Feminism In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening

Kate Chopin is well known for being realistic in her writing, mainly addressing the lives of daring and audacious women. She is known for being one of the first few women to explore and lead the writers in her time. Her most famous piece of writing, The Awakening, is most known for the use of realism in her portrayal of the main character Edna Pontellier. At first, the novel was banned because of the vividness that it showed but soon became one of the most read novels. Though, Kate Chopin had many influences from many different pieces of writing based on women’s rights and identities, she also had her own personal life as a widow to reflect on. In the novel, symbolism is used throughout to represent women feeling caged and trapped.

Chopin initially had a very healthy marriage, but it soon turned into a trainwreck once her husband, Oscar Chopin, died from an unexpected fever. As a result, she became a widow at the young age of thirty, leaving her with all six of her children to raise by herself while successfully taking over her husband’s business for a whole year. Chopin has a similar comparison to her protagonist’s love life due to the many pitfalls between them. Edna, the protagonist, is surviving an unhappy marriage in which she does not have the freedom and response that she wants, leading her to have an affair with someone else just to find that satisfaction that is missing. Therefore, she goes against the rules of society, and she finds her own identity apart from others, including her own family. While she is at the peak of her happiness, it soon went away when she decided to go for a swim and suddenly drowned. Women in the early times were struggling to gain and find their own identity, for they were only able to follow what men told them to do. Society at the time had the idea of men being in a higher rank than women. Therefore, they were the head of their household while women were only allowed to be housewives and follow what was told. A critic states, “According to McDowell, the issues of self-discovery in the novel are as relevant today as they were in the nineteenth century. ‘The Awakening is a little book ahead of its time. It was one of the earliest explorations of the real nature of a woman,’ says McDowell”. Throughout the course of time, more and more women had eventually realized that being seen in a lower position than men was unjust. Feminism built up so much that it lead to the women's suffrage which lasted over a decade.

Symbolism plays a huge role in comparing the perception and emotions of Edna Pondellier reflecting the same ones women faced in her time. Chopin mainly uses the birds and the sea to develop the affection in order for the reader to connect with what she is trying to portray towards her audience. Once critic says, “The author uses symbolism as a traditional poetic means of suggesting what is going on inside a heroin”. In the beginning of the novel, Chopin talks about a singing mockingbird that was hanging in the corner of the house. With this, she expresses how Edna felt in her situation. She uses the bird in the cage as an example of Edna being trapped in her loveless marriage in which later on the bird’s singing represents Edna building up a voice throughout the novel in order for her “awakening” to take place. One critic said, “It presented the plight of a woman who cannot accept the idea of being limited to a socially defined role. Edna rejects the economic and social success that her marriage to Leonce gives her in favor of working out her own destiny. She prefers to define her role activity rather than to be a passive object”. What the critic is trying to say is that Edna is not like any other women in her time. She is bold and outrageous and does everything she can to seek out what her true purpose is to life. Rather to being stuck as some ordinary housewife. Regardless of what her husband has to offer her she prefers to find her true self and her true happiness.

Many women have had many obstacles in their way to get to where they are today. Women since the very beginning were seen in a lower status than men. They were always challenged to gain and fight for their rights but it was never easy for them. One site says, “From a plea to a founding father, to the suffragettes to Title IX, to the first female political figures, women have blazed a steady trail towards equality in the United States”. There are many role models that many look up to today. Michelle Obama has become a huge, very loved female figure to many who have heard what she has done to make a change for many children and families. Rosa Parks made a huge impact from a single moment and since then has been seen as an extraordinary figure to women out there. Showing them that one person can make a huge impact on society. From the first female to vote to the first woman to be nominated for presidency no one can stop women from trying. They are still proving to the world that even though they may not be like men or have the same capacities, we are all equal. According to a critic:

It’s an interesting time to be a woman. As we near 2017, it’s clear that women’s liberties and roles vary greatly, depending what part of the world you live in. In some countries, females are still fighting for fundamental rights. But thanks to reputable media outlets, social media and outspoken activists, atrocities and female-centric issues have seen more of an international stage and a call to action than ever before.

When it comes to talking about feminism, many will argue and prove their points to what should be changed in societies mind. We need to stop setting an image of what a woman should and should not be able to do cause at the end, not everyone will want to be the same. Unique is what we should be saying about women. If they have to be a certain way or do a certain thing then how will we be able to explore the many other possibilities that there are for them to offer. Rather than judging what they do, instead we should be supporting them.

The Awakening was a very criticiszed and rejected novel due to how real the situations were portrayed. Not only were the women at the time limited in their freedom but they were also limited on how they could express themselves in front of everyone. The novel made many realize that women deserved much more freedom and liberty than what they were given. Over the years the women’s suffrage movement became bigger and stronger until they finally got a recognition that showed that sex does not matter and that no one should be judged by it. The strong use of symbolism throughout the novel helped create a strong theme and contradiction towards love, feminism, and suspense. Today we have many role models who have proved to the world that men are not the only ones who can achieve certain things. Kate Chopin not only had a good perspective of what was going on in her time but she was also living that life that many other women were. Her novel has become one of the top most famous read pieces of writing in today’s time.

10 October 2020
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