Awakened Isolation: A Feminist Analysis

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In a society of assumed male superiority, countless awakened women have fought for equality, identity and value. In her novella, The Awakening, Kate Chopin paints the picture of a woman realizing the anguish she experiences towards the stereotype of the 1890?s ?mother-woman?, which she is expected to embody (51). As the work progresses, Edna, realizing her need for self expression and personal identity, abandons the social constraints to which she is expected to conform and joins the company of awakened women fighting to escape the clutches of their expected fates.

Edna had always subsisted, recognizing her ?dual life?that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions? (57). Surrounded by images of ?mother-women? 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?, Edna assumed that, although she was an inquisitive individual inwardly, she was obligated to mimic the actions of the devout wife stereotype.

Societal expectations forced Edna into the ?conforming outward existence? which she was forced to personify prior to her awakening. Although Edna is eventually awakened to the pitfalls of the ?colorless existence which never uplifted its possessor beyond the region of blind contentment? of mother-women, the inability for those surrounding her to be awakened, leads to Edna?s isolation and misery (107).

Prior to her awakening, Edna allows herself to be viewed as property. Mrs. Pontellier returns from a midday swim and allows her husband to scold her as if she were a child for the sunburn she returned with. ??You are burnt beyond recognition?, he added, looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage? (44). It is obvious to Edna?s subconscious that she is being degraded in her marriage. ?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? (49). Edna is undoubtedly trapped before her awakening. After the series of epiphanies Edna experiences, resulting in a newfound need for self expression, Edna cannot escape the trap she had been caught in prior to the awakening. ?The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings? (138). Edna has the will of a strong winged bird but she cannot awaken abandonment of suffocating societal standard in those around her. Although Edna has ?[cast] aside the fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear to the world?, Robert, blinded by the conventions of society, views her not as in individual, but as Mrs. Pontellier, the wife and possession of Mr. Pontellier, whom he cannot love as his equal (108).

Realizing that the standards of society were too strong for Robert to overcome, discovering that, in life, she will always be isolated because of these standards, Edna resolves to ?swim far out, where no woman had swum before?(73). Edna permanently escapes the isolation and vague anguish that she had felt since childhood ?like a new-born creature, opening its eyes in a familiar world that it had never known? (175). Repression of women was first nature in 1980?s American society. Husbands, lovers, and mother-women conformed to this ideology, forcing the green and yellow parrots to speak ?a language which nobody understood, unless it was the mocking-bird that hung on the other side of the door? (43).