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Gender Roles and Finding Self-Identity

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Gender Roles and Finding Self-Identity

South University Online

Composition II/ Literature

Chopin's book The Awakening deals with race, gender, marriage, motherhood, sexuality, etc. Kate Chopin revealed a mental outlook of feminism to a society that was not ready. According to Eble, Chopin's book was "Too strong a drink for moral babes and should labeled 'poison'" (Eble, 2012). Chopin shows readers a glimpse of a woman's life in the 19th century with the novel, The Awakening. Chopin wrote about a woman, Edna Pontellier, who questioned the standards of society as well as her role in society. Chopin used attitudes of characters observations of gender, changes in the main character, and Edna's suicide and imagery to illustrate her feminist position; despite society's disapproval of her time. Society in the 19th century believed women to be weak, dependent people whose only position was nothing more than being a mother and house wife.

The Awakening was published in 1899 and was met with great controversy. The Awakening's primary focus was around a woman who wanted to break free from society, to be independent, and to be her own person. Many concepts in the story were not discussed openly in public causing Chopin to run into harsh judgment with The Awakening. The story became much more accepted in the early 1970's because of the concern for the women's rights movement.

Kate Chopin had a very rough childhood because of her father's death. Many men came into her childhood, but did not stay long enough for anything to matter. Chopin and Edna were a like in this way and different in others. There were not a lot of men in Edna's life to make a difference. Chopin went to an all-girls school taught by nuns; there she saw female authority figures that made her think that men did not control women. Chopin gave Edna the same idea. Chopin's husband was a Creole business man, as was Edna's husband. Chopin portrayed other character as well. Chopin and her husband were happy like Madame Ratignolle and her husband. Chopin's family spent a lot of time in Grand Isle, the same place in The Awakening. Chopin knew Grand Isle and figured it was the easiest place to describe when writing. When Chopin lost her husband and mother, it left her searching for her own self-identity. Readers see the same with Edna; the only difference was that Edna killed herself.

Leonce and Madame Ratignolle are what are acceptable in society. Leonce was the typical male in the 19th century. Leonce considers Edna to be just a possession. "looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of property which has suffered some damage" (Chopin, 2005, Chapter 1, para. 9). Madame Ratignolle was the typical female in the 19th century. Madame Ratignolle worshiped her husband and children. Madame Ratignolle loved her role as a mother and wife, as Edna did not. Madame Ratignolle would make her children winter clothes in the summer. Edna, on the other hand, did not want to waste her summer dealing with things that are yet to come. In chapter 3, paragraph 5, Leonce told Edna that one of the boys had a fever; Edna did not race to check on the child. Madame Ratignolle would have run over top anything to get to her sick child. Madame Ratignolle would go running to her children, vice versa, if one of them fell and got hurt. Edna was not that way; "If one of the little Pontellier boys took a tumble whilst at play, he was not apt to rush crying to his mother's arms for comfort; he would more likely pick himself up, wipe the water out of his eves and the sand out of his mouth, and go on playing" (Chopin, 2005, Chapter 4, para. 2).

Women of the 19th century should be a wife, mother, actively listen to their husband's stories, obey their husbands, and look after the children at all times. Edna was the exception. Edna sees her marriage as an accident, forgets her children, has little feelings for her children, disobeys her husband, and will not socialize with her husband. Edna falls in love with another man, while being married. In the 19th century, women who felt any thing for someone other than their husbands were criticized. Men in the 19th century did want they wanted to, when they wanted to do it without being criticized. Chopin uses Edna and Madame Reisz to express impetus and infatuation assumed by the female gender. Madame Reisz is an outspoken person. Madame Reisz is the result of what happens to women in the 19th century as unconventional woman; she lived alone and spoke her mind. Madame Reisz is not married nor does she have any children. Madame Reisz chose not to live the normal privileged life of the wealthy. Madame Reisz went against what was expected from a woman in society and became her own person.

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