The Awakening by Kate Chopin and Feminism


One of the books that explicitly portrays feminism is The Awakening. It was released in 1899, a period when women were expected to adhere to the standards of society that set them apart. Edna challenges societal expectations and makes an effort to define her own personality. She exercises her free will to decide to become autonomous in defiance of the male-dominated society. Edna defies stereotypes and is unaffected by her status as a lady in the society. The feminist nature of Edna's deeds in the book is clear. For example, she refuses the identity that labels her women-mother which drives her into the bondage of being a mother and a wife. Evidently, the roles of women have evolved, and they have attained the right to vote and obtain professions through the acquisition of education. The feminist movement led to the realization of the revolutionary movement which was dedicated to fighting for the rights of women and the search for equality. Before Edna could break free from the traditional stereotypes, she had to experience an awakening and realize her identity. The objective of the feminist movement as manifested from the book was to break away from the ways of the society and the limits that were placed on their expectations.

Analysis of Feminism in The Awakening

Kate Chopin makes a critical approach to feminism which comes out to be the primary aspect that propels the novel. The Awakening occurs in the late 18th century and the early 19th century in New Orleans. The novel concerns Edna Pontellier who is the protagonist of the story. At first, she plays her traditional roles of being a wife to Leonce and a mother. Evidently, her husband views to be inferior. Edna has to submit to the desires of her husband. Apparently, Edna represents an ideal woman who is motherly, loving and compassionate. However, she is unhappy in her married life due to the brutality of her husband. In the entire novel, Edna seeks something more than just her life and something different from what she has been living. During the summer, she falls in love with Robert Lebrun, and she even tries to become free, independent in her life and defines her destiny. The feminist movement was also taking place during this time. This was the time when the women struggled to prove themselves as being equal to their male counterparts. These women are involved in battles to make the female gender and its outcry of having rights to vote, getting an education and securing jobs, recognizable in the society. Certainly, the novel The Awakening showcases the reasons that drove women to seek for equality. The novel does portray how the female gender was undermined and the need to break free.

Chopin’s Bold Rejection of Women's Oppression

Chopin’s novel denotes to be a bold piece of fiction which rejects the oppression of women by terming them to be inferior in the society. The society critically undermined women and defined their role to be in the kitchen, taking care of the children and submitting to the demands of their husbands even when they did not want to. Notably, Chopin attacks the idea of gender roles from the feminine standpoint indicating how women were diminished in the society. She also postulates that changes in these stereotypic roles could profoundly impact on the life of women and she challenges the underlining notion that men should be in authority and control women. Edna upsets many of the 19h century expectations about women when she denies her role as a wife and a mother. The concept of motherhood is one of the primary themes that cloud the novel and Chopin demonstrates the rejection as an outrage in the society.

Edna's Fight Against Motherhood Stereotypes

From the novel, it is seen that Edna fights against the natural and the societal structures of motherhood which makes her be labeled as a wife to Leonce Pontellier and the mother to Etienne and Raoul. She decides to be herself and comes out as a self-defined person concerning her life. The novel also draws its focus on Mademoiselle Reisz and Adele Ratignolle who are women that chose to abide by the societal stereotypes. Despite the rebellion of Edna against these traditional roles that undermine women, they tell her that she has chosen the wrong way. Chopin writes that “The mother-women were women who idolized their children, worshipped their husbands and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels” (Chopin 10). This shows how the society viewed women. Additionally, despite Adele being a talented pianist and musician, the talent is only viewed to be for the sake of the children. Chopin writes “She was keeping up her music on account of the children because she and her husband both considered it a means of brightening the home and making it attractive” (Chopin 27). The idea of Adele being proud of her motherhood and the title of being a mother and a wife makes her happy, and the reader could think that she was fated to lead this life.

Fighting for Individuality and Independence

Edna realizes that her mother-woman life does fail to satisfy her desires entirely and prevents her from attaining freedom. She even pits Adele when she loves the lifestyle of being mother-woman. Edna says “It was not a condition of life which fitted her, and she could see in it but an appalling and hopeless ennui. She was moved by a kind of commiseration for Madame Ratignolle” (Chopin 63). Evidently, Adele is a representation of the women in the society who did not have a choice but to love what society placed on her such as performing her domestic duties. The four cardinal virtues that these women were to uphold include submissiveness, piety, domesticity, and purity. All women were expected to uphold these virtues to be regarded as good in the society. However, Edna refuses to follow these oppressing virtues by following her way. The people around her including Adele think that she has lost her identity in the society, but Edna explains that “I would give my money, I would give my life for my children, but I wouldn’t give myself” (Chopin 53). Edna is in search of her individuality and does not allow the social stereotypes to define her existence.

Mademoiselle Reisz: An Example of Free Artistic Spirit

Mademoiselle Reisz is introduced to the story and displayed to be devoted to her role as being a mother. Chopin illustrates her “dragging a chair in and out of her room, and at intervals objecting to the crying of a baby, who a nurse in the adjoining cottage was endeavoring to put to sleep” (Chopin 28). This shows that she is devoid of her role of motherhood. She is talented musically, and unlike Adele, she cultivates only for herself. She also follows the ways of the society and when Edna confides in her desires of becoming an artist, she cautions Edna of the heard lifestyle that comes with being an artist. Mademoiselle Reisz tells Edna that “The artist must possess the courageous soul,…The soul that dares and defies” (Chopin 71). Mademoiselle Reisz evidences her belief that being a real artist disregards society and makes one lead a solitude life. Despite the rewarding friendship that Edna finds in Reisz, she comes to understand that Reisz finds the life of an artistic lifestyle to be imperfect due to the lack of sexuality. This is supported from the novel when Chopin describes her as being physically unappealing.

Exploring Masculinity and Capitalism for Independence

Edna also tries to find her self-identity through the creation of the third lifestyle and starting to act like a man. Edna views that men are allowed to live their lives of sexual fulfillment, and yet they do not bear children. Edna sees that these men develop their identity and personality through involvement in businesses. Evidently, when Leonce goes to New York, and her children go to her grandmother, Edna finds masculinity and peace of mind. Chopin writes “A radiant peace settled upon her when she at last found herself alone. Even the children were gone” (Chopin 80). Edna does explore her newfound lifestyle through taking up masculine features and begins to sell her paintings. She chooses to enter into the world of capitalism which is a major step that depicts feminism. She opts to search her independence which is contrary to the women of the 19th century. Edna does this through infiltrating the masculine world. She manages to make an income by herself and uses the money to pay rent for her house. The pigeon house, as Edna calls it, is a place that is far from anything that reminds her of her family symbolizing independence. She also attempts to seek sexual freedom when she opts to have an affair with Alcee Arobin.

The Feminist Perspective in The Awakening

The perspective of feminism is evidenced in Chopin’s novel through the roles that were traditionally assigned to the female gender like caring for their husbands, tending homes, and bearing children. The sexuality of women is also used in the novel to portray constraints which form a societal structure that places men to be in authorities and inhibit the female liberation. Edna, who is the female protagonist in the story, embarks on her quest to seek independence from the patriarchal system. Her wish to be free makes her find herself at odds with the societal expectations. Edna’s society is highlighted in the story to demoralize women, and the female gender is viewed to being domestic creatures, docile and people whose lives revolve around raising children. They are also expected to remain submissiveness to their husbands. Edna involves in confrontations with the society where she denies her imprisonment in the marriage and seeks to explore her sexuality. Notably, Chopin illustrates Edna as being a symbol of feminism rebellion. She comes out to portray independence and an inseparable figure.

Awakening to Self-Identity and Expressing Freedom

Evidently, the expectations of the traditional views together with the legal limitations provide the female gender fewer opportunities of expressing themselves. Edna undergoes a gradual awakening, and she manages to discover her identity and acknowledges herself. She verbalizes her feelings of independence even though she encounters massive constraints. Edna comes to learn that she can face her emotions without any limitation and fear from society. She also learns to express herself in her artwork which was a task that was previously associated with men. The suicide of Edna comes as a result of the failure of people around her to understand her plight and lead to social isolation. Edna mirrors a social context and a scenario that articulates an awakening of the female gender from the traditional ways. Certainly, the blending of realistic narrative that the novel portrays, psychological complexity, and incisive social commentary makes the novel a precursor of motherhood in modernism. The different instances which Chopin includes in the novel do serve to psychologically mold the protagonist into becoming a transgressor of the outdated social convention. This aided in the development of her psyche that had a profound impact on the dynamic growth that Edna undergoes.


Historical injustices against women proved to undermine their value in society. Women were brought up to believe that they are supposed to submit to the demands of men. Women were expected to be wives and carry out their motherhood role. Also, the society views them as sexual objects, and they women faced a challenge of inequality. Gender discrimination was rampant. However, Edna and the other women who involve in the feminist movement demonstrates that women should rise and fight for their rights. Certainly, the male domination was a facet that significantly weighed down the female gender. These men were the steering force in reinforcing oppressive female roles together with looking down upon them. For a society to realize changes and accord respect to the female gender, women have to come out as strong creatures and oppose the undermining societal roles that the community places on them. They should be courageous and fight for their rights to realize equality.

Work Cited

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. New York. 1995

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