THE AWAKENING by KATE CHOPIN – A Marxist and Feminist Analysis

BLOG ~ GORVIKA MA’AM

Submitted by ~ ABHILASHA (1420); English Hons. Sec B.

Novel ~ THE AWAKENING

Author ~ KATE CHOPIN

First published in 1899, The Awakening, is a novel written by Kate Chopin, which was initially titled A SOLITARY SOUL. This is one of the earliest American novels to talk about women’s issues making it a milestone work on the early feminism. The novel is set in the 19th century New Orleans, Louisiana gulf coast. The plot depicts the protagonist Edna Pontellier struggling between her motherhood responsibilities and her unorthodox views on femininity. The Awakening is a complete mixture of realistic narrative, sharp-witted social elucidation, abstract complexities altogether making it a forefather of American Modernistic Literature.

For my paper, I’ll be using two theories on the novel “The Awakening”.

  • MARXIST THEORY
  • FEMINIST THEORY

MARXIST THEORY AND ITS APPLICABILITY IN “THE AWAKENING”

The cultural theories developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels rests upon the principle that the history of humanity and the societal institutions is hell bent on the changes in economic organization. Marxists assert that the economic structures within the society overlook the reasons behind political and social behavior. A concern for social rather than the individual.

In her novel, “The Awakening”, Kate creates different social and economic statuses for each character. To point out, Leonce Pontellier represents the Creoles as he is an established person, rich and successful, and according to Victorian norms, he can marry any woman of his choice and recast her life. On the contrary is his wife ‘Edna Pontellier’, who has been raised in a middle class family and she lived her own small life all within herself. The man that she falls in love with, Robert Lebrun, is a young, twenty-six-years old single man, who has the passion to adapt and fit himself into the higher social class whereas Edna, could not fully adapt herself into becoming rich. The Marxist ideology is firmly fixed with the faith in society’s and individual’s creation of economic motives. These are the motives that create socioeconomic demarcation amongst the group members within a society.

A Marxist analysis of “The Awakening” focuses on the ways that shape the characters’ intellectual issues produced by Capitalism. The construct of capitalist society,  that is, the passion to excel and succeed socially as well as economically, causes Mr. Pontellier to take his wife for granted, and to see her merely as a valuable piece of his personal property. When Edna couldn’t take it anymore her husband’s attitude, she resulted into an absolutely dissatisfied wife, a mother and a woman. When she became aware of the fact that she is being repressed by the Capitalist Ideology and forced into a relationship she can’t bear, she rises above the impact of exploitation and alienation that the capitalist society has gifted her. She recognizes her potential, explores her sexuality, her identity, achieves awareness, control, and turns herself into a woman being. However, the problem arises when the individual takes control of the situation s/he was repressed for so long, and tries to act upon the oppression, it gravitates to further isolate the individual from the society. The same happened with Edna. She describes herself as having declined in the social scale, and correspondingly making her way up in the spiritual one and every step she took forward gave her a sense of relief from the obligations and perhaps added to her strength and augmentation as an individual. Edna’s capability to put at stake her social comfort so as to grow as an individual, and explore herself is worth the praise. Kate Chopin’s underlying intentions, here, serve a two-fold purpose. On the one hand, she is letting her character Edna isolate herself and break the stereotypes from the structure of such a classist society; and on the other hand, she wants Edna to grow as a person, as a woman, as an individual and create her own identity and not depend on any materialistic relationships and society. Thereby, Chopin makes it clear that individual discharge is more significant than societal out-turns, irrespective of Edna’s depression and the end of the novella.

Chopin finely mocks Edna’s powerlessness to come to terms with the irony that she dislikes being ill-treated, without realizing the subjugation she afflicts upon her servants. For instance, she alienates her servants from the outcome of their labour, asking them to live in a room backyard and not the newly built house they spent working on for Edna. Since she felt alienated, and subjugated by the upper societal demarcation, this viewpoint, here, serves as a contrast to the motive Edna wants to move into an entirely new world. These ideological battles present in the novella suggest significantly the Marxist melody throughout the text.

At the time this novella was written, class system existed within the classes; as a result, the protagonist realized not only her class consciousness, also herself as a whole, her identity in the absence of the restrictions of Victorian norms and ideologies that had always kept her in dark. Hence, it can be safely concluded that Marxist concern stays the most prominent throughout the novella “The Awakening”.

FEMINIST THEORY AND ITS APPLICABILITY IN “THE AWAKENING”

Feminism is basically an entire range of movements and struggles, pertaining over years, that secure a woman her equal positioning in the society in every field- be it political, social, economical, or personal.

Years before Kate published her novella “The Awakening”, the society was enrolled in a battle over social ideologies and demand for equal rights for women.

Edna, the protagonist, embodies all the social ideologies for which women of the era were making great efforts. She is a respectable woman who acknowledges not just her sexual desires but also her strength and courage made her to act upon them. Victorian women were expected to behave in a certain manner, perform their domestic duties and take care of everyone in the family and she embodied all that until her saturation point. A woman who never cared about her needs and desires and wants, was now turning into a lady that wants her desires and needs fulfilled. Falling in love with Robert gave her the strength to explore her sexual desires, and grow as person coming out of the expected social roles of a woman of Victorian era. Her slow and subtle transformation into just “EDNA”, from “Mrs. Pontellier”, lightens the fact that a woman is never the property of her husband, who owns it, rather she must fight to attain her forgotten identity and must ensure herself a place in the society.

The kind of freedom Edna desired was lived by her friend Mademoiselle Reisz, who is unmarried. Edna becomes influenced by Adele Ratignolle, married with children, she is a creole woman who motivates Edna to adjust and be conventional.

In the 19th century America, where the life of a woman revolved around being married, child-bearing, and maintaining domestic spheres, a woman that Edna has become, was unacceptable and Chopin’s heroine’s actions were just the same. Kate was putting those dangerous ideas into the heads of women, inculcating in them the conceptions that they are their own heroines, and obviously independent of their husbands; regardless of the nineteenth century expectations from women. Edna Pontellier’s awakening is one of her mental intelligibility and her suicide step is a victorious act. By committing suicide, she finally relieved herself from the social constraints and possessions. An act of Liberation, her suicide is an important step, thus justifying Edna as an ultimate feminist.

CONCLUSION

Marxism and Feminism both aim to help for a better social life in their own ways and own theories. Feminism- being a sociopolitical movement, makes Edna realize the worth of her life and the no-need to stick to societal expectations to make herself adjustable to the society, instead enjoy her freedom. Marxism- being a socioeconomic theory, tends to base the society on the theory that class system, capitalism can only ruin individual’s peace and his relations to other people, thereby,  thoroughly rejects Capitalism.

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