The central pillar in Chopin's novel is the problem of self-discovery of Mrs. Edna Pontellier, the leading character. She is a young woman who lives in the 1890s in New Orlean. She had a vacation on the Grand Isle, where she started her self-discovery journey. It is worth noting that she was different from other women of that time. All other wives of the 19th century lived in the shadows of their husbands. They were happy to take care of kids and households, while men had more privileges to do what they wanted. However, Edna didn't have such an attitude. On the contrary, she was impulsive and didn't hide her emotions. Unfortunately, the established behavior standards have shackled her. She had to be shy and reserved. However, her inner being was different. She wasn't an exemplary mother-woman who matched the standards set by society. Fortunately, she had several people she could be comfortable with. Those people knew Edna as an active and adventurous person.
In a nutshell, Edna didn't fit the standards of a perfect woman of that time. The majority wanted to be happy housekeepers who didn't want to do anything but take care of kids and maintain their houses. They were dependent on their husbands and families. According to society's expectations, Edna had to be dedicated to her husband, children, and home. Moreover, her peers supported this standpoint, which forced the leading character to have a lot of controversial thoughts. She wanted to break the chains and pursue freedom that most women of the 19th century didn't have. Edna didn't want to trade her freedom to become a part of society. On the contrary, she wanted to highlight her identity and spend her life exploring the world and tackling challenges.
Edna's swim is the primary challenge she coped with. It has updated her mindset and helped her to change her life. Having a vacation on the Grand Isle, Louisiana, she decided to swim in the water. Its power frightened her. However, she decided to leash her fears and explore the water. Even though she was scared by the water, Edna didn't stop. She was swimming, trying to overcome her fear. Finally, she managed to do so. At the time she realized that one of her fears was mastered, she felt freedom. It was an incredible feeling that increased Enda's self-confidence. The major twist in the novel became the starting point of the transformation of the leading character.
Indeed, Léonce Pontellier, the husband of Edna, wasn't satisfied with her standpoints. He noticed that his wife didn't want to spend her entire life like her peers. Unfortunately, Léonce didn't support her. Vice versa, he wanted Enda to change and be like all other women who feel happiness by being housekeepers and taking care of kids. Also, they follow the instructions their husbands give. Edna also tried to meet the expectations of society. It was a thought task for her. Unfortunately, she couldn’t act like a good wife, following the 19th century standards. Edna's husband showed his dissatisfaction frequently. Also, she had a friend, Madame Adèle Ratignolle, who created pressure on the leading character. Unlike Edna, Madame Ratignolle was a perfect woman of that time because she completely devoted herself to her husband and children.
However, the swimming episode has changed Edna notably. After this, she refuses the requests of her husband and goes to have fun with her friends. Meanwhile, Edna meets Robert Lebrun, a man who flirts with her and encourages the adventurous. The uniqueness of Edna attracts him, and he falls in love with her. At the same time, Enda finds what she lacks in her relationship with Robert, so they become friends. Unfortunately, Robert doesn't want Enda to be fully independent. The consequence of her search for herself is the breakdown with her husband and the end of the affair with another man. Enda buys a small house and starts living alone, despite harming the people she still loves. Unfortunately, she cannot find inner peace and isn't satisfied with the freedom she has. It forced her to head to the beach, where she felt real freedom for the first time. There, she decided to step in the water again to drown in the Gulf of Mexico.
Literary style analysis
A lot of different literary elements are used in the novel. Nevertheless, all of them bend perfectly, creating an engaging story that captivates the attention of readers. Kate Chopin narrates the story from the outer perspective. Meanwhile, readers note the passion and understanding of Edna's struggles. The author supports the leading character. Chopin states that the individuality and passions of people shouldn't be hidden. She forces readers to understand that the inner voices shouldn't be muted and the real desires worth pursuing. Also, the author wants readers to understand that all actions have consequences. Striving to be free, Edna lost her family and was judged by society. Also, she ended up in loneliness. Chopin integrated symbolism into the story seamlessly. She used different birds to showcase the feeling of the leading character. For instance, a parrot in a cage was presented. Léonce, Edna's husband, muted his voice.
Literature impact analysis
The Awakening was considered a revolutionary piece of literature because it was the first novel that questioned established standards. All women didn't have the right to vote and were bothered by the need to take care of their homes and families. However, this novel helped people look at the lives of women from another perspective. The behavior of the leading character was considered unacceptable, and it was judged by society. Nevertheless, it was the first novel that supported the ideas of feminism. Unfortunately, it didn't provoke a revolution in women's minds of that time because they were too rooted in their families and homes. These times, Chopin's Awakening is considered as one of the greatest contributions to the feminist movement.
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