested that she start writing, believing that it could be therapeutic for her, that it would be an outlet for her energy, and that it could be a source of income. So maybe St. Louis was different from the East Coast, or it was super good luck to find an open-minded doctor. But either way, whereas Charlotte Perkins Gilman was prescribed the “rest cure” and told to “never pick up pen and paper again” when she had severe depression, Chopin was prescribed exactly the opposite, and told to write.

And thank goodness she was, because by the early 1890s, Chopin's short stories, articles, and translations were appearing in periodicals, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper, and in various literary magazines. She was considered a regional writer who provided “local color” as kind of a niche “Southern genre.” And her strong literary qualities were mostly overlooked.

But nevertheless, she was published in prestigious national magazines like The Atlantic Monthly and Vogue, and a collection of her short stories was published by Houghton Mifflin with very good reviews.

In 1899, her second novel, The Awakening, was published. Some newspaper critics reviewed the novel favorably, but most condemned it as being vulgar and immoral and offensive.  Chopin's treatment of female sexuality, motherhood, and marital infidelity were wildly out of step with the cultural norms of the time. 

The book was out of print for several decades, but it was rediscovered in the 1970s, when there was a wave of new studies and appreciation of women's writings. The novel was then reprinted and was critically acclaimed for its writing quality and importance as an early feminist work of the South.

Although interestingly, I read a few articles on Chopin, and she did not describe herself as a feminist and she was not even in favor of women’s suffrage. Which just goes to show that human beings are complex and can only go so far.

Anyway...

While visiting the St. Louis World's Fair on August 20, 1904, Chopin suffered a brain hemorrhage. She died two days later, at the age of 54. 


So as Shauna and I organized our thoughts, we decided it would be helpful to offer a quick synopsis of the story so there’s a framework of characters and events, and then we’ll analyze the themes. So spoiler alert!! If you haven’t read the book, go read it right now!! I didn’t know the ending when I read it and I was really glad I didn’t. So listeners, you have been warned. Shauna, could you give us the outline of the story?



Shauna: Of course. 

The novel opens with the Pontellier family—Léonce, a New Orleans businessman of Louisiana Creole heritage; his wife Edna; and their two sons, Etienne and Raoul—vacationing on Grand Isle at a resort on the Gulf of Mexico managed by Madame Lebrun and her two sons, Robert and Victor.

Edna spends most of her time with her close friend Adèle Ratignolle, who cheerily and boisterously reminds Edna of her duties as a wife and mother. At Grand Isle, Edna eventually forms a connection with Robert Lebrun, a charming, earnest young man who actively seeks Edna's attention and affections. It seems casual at first but Edna begins to think of him more and as they separately realize their infatuation, Robert senses the doomed nature of such a relationship and flees to Mexico under the guise of pursuing a nameless business venture. The narrative focus moves to Edna's shifting emotions as she reconciles her “womanly” duties with her desire for social and sexual freedom to be with Robert.

When summer vacation ends, the Pontelliers return to New Orleans. Edna gradually reassesses her priorities and takes a more active role in her own happiness. She starts to isolate herself from New Orleans society and to withdraw from some of the duties traditionally associated with being a wife and mother at that time. Léonce eventually talks to a doctor about diagnosing his wife, fearing she is losing her mental faculties. 

The conversation they have is interesting as it’s two men’s perception of the changes in her attitude and character. The doctor wonders about what influences she’s been exposed to and asks. “Has she,” asked the Doctor, with a smile, “been associating of late with a circle of pseudo-intellectual women – super-spiritual superior beings? My wife has been telling me about them.” (66). The doctor advises Léonce to let her be and assures him that things will return to normal. Here’s how he phrases his recommendation. “Pontellier,” said the Doctor, "...Woman, ...is a very peculiar and delicate organism – a sensitive and highly organized woman, such as I know Mrs. Pontellier to be, is especially peculiar. It would require an inspired psychologist to deal successfully with them. …Most women are moody and whimsical. This is some passing whim of her wife, due to some cause or causes which you and I needn’t try to fathom. But it will pass happily over” (66). The fact that their conversation is limited to seeing change caused by a shift in her mental state and they dismiss trying to understand her because they are not psychologists objectifies her to a machine that is just on the fritz but will eventually get back to “normal”. But back to the story...

Léonce prepares to travel to New York City on business and his mother comes to take the boys to her home. Being left home alone for an extended period gives Edna physical and emotional room to breathe and reflect on various aspects of her life. (This reminded me of your reference to “free space” in a previous episode which is required for personal reflection which women were generally unable to have). While her husband is still away, she moves out of their home and into a small bungalow nearby. She wants to establish her own space that is not supported by her husband’s income and material possessions. Here she also begins an affair with Alcée Arobin, a persistent suitor with a reputation for being free with his affections. 

Edna also reaches out to Mademoiselle Reisz, a gifted pianist whose playing is renowned but who maintains a generally hermetic existence. Her playing had moved Edna profoundly earlier in the novel, representing what Edna was starting to long for: independence. Mademoiselle Reisz focuses her life on music and herself instead of on society's expectations, acting as a foil to Adèle Ratignolle, who encourages Edna to conform. Reisz is in contact with Robert while he is in Mexico, receiving letters from him regularly. Edna begs Reisz to reveal their contents, which she does, proving to Edna that Robert is thinking about her.

Eventually, Robert returns to New Orleans. He is at first aloof and finds reasons to avoid Edna and she is heartbroken. After a few meetings her apparent unhappiness softens his guard and they admit their feelings. He admits that the business trip to Mexico was an excuse to escape a relationship that would never work.

After a first kiss between them in which he laments about her belonging to Leonce and her claiming her independence, Edna is called away to help Adèle with a difficult childbirth. Adèle suspects Edna’s affair and  pleads with Edna to think of what she would be turning her back on if she did not behave appropriately. When Edna returns home, she finds a note from Robert stating that he has left forever, as he loves her too much to shame her by engaging in a relationship with a married woman.

In devastated shock, Edna returns to Grand Isle, where she had first met Robert. Edna reflects on her position in life as a confined woman through marriage and motherhood and without seeing any way to feel fulfilled without causing pain to those around her, she decides that her only escape is to drown herself in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. She swims out with no plans to return and slowly lets the water take her.


Amy: Soooo sad!!! Ack!! Ok. Let’s talk about three main themes. First, we’ll talk about the patriarchal constructs at play in these characters’ lives. Then we’ll talk about motherhood, then we’ll talk about some of the complicated aspects of Edna’s awakening.


So first, let’s look at the matrix of patriarchy as it functioned in New Orleans at the end of the 19th Century. And I want to mention first that all the main characters are descended from French immigrants - we mentioned that the “Creoles” were of recent French descent and in fact many of them still spoke French. And there is mention of Acadians as well, who came down to the South from the Acadian region of Canada and Maine - in fact just the other day my sister Courtney was talking about her trip to Acadia National Park in Maine and told me that when the French immigrants who had settled in Acadia went to the South, they were knows as the “Acadians,” and eventually a slang term developed for them which is where we get the word “cajun!!” So interesting! And Chopin also briefly mentions other groups of people living in Louisiana at the time: there is the frequent appearance of Black girls and women who cook and clean and run the sewing machines and in general do the work behind the scenes, and there’s one character from Mexico named “Mariequita” who is described in derogatory terms, and several characters lash out at her unfairly, demonstrating the interlocking oppression of sexism and racism for women of color at the time. And I want to acknowledge that first - when we talk about “women” in this novel we are talking about the main characters, women who are restricted to a “gilded cage,” but who had extraordinary privilege and who benefited from the labor of - and are completely, utterly blind to the plight of - the women of color around them. 


So some features of patriarchy in the white, French, upper-class community in New Orleans, as depicted in the novel:


  1. At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life – that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions. ...She had all her life long been accustomed to harbor thoughts and emotions which never voiced themselves. (47)


First of all, it’s really important to point out that this happens to men too. It’s not like all the men were out there living free, fulfilling lives while all the women were trapped and kept under the thumbs of their husbands. Not at all - most men were living lives of “quiet desperation” too - locked into their roles and not following their own dreams either. Gerda Lerner points out that patriarchal systems exclude from leadership and restrict the choices of most other men and of all women. If you want to see a really vivid, dramatic depiction of this phenomenon, look at the character of Yanky in the book and Netflix series Unorthodox, which is one of the best shows I have ever seen in my life. 


But back to the Awakening… yes, both men and women felt restricted in their abilities to live their authentic lives. HOWEVER, men did go to college (women didn’t), men did have the freedom to have multiple relationships with women and “play the field” before marriage more than young women did (and Edna talks about wild, passionate crushes on a bunch of different young men that she could never act on), and if men had affairs after marriage they were excused whereas women were destroyed, men were able to pursue careers (middle and upper class women were not), men had the final word in the law, in the church, and at home, and they could come and go freely and they didn’t have to justify their behaviors to women. The law saw women as property of their husbands and taught women actively to repress their own desires and voices. So there really truly were structural inequities that restricted women’s lives more. 


  1.  [Dinner party reveals gender roles present from childhood]:

The little Pontellier boys were permitting them to [do whatever they were doing], and making their authority felt.

 

At an early hour in the evening the Farival twins were prevailed upon to play the piano. They were girls of fourteen, always clad in the Virgin’s colors, blue and white, having been dedicated to the Blessed Virgin at their baptism.  (23)

[The very next line is the parrot again saying Allez vous-en! Sapristi!” (23)]

 

A little girl performed a skirt dance in the center of the floor. The mother played her accompaniments and at the same time watched her daughter with greedy admiration and nervous apprehension. She need have had no apprehension. The child was mistress of the situation.

 

Ok, let’s stop here. It’s normal for a parent to have “greedy admiration” and “nervous apprehension” about their child performing in front of people. If they’re performing in public, in front of society, the parent’s apprehension is largely based on how their child is going to be perceived. Will the child conform to the social norms and “succeed” in the way they are supposed to, so that they will be well-liked and have a place in the tribe? In this passage it says that the mother shouldn’t have worried – the little girl was succeeding. So first, imagine a little boy – what would he have been doing in order to succeed in his role? Here’s what success meant for the girl:

 

She had been properly dressed for the occasion in black tulle and black silk tights. Her little neck and arms were bare, and her hair, artificially crimped, stood out like fluffy black plumes over her head. Her poses were full of grace, and her little black-shod toes twinkled as they shot out and upward with a rapidity and suddenness which were bewildering.  (24)

 

So the very last sentence mentions something she does – she’s a good dancer. But everything else focuses on how she looks, including “her little neck and arms were bare.” Reminds me of the sick feeling I used to get at dance recitals when my kids were little where the girls were sexualized at such a young age, and some of the dances were not about Art or athleticism at all, but basically training exercises to teach girls to base their self-worth on how they’re being perceived for their beauty, especially how they’re perceived sexually by men.


  1. [When Edna swims out to sea and almost drowns, she comes back and tells him she had almost drowned – but she was so proud of herself because she saved herself. He replies: “You were not so very far, my dear; I was watching you,” he told her. (28)


Just this past week, the two Art students in my life, my sister Whitney and my daughter Sophie, independently of each other, brought up to me the topic of patriarchy within the visual Arts, particularly in painting. Sophie talked about the ubiquitous “male gaze”, so I already had that on my mind, and then Whitney sent an article from her gender and sexuality class that’s entitled “The Panopticon of Patriarchy”, by Amelia Clare Wright, published in 2017 on the website Viva. I highly recommend looking up this article, but here are the main points:

 

-The 18th – 19th Century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham designed a building called a “panopticon” (all-seeing) that could be used as an effective prison – one prison guard in the middle could see almost every cell in the prison, while the prisoners could not see him (Eye of Sauron). Technically he couldn’t see every single person all at once, but he didn’t need to, because as long as the prisoners felt that he might be watching them and they couldn’t see whether he was or not, they effectively fell in line because they felt watched all the time.

 

-The 20th Century French philosopher Michel Foucault developed this idea of the panopticon as a visual metaphor for power. If an institution creates a mechanism by which its members always feel watched, they maintain power and control over them without needing to resort to physical coercion. The power is “visible” and yet “unverifiable”. The subjects become their own prison guards, and each other’s prison guards, because they have a sense of that all-seeing eye as the dominant force in the middle, that exerts influence and authority over them at all times. The “watcher” is the subject and the “watched” is the object. Later, Simone de Beauvoir will describe how patriarchy puts man in the middle as the watcher – she says man is the “One) - and woman on the periphery as the watched – women are the “Other.”

 

-   So Amelia Clare Wright talks about this “panopticon of patriarchy” in Art and in society, saying that in our culture, whether it’s “violent rapists found innocent” or “girls told to cover their shoulders… so as not to distract the boys in the room,” the panopticon of patriarchy is at play, but that it is often so subtle that people rarely notice or have the ability to protest it. She quotes a BBC Art series by John Berger where he says “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” 

-    

“Berger [discusses] the objectified female body in art ranging from classic oil paintings to commercials of the twenty-first century. “[The] picture is made to appeal to his sexuality. It has nothing to do with her sexuality… Women are there to feed an appetite, not to have any of their own” (Berger, 55). The woman’s sexuality is muffled, strangled, and deemed ultimately unimportant compared to that of the man. This sentiment spreads and infects other aspects of life: a woman’s ideas, actions, and desires are also perceived to be less important than those of a man.”


This concept of a permeating, omnipresent, invisible system that places woman’s ideas, actions, and desires as less important than a man’s… is the very definition of patriarchy, and Kate Chopin does a masterful job of demonstrating it in The Awakening. 


There are a few quotes that show the presence of men’s authority shown in the system where their ideas, actions, and desires are held up as more important. Even when they don’t exercise it, they know that they can if they want to. It’s a choice they are making whether or not to exert themselves.

  1. Edna and her father had an… almost violent dispute upon the subject of her refusal to attend her sister’s wedding. Mr. Pontellier declined to interfere, to interpose either his influence or his authority. He was following Doctor Mandelet’s advice, and letting her do as she liked. (71)

 We see her father try to exert his will and her husband deliberately choosing not to. And then her father actually encourages her husband to exert his control to manage his wife which is, as we’ve seen before, so objectifying to treat her as an object that two men are talking about how to handle.

“You are too lenient, too lenient by far, Leonce,” asserted the Colonel. “Authority, coercion are what is needed. Put your foot down good and hard; the only way to manage a wife. Take my word for it.” (71)


It’s just disgusting that this is the way a father is talking about his daughter. And I suppose it’s a good reminder that, as you said, Leonce could have exerted more control over Edna, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t hit Edna, he doesn’t scream at her or threaten her, and when he goes out of town he sends boxes of sweets, so that “all declared that Mr. Pontellier was the best husband in the world. Mrs. Pontellier was forced to admit that she knew of none better.” (7) So he is self-centered and insensitive and a complete jerk sometimes, but he’s not a complete brute. 


And I like that Kate Chopin creates a character who isn’t a monster. Like the article mentioned earlier, it’s easy to see the harm in patriarchy when a man is violent; it’s harder to see it when he’s a pretty nice guy. It’s harder for a woman to see and to confront and to deal with – she can easily be called “too sensitive” – she’s overreacting.


That’s so true. One of the first scenes we are shown the character of their relationship is when he comes home after a late night at the hotel where the men hang out together. He comes in excited and talkative and Edna is asleep. He wakes her up and talks to her about everything that happened during his day but she’s half asleep and barely pays attention. He’s irritated that she won’t pay attention to him and then goes to check on the boys. He decides one of them has a fever and wakes Edna up to go take care of him. She claims that he was fine when he went to bed and is probably fine now. Leonce begins to lecture her about her neglect of the children and tells her that with how much he does and handles for their life, he can’t also be responsible for the children and worry about them. So she finally gives in and goes to check on the boys. We can assume they were fine because she comes back and sits on the bed but still refuses to engage with her husband. He finishes a cigar and then goes to bed. She is thoroughly awake at this point and begins to cry. She goes out onto the porch (probably to not disturb anyone) and continues to have a long cry. 


Yes, I was so mad at that part! He barges in while she’s asleep and expects her to revolve around him, and then once he’s done criticizing her parenting and has fully woken her up, he just falls asleep when he’s ready to go to sleep. The text goes on to say:


She could not have told why she was crying. Such experiences as the foregoing were not uncommon in her married life. They seemed never before to have weighed much against the abundance of her husband’s kindness and a uniform devotion which had come to be tacit and self-understood.

 

An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish. It was like a shadow, like a mist passing across her soul’s summer day. It was strange and unfamiliar; it was a mood. She did not sit there inwardly upbraiding her husband, lamenting at Fate, which had directed her footsteps to the path which they had taken. She was just having a good cry all to herself. (6)


  1. And, at the same time, we know that he’s not some horrible violent abuser, but he does also admit to the doctor: “You know I have a quick temper, but I don’t want to quarrel or be rude to a woman, especially my wife; yet I’m driven to it, and feel like ten thousand devils after I’ve made a fool of myself. She’s making it devilishly uncomfortable for me,” he went on nervously. “She’s got some sort of notion in her head concerning the eternal rights of women (65)


I thought it was interesting that he describes his reactions as something he’s “driven to” because it allows him to take no responsibility for the interaction. He doesn’t think about what he might be doing or how Edna is feeling. He only recognizes that he’s uncomfortable and wants to go back to life where he is catered to and can do whatever he wants without consequence. As we get to the end of the story I think this is a really important aspect of their relationship to understand. 


Yes, I’ve actually heard men talk about it this way and I love that you call him out that he’s “uncomfortable” with the shifting dynamics, and so then that “drives him” to rage. He’s completely out of touch with his own feelings of not being in control. He doesn’t realize his own expectations that his wife is there to serve and please him, so he feels bad after he flies into rages, but he doesn’t even understand why he’s doing it and dissociates himself from it, so he doesn’t realize the damage he’s doing.



Shauna: Motherhood


So, I’m going to go through some quotes in the story that refer to mothers. The role of mother has been a topic in a lot of previous episodes. So we can look at how mothers are portrayed at this time, the expectations on their role and behavior, and how Edna fits into the role. The descriptions of mothers and the apparent lack of such tendencies in Edna comes in pieces throughout the story and it is seen as a general lacking on her part from both her husband and other women. After the scene where Leonce criticizes Edna’s parenting that we heard earlier there is reference to mothers in general and Edna is compared to what a woman “should” be like. 


“In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman. The mother-women seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels” (pg. 8)


We can see the embodiment of a “mother-woman” in Adele Ratignolle and she actually expresses to Edna at various points about how she should act. The language here is very interesting as mothers are supposed to “idolize their children,” “worship their husbands,” and be “angels” themselves. The religious language to me really emphasizes the religious overtone of society. Edna’s character is contrasted to other women who are doing it “right”. To be a good mother requires diminishing oneself as an individual and catering to a husband and children as if they themselves don’t have needs. 

YES!! There’s this really long, sappy poem called “The Angel in the House” written by a man in England in 1854, and its idealization of the self-sacrificing woman impacted English and American society so much that Virginia Woolf was still writing about it in the 1930’s. We’re doing a whole episode on it in a couple of weeks. 


It is well known by all the characters that Edna lacks this self-sacrificing and overbearing relationship with her children. And it is considered something faulty in her character. But she tries to explain herself at one point. 

“Edna had once told Madame Ratignolle that she would never sacrifice herself for her children, or for anyone” and says “I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself” (pg. 47)

This is a really strong statement about the difference between how she sees her life and her inner self. She would die for her children but is not willing to live a life where she can’t be her own person. 


She struggles with her desire for independence and self-identity and her duty to her children. This ends up being the last straw for her as she figures out how to remove herself from her other restrictions. She has released her attachment to her husband and his money, the societal norms of how she should act, but she realizes that her children have a claim to her that she cannot throw away or remove herself from.

“But I don’t want anything but my own way. That is wanting a good deal, of course, when you have to trample upon the lives, the hearts, the prejudices of others – but no matter – still, I shouldn’t want to trample upon the little lives” (pg. 112)

She wants her own way but doesn’t want to hurt them which she can’t reconcile.

 

“Still she remembered Adele’s voice whispering, “Think of the children; think of them.” She meant to think of them; that determination had driven into her soul like a death wound” (pg.112)

 

“The children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her; who had overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul’s slavery for the rest of her days” (pg. 115)

Both of these quotes address her soul and the impact that the role of mother, as defined by society, has on her soul. She can’t create a life where she is a mother and free to be herself because the demands of the role from society are too restrictive. It’s interesting that the one independent woman we meet in the story, Mademoiselle Reisz, doesn’t have children.


Right. It really does seem like for women in Edna’s social position at that time and place, the choice was really either/or. You could either pursue your own interests and talents, OR you could have a family. You couldn’t do both. 


And then the other thing I keep thinking about is that Glennon Doyle quote you shared with me this week. Do you want to talk about that really quick?


Yes. If anyone hasn’t heard of it, Untamed by Glennon Doyle came out in March of 2020 and is a #1 New York Times Bestseller and just been everywhere I look this year. For the record it was an amazing read and I highly recommend it! It’s a memoir and I thought about it a lot as I read The Awakening as it is essentially the story of the authors awakening. One of the quotes that came up on my Instagram this week was “Say the thing you must say. Go where you must go. Leave what you must leave. Do what you must do. Trust yourself. When they say: You seem out of control. You say: Thank you. That’s the plan. For the rest of my life.” This felt so relevant to Edna. She essentially takes this oath. Doyle encourages the same awakening that Edna goes through. And this is 2020. She really emphasizes living by your own inner truth. Without apologies or compromises.


At the very end of the novel her final thoughts are of her relationship with her family.

“She thought of Leonce and the children. They were part of her life. But they need not have thought that they could possess her, body and soul” (pg. 116)

I felt like this was a really powerful ending thought because it implies the possibility of life with a different outcome. Had these men in her life felt and acted differently, treated her differently, seen her as a whole human being, then the outcome would have been different. I also wondered whether it was important to the story that her children were both boys. Would she have felt differently if she had a daughter? I’ve had so many different feelings about my place in the world and my experience as I watch my kids grow and go through their own experiences. And I definitely took a big hit when I had my daughter after having two boys. The thought of what she would go through as a girl and woman in the world made me reflect more on what I had been through, what I wanted to teach her, how I could support her to have a different experience than I did. It was really powerful and I think it was an important choice for Chopin to have Edna have sons. 


I didn’t notice or think about that at all - I think that’s such a great point.


The last point about motherhood that stuck out to me was the discussion of birth. Edna is witness to her friend Adele’s birth and honestly it's hardly even described as such that I had to read it twice to figure out that that was what was happening. But the words to describe it are very negative. “Agonizing”, “suffering”, “uneasy”, “vague dread”, “inward agony”, “scene of torture” (110) and Edna is very disturbed by it. And then remembers her own which sounds so disconnected.

“She recalled faintly an ecstasy of pain, the heavy odor of chloroform, a stupor which had deadened sensation, and an awakening to find a little new life to which she had given being, added to the great unnumbered multitude of souls that come and go” (pg. 110)

I wonder, with what we know now about the importance of bonding after birth and the first hour, whether she would have felt more motherly if she had “experienced” her birth. It seems like something that happened to her which could have really affected her.


Whoa. Such a good point!!!

 


Awakening:

Amy: Kate Chopin uses several different methods to demonstrate Edna’s awakening. Edna had been sleepwalking through her life, doing everything she was supposed to do, but not living deliberately, authentically. 


  1. Speaking honestly with her friend Adele

She was flushed and felt intoxicated with the sound of her own voice and the unaccustomed taste of candor. It muddled her like wine, or like a first breath of freedom. (19)


Haven’t we all experienced this?! Sometimes just saying what we really feel and think to a close friend or sibling is so liberating!! 

 

  1. Walking through an open meadow

[Edna’s attraction to Robert is starting to wake her up – Adele asks Edna what she’s thinking about, and she says]: I don’t remember now. I was just walking diagonally across a big field. My sun-bonnet obstructed the view. I could see only the stretch of green before me, and I felt as if I must walk on forever, without coming to the end of it. I don’t remember whether I was frightened or pleased. ...‘Likely as not it was Sunday,’ she laughed, “and I was running away from prayers, ...read in a spirit of gloom by my father that chills me yet to think of.”


[The memory of the open meadow came back to her in the final scene of the book] 


The memories of being a child, and running away from those first restrictive, oppressive rules, whether that’s church or school or a very repressive home environment


I thought it was great that we see her as a child because it reminds us that her awakening is going back to something she knew before. The suppression that she was experiencing was something she had learned and taken in at an early age. She had a role and character that was a facade and now she was trying to return to herself.


Yes! I think so many of us remember what it felt like to be free in our own little bodies, just out there exploring the world… and at some point we become cogs in a machine, almost anesthetized. And again, this numbing and “sleeping” happens to men and women, but happens differently to women, who are systematically repressed and deprived of their vital, creative energy. The next quote represents


  1. Sleeping/Literal Awakening

She stretched her strong limbs that ached a little. She ran her fingers through her loosened hair for a while. She looked at her round arms as she held them straight up and rubbed them one after the other, observing closely, as if it were something she saw for the first time, the fine, firm quality and texture of her flesh. (36)  [When she woke up] her eyes were bright and wide awake and her face glowed. … She was very hungry. …”


I wanted to read this part because so much of Edna’s awakening is experienced in her body. It’s like she’s been sleepwalking her whole life, and she suddenly wakes up and realizes she has arms and hair and muscles and appetites.



  1. Music

The very first chords which Mademoiselle Reisz struck upon the piano sent a keen tremor down Mrs. Pontellier’s spinal column. It was not the first time she had heard an artist at the piano. Perhaps it was the first time she was ready, perhaps the first time her being was tempered to take an impress of the abiding truth.

 

...the very passions themselves were aroused within her soul, swaying it, lashing it, as the waves daily beat upon her splendid body. She trembled, and she was choking, and the tears blinded her. [Mademoiselle Reisz perceived her agitation and even her tears. She patted her again upon the shoulder as she said: “you are the only one worth playing for.” (26)

 

 

  1. Learning to Swim (And the power of the Sea)

  

Edna had attempted all summer to learn to swim. She had received instructions from both the men and women; in some instances from the children. ...A certain ungovernable dread hung about her when in the water, unless there was a hand nearby that might reach out and reassure her.

 

But that night she was like a little tottering, stumbling, clutching child, who of a sudden realizes its powers and walks for the first time alone, boldly and with over-confidence. She could have shouted for joy. She did shout for joy, as with a sweeping stroke or two she lifted her body to the surface of the water.

 

A feeling of exultation overtook her, as if some power of significant import had been given her to control the working of her body and her soul. She grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before.

 

“…How easy it is! “ she thought. “It is nothing,” she said aloud; “why did I not discover before that it was nothing. Think of the time I have lost splashing about like a baby!” she would not join the groups in their sports, but intoxicated with her newly conquered power, she swam out alone.


And of course we know how the story ends - swimming in the sea is a metaphor for being awake and alive… but it’s also dangerous, and especially because she didn’t have any experience swimming (as she said, she wasted all that time…) she doesn’t quite know how to manage out in the open ocean. But we’ll get to that later.

 


Shauna: positive effects of awakening

So we can see positive effects of Edna’s awakening mostly in herself. She becomes more aware of her wants, needs, and emotions. She sets boundaries that establish her role for herself. 


“In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her. This may seem like a ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon the soul of a young woman of twenty-eight – perhaps more wisdom than the Holy Ghost is usually pleased to vouchsafe to any woman. But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such a beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult!” (pg. 13)

It’s exciting to see her grow and expand her world view. She has been sleepwalking, as Amy referred to it, and now we see her blossom and expand.

And as she decides to move into her own space where she can support herself financially and remove herself as a piece of property, she feels more fulfilled.

“There was a feeling of having descended in the social scale, with a corresponding sense of having risen in the spiritual. Every step which she took toward relieving herself from obligations added to her strength and expansion as an individual. She began to look with her own eyes; to see and to apprehend the deeper undercurrents of life. No longer was she content to “feed upon opinion” when her own soul invited her” (pg. 94)


She grapples with big questions. I’ve always heard the saying “ignorance is bliss” and she considers whether she would have rather kept to her cage. She considers towards the end that

“perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life” (pg. 112). 

So even the pain she feels seems to be better than the sleepwalking life that she was experiencing.


Yes - she starts standing up to Leonce - he orders her to come to bed and she’s like “No thanks.” And people get upset about things she says and she says “I suppose this is what you would call unwomanly, but I have got into a habit of expressing myself. It doesn’t matter to me, and you may think me unwomanly if you like.” 


And then there’s the part where they have the dinner party, after Edna has left her husband and she’s decided that she is going to live her own life. Listen to the way she’s described:


“There was something in her attitude, in her whole appearance when she leaned her head against the high-backed chair and spread her arms, which suggested the regal woman, the one who rules, who looks on, who stands alone. 


The one who looks on!! SHE IS ESCAPING THE PANOPTICON!! She is the center of her own Universe!! She’s broken out from the power structure of patriarchy, and in fact it’s after that that she says to Robert that she wants them to be together. Robert says, “I’ve heard of husbands who set their wives free….” like, maybe your husband will let you get a divorce, and then you can be my wife. And Edna says:

I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose. If he were to say, ‘Here, Robert, take her and be happy, she is yours, I should laugh at you both.” (108)

 

So Robert loves Edna, but he hasn’t broken out of the system. 



Shauna: Negative effects

Unfortunately she can be very immature in her actions in regards to others. While her awakening is positive for her, she generally alienates her husband and children and doesn’t consider the consequences of her actions. We see that “she began to do as she liked and to feel as she liked” (56). This is important to her but she becomes reckless. She engages in an affair while her husband and children are away. After she kisses Arobin she cries and deals with “an overwhelming feeling of irresponsibility” (83) and a general regret because she sees her actions as not aligned with what she actually wants which is Robert. She succumbs to base desire to help keep her awakening alive but does so without the integrity of what she actually wants or feels will help fulfill her soul. She disengages from her children even more. She is capable of more attention to them now that she is more present but is inattentive to them again when she is away from them.

“It was with a wrench and a pang that Edna left her children. She carried away with her the sound of their voices and touch of their cheeks. All along the journey homeward their presence lingered with her like the memory of a delicious song. But by the time she had regained the city the song no longer echoed in her soul. She was again alone.” (95). While she finds space for herself, she does not work to bring anyone else into her new life. She just looks to shed as much of her previous life as possible and disengages from her responsibilities. 


Yes, I agree - she’s not able to act in a responsible way. There’s that scene where Edna’s husband had been such a jerk to her, so she runs to her room and yanks off her wedding ring and throws it on the floor and stomps on it, and she throws a vase at the floor and it crashes and shatters. So her awakening is kind of like the rocky stages of growing up that you see with toddlers and with teenagers when they have these big tantrums of “you can’t control me!!!” Edna has never gotten to experience that stage of independence in late teenagehood and early adulthood - she just went along with what people told her to do, so now she’s waking up and she doesn’t have tools to take in new information and behave responsibly. 


She was not seeking refreshment or help from any source, either external or from within. She was blindly following whatever impulse moved her, as if she had placed herself in alien hands for direction, and freed her soul of responsibility. (32) The past was nothing to her, offered no lesson which she was willing to heed. The future was a mystery which she never attempted to penetrate. The present alone was significant.(45)

 

This is just such an apt description of people who wake up and find they’ve been living repressed lives, right? They’re just so angry and so they can flail around kind of wildly, at the whim of their hormones or just reacting hard against the rules. Edna is “Blindly following whatever impulse moved her,” rather than recruiting help from an external source like a trusted friend who loves her or an internal source like her moral compass. She’s not able to learn from lessons of the past or imagine the future consequences of her actions. She placed herself in “alien hands for direction, and freed her soul of responsibility”. This is not a state of mind that leads people to make choices that are really truly best for their lives. Sometimes we do need to make big changes, sometimes we do need to opt out of harmful systems or harmful relationships, but such changes are best made with our whole brain online to check in with our ethical framework and weigh the impact of our actions on other people and to think about what our real, true goals are. “Blindly following whatever impulse moves us” doesn’t have a great track record for humans, whether in our diet and exercise or career or relationships or any other aspect of our lives. (Chopin is such a great writer, getting inside Edna’s head like that!)


Amy: So this brings us to the end of the discussion. Do you have any conclusions or takeaways from this book, Shauna?


Shauna

Yeah. I didn’t know anything about the book before I read it so it really took me by surprise that it ended with her suicide. And I thought a lot about what could have been different. Even though we ultimately have no control over another person, there is so much to be said for human connection and feeling valued, loved, seen, and heard. I see so much isolation in her experience. She doesn’t feel connected to her family, she’s an outsider in her community because she came from another state, she is taken care of physically but not emotionally or spiritually connected in her relationship. I think that today we are striving for a better human experience for all people and for women I think that can mean feeling valued as a whole human being. Both internally and externally. Not for what they can do for other people or how they look. I think living with your whole being requires knowing yourself and when we limit people by teaching them or requiring them to live in boxes we create misery. I think we can learn from this that we have come a long way in some aspects of society. Someone in Edna’s position would have access to counseling, couples counseling, a divorce, coparenting. But we still require a lot of boxes for people to fit in and hopefully the more we understand this, the more we stop teaching our children this and they won’t have to fight so hard to get out of them to live their own authentic lives. I think Chopin did a great job opening this character up to us. Watching her struggle. And not giving us the happy ending we want. It’s raw and hard to read but very impactful. 


That’s such a great point to remind us that there are a lot more resources for people now who find themselves waking up and realizing that they’ve gone along on a conveyor belt to where they were told they were supposed to go, and they realize they’re miserable and they don’t want to be where they are. Edna had none of those resources - not even the right to ask for a divorce. 


I keep thinking “what is the right solution for Edna? What is the right solution for a person right now in her position? And I just don’t know - I would say take advantage of the resources that are available so that you can make choices that are authentic and also consistent with your moral code and cause the least suffering possible as you figure out what’s best. But what I do know is that even better than waking up is never falling asleep to begin with. So my goal is going to be to teach my kids to have their whole selves, their whole brains online through their whole lives, so that they never go to sleep and let other people do their thinking and make their decisions for them. I want them to learn to swim in the ocean and understand their bodies and think for themselves and pursue their own dreams from the very beginning so that they don’t wake up later thinking “wait, how did I get here??”


Amy: Shauna, thank you so much for being here!! 


Shauna: Thank you! I’m so glad I got to be a part of this. :)


Amy: On our next episode we will be switching gears from our last two works of fiction, and discussing the speech  “The Fundamental Principle of a Republic,” by Anna Howard Shaw. This speech was delivered in New York in 1915, when New York was still holding out against the women’s vote, and as you read it, try to get inside the head of Anna Howard Shaw. Women had been fighting for the right to vote in our country for 67 years, and they still couldn’t get a federal law passed, and Shaw is frustrated. I think this speech is really, really interesting because it addresses a lot of the arguments being used at the time to fight against women’s suffrage. It’s easy to find the speech online - I looked it up online and found it in 2 seconds on Iowa State University’s Archives of Women’s Political Communication. So look it up and give it a read, and then join us for a discussion next time on Breaking Down Patriarchy.

Compost Pile


Motherhood

 

The descriptions of mothers and the apparent lack of such tendencies in Edna comes in pieces throughout the story and we see it as a general lacking on her part and then an internal dilemma that she sees as impossible to remedy. A model is given of what a woman “should” be like as a mother. Edna’s character is contrasted to other women who are doing it “right”. But this requires diminishing themselves as individuals and catering to their husbands and children as if they themselves don’t have needs.

“In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman. The mother-women seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels” (pg. 8)

Edna understands this about herself as does her husband. And it is considered something faulty in her character. She tries to explain herself at one point. “Edna had once told Madame Ratignolle that she would never sacrifice herself for her children, or for anyone” and says “I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself” (pg. 47)

 

“She recalled faintly an ecstasy of pain, the heavy odor of chloroform, a stupor which had deadened sensation, and an awakening to find a little new life to which she had given being, added to the great unnumbered multitude of souls that come and go” (pg. 110)

I wonder, with what we know now about the importance of bonding after birth and the first hour, whether she would have felt more motherly if she had “experienced” her birth.

 

She struggles with her desire for independence and self-identity and her duty to her children. This ends up being the last straw for her as she figures out how to remove herself from her other restrictions. She has released her attachment to her husband and his money, the societal norms of how she should act, but she realizes that her children have a claim to her that she cannot throw away or remove herself from.

“But I don’t want anything but my own way. That is wanting a good deal, of course, when you have to trample upon the lives, the hearts, the prejudices of others – but no matter – still, I shouldn’t want to trample upon the little lives” (pg. 112)

 

“Still she remembered Adele’s voice whispering, “Think of the children; think of them.” She meant to think of them; that determination had driven into her soul like a death wound” (pg.112)

 

“The children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her; who had overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul’s slavery for the rest of her days” (pg. 115)


“She thought of Leonce and the children. They were part of her life. But they need not have thought that they could possess her, body and soul” (pg. 116)

I felt like this was a really powerful ending thought because it implies the possibility of life with a different outcome. Had these men in her life felt and acted differently, treated her differently, seen her as a whole human being, then the outcome would have been different. I also wondered whether it was important to the story that her children were both boys. Would she have felt differently if she had a daughter?

The first thing that struck me after finishing the book was the fact that she chose to call it “The Awakening”. That feels so current to me. I feel like I’ve read current women authors describe the feeling of coming to a clarity about the system of patriarchy that they’ve lived in to any degree in those terms. It’s still a very relevant feeling to today. Women who write about slowing starting to see systems of oppression or discrimination or even understanding their own privilege, to me, describe their experience as slowing waking up to see what was there. It’s not sudden. It’s a gradual expanse of consciousness to a larger reality. What came to mind while I was reading it was Glennon Doyle’s “Untamed” which has been everywhere this year. At one point she even describes Edna as “some beautiful, sleek animal waking up in the sun” (pg. 70) which reminded me of the cheetah story in “Untamed”. The character arc of Edna as a main character is amazing to me to read in this way because we are talking about a woman writing this in 1899 and it can feel so relevant.


“At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life – that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions” (pg. 13)

I thought this was interesting because it establishes a knowing in her about the societal norms and the expectation of performance and obedience on the outside from an earlier point than what we see in the book. It’s like she knew what was going on but it didn’t become unbearable to her soul until the consequences were much higher.

Role as wife

 

“Looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage” (pg. 2)

 

When we are first introduced to Edna, this is one of the first things we hear about her husband’s attitude toward her. This sets the tone for the relationship and establishes what we know to be a woman’s role at this time. In marriage a wife belongs to the husband. This is echoed again when he describes her as “the sole object of his existence” (pg.5) when he’s irritated with her when she doesn’t give him enough attention when he comes in in the middle of the night.

 

She has the same sense of his ownership and dominance over her. When he tries to get her to come inside, she realizes that she had developed the habits of obedience.

“She would, through habit, have yielded to his desire; not with any sense of submission or obedience to his compelling wishes, but unthinkingly, as we walk, move, sit, stand, go through the daily treadmill of the life which has been portioned out to us” (pg. 31)

 

But one step in her awakening is stubbornly refusing when she feels she is being driven to obedience.

“She perceived that her will had blazed up, stubborn and resistant. She could not at that moment done other than denied and resisted. She wondered if her husband had every spoken to her like that before, and if she had submitted to his command. Of course she had; she remembered that she had. But she could not realize why or how she should have yielded, feeling as she did then” (pg. 31)

 

Her husband’s reaction to her awakening is also telling because he is presented as a great husband given basic standards (doting, provides adequately, generally kind) but these things are generally based on Edna fulfilling what he considers to be her subservient role.

“Mr. Pontellier had been a rather courteous husband so long as he met certain tacit submissiveness in his wife” (pg. 57)

“You know I have a quick temper, but I don’t want to quarrel or be rude to a woman, especially my wife; yet I’m driven to it, and feel like ten thousand devils after I’ve made a fool of myself. She’s making it devilishly uncomfortable for me,” he went on nervously. “She’s got some sort of notion in her head concerning the eternal rights of women” (pg. 65).

The fact that he describes her actions and attitude as making him uncomfortable hit a cord for me. The expectation for her to make him comfortable is so selfish and puts his needs first. The fact that he treated her well based on her behaviors rings true of the victimization of women in situations of abuse today. When women are described as deserving or asking for it based on their behavior.

Their separation and general lack of really knowing each other is summarized perfectly to me as he considers her shift. “It sometimes entered Mr. Pontellier’s mind to wonder if his wife were not growing a little unbalanced mentally. He could see plainly that she was not herself. That is, he could not see that she was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world” (pg. 57) And I’d like to add that labeling a woman “crazy” when they don’t conform to societal norms is common through so many historical time periods. It’s an easy way to silence them and marginalize them in order to maintain the status quo.

 

 

Her experience as Awakening

 

The interaction between Robert and Edna when they finally admit their feelings with each other is another insight into men’s control over women, given the talk about one man “giving” his wife to another. It also very clearly expresses Edna’s established independence.

“’Religion, loyalty, everything would give way if you cared.’ ‘Then you must have forgotten that I was Leonce Pontellier’s wife.’ ‘Oh, I was demented, dreaming of wild, impossible things, recalling men who had set their wives free, we have heard of such things.’ ‘You have been a very, very foolish boy, wasting your time dreaming of impossible things when you speak of Mr. Pontellier setting me free! I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose. If he were to say, ‘Here, Robert, take her and be happy; she is yours,’ I should laugh at you both.’”

The fact that he considers ways to be with her that all reference Mr. Pontellier or religion show that he also considers her property and subject to the norms of the church. She has broken out of all of that an considers herself independent.