Kate Chopin Kate Chopin is an American writer of the late nineteenth century. She is known for her depictions of southern culture and of women’s struggles for freedom. At this time in American history, women did not have a voice of their own and according to custom, they were to obey their father and husband. Generally, many women agreed to accept this customary way of life. Kate Chopin thought quite differently.
The boldness Kate Chopin takes in portraying women in the late nineteenth century can be seen throughout The Awakening and other short stories. The following is an overview of her dramatic writing style. Elaine Showalter states, Chopin went boldly beyond the work of her precursors in writing about women’s longing for sexual and personal emancipation. (170). Chopin said that she was not a feminist of a suffragist. She was not an activist and she never joined the women’s suffrage movement or belonged to a female literary community.
Chopin saw freedom as a matter of your won spirit or soul without constraints. She did not try to encourage the women’s movement in her writing; rather, she wrote what she felt. In writing what she felt, Chopin came to believe that a true artist defied tradition and rejected respectable morality and the conventions and formulas to literary success. (Showalter 171). It could be said Chopin had a literary awakening.
In the early stages of Chopin’s career, she tried to follow the literary advice and examples of others of her time. These efforts proved to be worthless. Chopin translated Solitude, a story by Guy de Maupassant, in which Maupassant escaped from tradition and authority .. had entered into himself and looked out upon life though his own being and with his own eyes. (Seyested 701). Chopin did not want to imitate Maupassant; she just wanted to express herself in her writing the way he had done so in his. In The Awakening Chopin seems to tell her story through the main character Edna Pontellier.
Her breaking away from the conventions of literary domesticity is shown through Edna breaking away from the conventional feminine roles of wife and mother (Showalter 170). Kate Chopin shows boldness by taking the main characters and having them completely change their views on life. Edna is a young woman who discovers that her pampered married life is not what she wants. So she rebels to find fulfillment for her psychological, social, and sexual drives. Edna is married to Leonce Pontellier. Leonce is Edna’s older husband who expects his wife to obey the region’s social conventions.
He sees Edna as a piece of personal property (Chopin The Awakening 2). Chopin tells in the novel that Edna is fond of her husband, with no trace of passion or excessive and fictitious warmth (18). Edna married Leonce primarily to secure a fatherly protector who would not make too many domestic, emotional, and sexual demands on her. Edna also has no motherly attachment to her children. She was fond of her children in and uneven, impulsive way.
When her children were away, she did not miss them except with an occasional intense longing (18). These feelings show that Edna was not the normal mother-woman of that time. The largest and most criticized step Chopin takes is in The Awakening. Edna is having many mixed feelings about herself and her sexuality. In the novel, Chopin allows Edna to have an affair. This affair is not out of love but out of the need for passion in Edna’s life.
When Edna’s one true love leaves, this allows Edna to face her changing feelings. Her true love, Robert, returns but they both realize it is not ment to be and he leaves again. He explains his action by saying, I love you. Good-by, because I love you, (112). Much shock felt by the readers toward The Awakening and other stories by Chopin was the boldness she took in rejecting the conventions of other women’s writing. In The Awakening, Edna Pontellier appears to reject the domestic empire of the mother and the sororal world of women’s culture.
(Showalter 178). Edna seems to go beyond the bonds of womanhood, she did not have a mother of daughter and refuses to go to her own sister’s wedding. This lack of a woman figure in Edna’s life deeply affects the way she things and feels until meeting Adele Ratignolle, whom she feels is a maternal figure. Adele is, in Edna’s view, the perfect mother-woman. Adele encourages Edna in her artistic ability, the way a mother would, by telling Edna that her talent is immense (Chopin, The Awakening 55). The relationship that Edna has with Adele causes her to recall the events, decisions and the consequences of these decisions. Chopin shows boldness in the way she makes her female characters defy their families on the subject of marriage.
This is shown in The Awakening when Edna realizes that her marriage to Leonce Pontellier was purely an accident. He fell in love and his absolute devotion flattered her. (18). Edna also marries Leonce because of violent opposition of the parts of her father and her sister. (18). The same boldness is also demonstrated in Chopin’s short stories.
In the story Night in Acadie, the main female character, Zaida, is going secretly by herself to get married against her family’s wishes (Chopin, Night in Acaide 24). Another bold step Chopin takes is by allowing the character to and older, unmarried women to appear in her works. In The Awakening, Chopin gives us an example of her belief that women possess strength. The summer resort where the Pontelliers stay in the novel is owned and managed by Madame Lebrun. Madame Lebrun’s husband has left her and she is making it on her own at the resort and caring for her two sons.
At this time in history, it was unusual and almost unacceptable for a women not to marry. In the short story, Regret, Chopin tells of an older, unmarried woman, Mamzelle Aurelie, who had never thought of marrying. She had never been in love. At the age of twenty, she had received a proposal, which she promptly declined. Also at the age of fifty she had not lived to regret it. (Chopin, Night in Acadie 145).
In The Awakening, Edna becomes friends with Mademoiselle Reisz. Mademoiselle Reisz is another woman figure introduced into Edna’s life. She is a musician who had devoted her life to music and considered to be somewhat eccentric because of her outspoken and candid views. Mademoiselle Reisz has no patients for social rules and violates many basic expectations of femininity. She, like other of Chopin’s characters, is not married. This attitude on life that Mademoiselle Reisz expresses, and a certainty of who she is and what she thinks is absorbed by Edna.
Mademoiselle Reisz seems to reach Edna’s spirit and set it free (The Awakening 78). Chopin uses Mademoiselle Reisz’s acts as a reinforcement to Edna’s Awakening. It is not until Mademoiselle Reisz plays a song for Edna that Edna announced aloud to others the love she feels for someone else other than her husband. Madame Ratignolle and Mademmoiselle Reisz not only represent important alternative roles and influences for Edna, they also suggest different plots and conclusions. Adele Ratignolle’s character and story suggest that there is a possibility that Edna will stop rebelling and return to her marriage and learn to love her husband.
This was the plot of many late nineteenth-century sentimental novels about eering young women married to older men. (Showalter 182). Mademoiselle Reisz’s story suggests that Edna will lose her beauty, youth, husband, children-everything. Chopin refuses both of these endings to escape from the literary traditions they represent. Her literary solitude made it possible for her to put her own ending in the story. The least obvious ending for Chopin to choose was the one she chose, suicide for Edna. Chopin develops the story in such a way that Edna has come to know herself, her true self, and does not need to continue living and searching.
Kate Chopin’s success as a writer plummeted after the release of The Awakening. It has been noted that contemporary critics were shocked at the way Chopin portrayed Edna Pontellier. Edna’s character violated the codes of the behavior of nineteenth-century American women. The criticism became so bad the The Awakening was banned and dropped out of sight for many generations. It was not until the 1960’s that Kate Chopin was recognized as a writer with her own views.
Elaine Showalter states Kate Chopin’s literary evolution took her progressively through the three phases of the nineteenth-century American women’s culture and women’s writing. (176). Biographies.