by Quinton Johnson
The University of Georgia
Kate Chopin's The Awakening illustrates women's roles in the late nineteenth century through the character Edna Pontellier. The novel takes place at a time when women are supposed to represent their husbands and not have a mind of their own. Edna actually tries to develop her own identity in order to show her beliefs about the way that America treats women unequally, despite the fact that women are capable of thinking for themselves. Through The Awakening, Kate Chopin confronts the inequality that a woman faces during the nineteenth century, but through the process, she delivers a theme of feminism in the novel.
there are several critical writings on The Awakening, not all of
them deal solely with the feminist themes in the novel. There is a great
amount of resources that mention the themes but do not elaborate on the
subject. Most sources discuss Edna' s sexual development throughout the
novel, which is associated with Edna's awareness of her role as a woman.
Deborah E. Barker examines the themes through Edna's painting. Anna
S. Elfenbein focuses on the theme by analyzing the racial content
presented in the novel. Both Erin E. MacDonald and Jane L. Marquand address
the feminist theme by analyzing Chopin's use of androgyny. Karen Simons
analyzes the way that Edna arrives at her "awakening" and how it changes
her. Each writer brings forth a slightly different take on the novel, but
all seem to bring about and address new ideas.
Barker, Deborah E. "The Awakening of Female Artistry."
Kate Chopin Reconsidered. Ed. Lynda S. Boren
and Sara deSaussure Davis. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992. 61-79.
analyzes the way that Edna's painting brings about her " growing
sensuality and...dissatisfaction the social an religious restrictions placed
on women" (63). While the essay focuses more on Edna as an artist,
Barker does bring about the fact that Edna is aware of her gender's struggle.
Barker also discusses Edna's sexual growth in the novel. The author
identifies the Impressionist art movement as an influence in The Awakening.
Barker goes to a great length to show how Edna 's painting reflects
her sexual development and self-awareness in the novel.
Elfenbein, Anna Shannon. "Kate Chopin's The Awakening:
An Assault on American Racial And Sexual
Mythology." Southern Studies 4 (1987): 304-312.
deals with Edna's femininity by dealing with the races presented in the
novel. Not only does this article present the fact that Edna is aware
of her gender, but it shows that she is aware of her racial standing in
Creole Louisiana. Elfenbein also exposes the racial impurity that
lies in Edna's community. The article does not elaborate on feminism,
but it does speak of Edna's increasing sexuality and awareness of
her social restrictions as a woman. The article justifies Edna's
actions as her "inability to escape patriarchal imperatives regarding sex
and woman's place that...leads her to violate" (308). Elfenbein explains
how Edna's sexual awakening causes her to notice racial and social standing;
an issue that only the men in her life have addressed.
Erin E. "Necessarily Vague: Kate Chopin's Gender-Awakening." Domestic
Goddesses. 5 Dec 2001.
essay discusses the causes and effects of Edna's awakening. She explains
how Edna becomes aware of her femininity through other female characters,
especially Madame Ratignolle. MacDonald also mentions that "Chopin
hints that Edna is one of those who will perish in the tangled fin-de-siecle
struggle for equality." Through her statement, MacDonald explains
that Edna strives for gender equality and she assesses the feminist theme
that lies in the novel. MacDonald goes on to express the idea that
Edna unwillingly contradicts her wish for autonomy by presenting a sexual
need for a man. Edna's sexual need is described as a "teaching of
her upbringing." The writer presents the idea that Edna gets her sense
of romanticism from fantasies, which gives her false expectations of love
and life. MacDonald feels that Edna confuses her awareness with a "new-found
liberation." The essay presents sufficient insight on the feminist
themes in The Awakening.
Jane L. "Kate Chopin as Feminist: Subverting the French Androcentric Influence."
South. 5 Dec
essay deals mostly with Kate Chopin being a feminist author, which aids
in establishing the fact that feminism is a theme in The Awakening.
The essay only mentions The Awakening briefly, but the novel is
described as "an overtly feminist text." Marquand discusses the influence
that the French had on Kate Chopin's writing, with Guy de Maupassant being
the most influential. This essay serves more as a background to the
reasons why Chopin's works usually have a feminist theme than an actual
evaluation of the theme in her works.
Simons, Karen. "Kate Chopin on the Nature of Things." Mississippi Quarterly 2 (1998): 243-252.
the essay does not focus on feminism in The Awakening, it does examine
Edna's awareness of her gender and her longing for autonomy. Simons
gives the idea that Edna accepts her place as a woman. As with most
of the critics, Simons evaluates Edna's awakening from the causes to the
results. Much of the presented information is redundant, since it
is common among people that critique The Awakening. How Simons
essay differs is that she introduces ancient mythology, stating that "
The Awakening may indeed be a modern myth about the goddess of love"
(251). Simons compares Edna to Lucretius's Venus, which causes Edna to
appear as a powerful woman. The essay expresses the feminist theme
through the way that Edna experiences her awakening and develops
as a woman.
Toth, Emily. "Kate Chopin's The Awakening as Feminist Criticism." Southern Studies 4 (1987): 304-312.
essay examines how feminist critics observe The Awakening. Toth
states that "In The Awakening, Kate Chopin transforms the insights
of feminst critics into fiction," which supports the fact that the novel
embodies a feminst theme (232). Toth summarizes the novel for a large portion
of the essay in order to validate her statement that Chopin made the
critics' insights into fiction. In the essay, Toth draws parallels
between a few popular feminist critics' writings and Chopin's novel.
The essay makes the idea apparent that feminist criticism is "the criticism
of women's limited roles" (304). Toth's evaluation is helpful with
identifying and understanding the feminist ideas in The Awakening.
Last Revised: December 6,2001