In Awakening by Kate Chopin makes several political statements. Chopin acknowledges sexuality in women and women rights in a time period where these were unspoken and unacceptable. Chopin acknowledges the boundaries and consequences of marriage because the protagonist Mrs. Pontellier sees what her limits are and makes efforts to stretch and break free of those limits. In the end where Mrs. Pontellier commits suicide she wins in a sense because she doesn’t have to give up her identity and conform to the social norms which suppresses her sexuality, individuality, and rights. The social norms and society which attempt to have Mrs. Pontellier conform can be seen when Adele Ratignolle tells Mrs. Pontellier to think of the children. This shows that Adele Ratignolle understands why Mrs. Pontellier wants to break free from her husband but she reminds her of the consequences of her actions.
The theme of Awakening is conformity versus expressing the self that the interest of the self conflict with social norms and behavior. Another idea which also seems to emerge is that Chopin notes the limits society of that time placed on women who allowed them three options to conform, die, or be shunned from that society. The romantic love which allows the woman to endure dependence on her husband is the promise of fulfillment and that it denies that there is a conflict of power and equality in marriage. In Mrs. Pontellier’s case she begins by conforming to marriage and playing the part of the docile wife but she acknowledges there are things that her husband can do and she can not. In Awakening Mrs. Pontellier acknowledges her sexual desires and that she wants more than just being Mr. Pontellier’s wife, she acknowledges that she wasn’t satisfied with her marriage. In Mrs. Pontellier’s society a good wife obeyed her husband without question; she took care and interest in the upbringing of her children and visited respectable friends. Mrs. Pontellier moves beyond the conventions of her society by accepting her sexual desires and her attraction for men other than her husband but the society she lived in could not accept her. A good example is Robert whom Mrs. Pontellier confessed loved him but he couldn’t move beyond the restrictions of their society so he left her but told her he loved her. (Kate Chopin, 1997)
The social pressure to conform was so strong that Mrs. Pontellier had no place in her society once she professed her love for Robert and he refused her offer because she could not start fresh by marring him. Mrs. Pontellier committed suicide because she wanted to express her right to love another man not her husband and leave behind the limits marriage placed on her. Learning to swim gave Mrs. Pontellier literally and figuratively the freedom to choose. Swimming freed her from land where she is expected to conform to social standards and play the part of a good wife. The ability to swim also gave Mrs. Pontellier the choice to return to land and accepting the limitations of marriage or to keep on swimming until she ran out of strength and drowned. Mrs. Pontellier chose to exercise her right to freedom by committing suicide, because this way she could escape the limits placed on her by society and husband. This showed that Mrs. Pontellier gained freedom because she recognized her limits and therefore could find ways of escaping. It also shows that Mrs. Pontellier’s chose death as a resolution to the conflict she perceived that she unlike other women was not satisfied with the fulfillment marriage was suppose to give her. Kate Chopin’s argument that the women in a marriage can either grow independent of her husband or become mother – woman is convincing because Mrs. Pontellier gradually sees her dependence on her husband and makes successful efforts to assert her independence. Mrs. Pontellier efforts like her move from dependence to independence are gradual.
This can be seen when first Mrs. Pontellier also sees what many married women have become because they accepted their social roles as wife and mother. Mrs. Pontellier notes that the mother – woman flutter around their children and worship their husbands. These women give their husbands power by limiting themselves to just the social world evolving around their husbands and children. Mrs. Ratignolle is one of them her primary concern is the well being of her husband and children she in contrasts to Mrs. Pontellier listens attentively to her husband and is a stereotypical wife and woman of her time. One area Chopin could have improved on is the character of Mrs. Pontellier on having her goals clearly defined. Sometimes it is hard to follow Mrs. Pontellier’s line of thought as to what she wants; an example of this would be when Mrs. Pontellier moves out of her house into a smaller house which she rented. Implicitly Mrs. Pontellier’s moving out of her husband’s home shows her asserting her independence and individuality but none of this was explicitly stated. I was at first confuse because I wasn’t sure if Mrs. Pontellier moved out so she could have affairs with other men, if she wanted to separate from her husband or she just needed to have a place of her own. Chopin does a wonderful job of gradually clarifying Mrs. Pontellier’s situation to the reader by showing us the types of people she invites to her new house, her moving out despite her husband’s opposition and Mrs. Pontellier’s reaction to all this. The result is that the reader gets a sense that Mrs. Pontellier gradually becomes independent of her husband and that her moving out was just one step. The Awakening by Kate Chopin was considered very shocking when it was first published because of the “sexual awakening” of the main character, Edna Pontellier, and her unconventional behavior. Chopin moved to New Orleans after her marriage and lived there for twelve years until the death of her husband. She returned to St. Louis where she began writing. She used her knowledge of Louisiana and Creole culture to create wonderful descriptions of local color, and she incorporated French phrases used by the Creoles. (Margo Culley, Margo 1998)