Feminism in "The Awakening"

Essay by JillnhidingUniversity, Bachelor'sB+, May 2004

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Is The Only Way Out Death?

A feminist critique of The Awakening brings about a completely different reading of the book. A feminist reading exhibits the negative depiction of women. It isn't thought that Kate Chopin was intentionally writing a book about the objectification of women or that she was attempting at activism (Showalter 211). In her time, Chopin had no knowledge of the effect her writing would have on women and men alike, or that her work would be "recognized today as the first aesthetically successful novel to have been written by an American woman" (Showalter 203). There is a binary opposition in The Awakening. Jonathan Culler states that it is a "matrix that organizes identities and cultures in terms of the opposition between man and woman" (126). The problem lies in this way of thinking: to think that there is any one way to act, female or male, and that they are polar opposites.

Saying that women have something specific and different inside them from the men in society objectifies and isolates them as a whole. This forms a rift that is unbridgeable between men and women. Edna Pontellier's existence was organized around the men in her life from a very young age. First with her father, then with the soldiers, her husband, and finally with Robert and Alcee, she possessed no identity that didn't reflect the men in her life. Edna's want, to be independent, and her realization that it was an unachievable goal formed the unbridgeable rift. The only way out, as Edna saw it, was to take her own life. This seems as though it is an extreme act, and it is. Edna made a desperate and final attempt to escape that which tormenter her, the life that turned a woman into a possession.