Assignment Directions for Modified Research Essay
Research Project: A Modified Essay
Answer the following the question:
American Literature professors often assign Kate Chopin’s The Awakening as a standard text representing a classic work of literature. Do you agree or disagree with this approach? Choose a specific character and scene to provide evidence of your viewpoint.Assignment Structure:
Write an introduction, see models used for the Literary Essay to form a specific, focused thesis in response to one of the posted questions.
Provide a list of quotations from primary sources by the author that support thesis statement. Minimum six quotations required.
Write a summary of each academic database source applying paraphrasing skills. Include at least two quotations within the summary. Additional quotations from primary sources may also be included. (200-300 words)
Write a response to each of the academic database sources. Within the response, why and how the source allowed you, as the reader, to form a new perspective or to confirm your current view of the text(s) or the author. Include at least two quotations within response from the database sources. Additional quotations from primary sources may also be included. (200-300 words)
Include an MLA correct Works Cited. Use the following three sources below and the readings from the book(attached) 3107-3154 only to support your viewpoint on why you agree with the approach, also see how the prewriting essay is supposed to be formatted by seeing the attachment and the student models attached:
The book: Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. “The Awakening.” The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Traditions in English. 3rd ed., vol. 2, W.W. Norton & Co., 2007, p. 1251-1344.
Prewriting Template (15 points)
Introduction and thesis statement (5 points): Follows directions of assignment and contains a clear thesis with topic + assertion method. Avoid writing a listing style thesis statement.
List of quotations from primary sources that support thesis statement (15 points): Minimum six quotations required
Summary Paragraphs (15 points): Fully developed summary paragraphs of the selected database research articles organized logically with adequate analysis and literary support via supporting quotations.
Response Paragraphs (15 points): Reflective and clearly written conclusion that provides thoughtful consideration beyond a mere summary of the essay’s content. Conclusion should not read as repetitive of entire essay but, instead, add further reflection upon the subject matter.
Quotations (10 points): Use of quotations is accurate with proper integration and used for sufficient textual support. Lack of proper quotations, as hanging/floating quotations, will not receive credit for quotation usage.
MLA Documentation (10 points): Accurate use of MLA including correct parenthetical citations, work cited and proper punctuation.
Grammar/Diction/Editing (15 points): Assignment meets academic standards for these areas of writing stylistics.
The Female Artist in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening: Birth and Creativity
Author: Carole Stone
From: Women’s Studies(Vol. 13, Issue 1 & 2)
Reprint In: Novels for Students(Vol. 3)
Document Type: Critical essay; Excerpt
In the following excerpt, Stone examines the growth of Edna’s artistry and autonomy.
Many recent critics of The Awakening fail to see Edna’s growing sense of power and control as signs of progress toward a new self-definition. They view her as a woman deluded by romanticism who is unable to make a conscious choice, such as the decision to become an artist, because her instincts are regressive….
In this essay I will argue that Edna’s memories of her childhood, her immersion in the sea, and her search for a mother figure are emblems of regression in the service of progression toward an artistic vocation. Rather than returning to the dependency of childhood, she goes forward to a new conception of self, a definition of herself as artist. Further, I will suggest that Edna’s romanticism is positive because it catalyzes her imaginative power. As the final step forward functioning as an autonomous human being, moreover, she sees through the delusion of romantic love after confronting the horror of giving birth.
Edna’s artistic birthing is shown through the contrasting characters of two women, Adèle Ratignolle, a “mother-woman,” and Mme. Reisz, a pianist. As Per Seyersted has observed [in Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography, Louisiana State University Press, 1969], “the novel covers two generations and births … a finely wrought system of tensions and interrelations set up between Edna’s slow birth as authentic and sexual being and the counterpointed pregnancy and confinement of Adèle.” Adèle embodies female biology, always talking of her condition, for she has a baby about every two years. Adèle’s opposite, Mme. Reisz, a serious artist, is unmarried. She exemplifies the solitary life of the dedicated artist.
A third influence on Edna’s artistic development is Robert LeBrun, a young Creole man who, because he has not yet assumed the masculine values of his society, can be a friend to Edna as her husband cannot. He teaches her to swim, furthering her autonomy, and with his easy way of talking about himself, encourages her self-expression. Because he has aroused sexual desire in her, she eventually has an affair with another man, Alcée Arobin, an affair which functions as a rite of passage to sexual autonomy.
Each of these three figures has positive and negative qualities that help and hinder Edna’s struggle to be creative. Adèle Ratignolle, a sensuous woman, awakens Edna to the sensuality of her own body. Also Adèle’s candor in talking about such subjects as her pregnancy helps Edna to overcome her reserve. Furthermore, Adèle encourages her to express thoughts and feelings she had kept hidden, even from herself. For example, at Adèle’s urging to say what she is thinking as they sit together by the sea, Edna recalls “a summer day in Kentucky, of a meadow that seemed as big as the ocean to the very little girl….”
In these early scenes by the sea Chopin also establishes the sea as a central symbol for Edna’s birthing of a new self. The connection in her mind between the grass and the sea foreshadows the autonomy she achieves by learning to swim, as well as her final walk into the sea at the book’s end. Symbolically, the sea is both a generative and a destructive force in The Awakening; it represents danger inherent in artistic self-expression—losing oneself in unlimited space—as well as the source of all life, facilitating rebirth, so that Edna in her first moments of being able to swim feels like a child who has learned to walk. The ocean has also been seen as a symbol of woman or the mother in both her benevolent and terrible aspects. Madame Ratignolle, in association with the sea, represents the benevolent mother who nurtures Edna and even inspires her to paint. Adèle seems to her, as she is seated on the beach, like “some sensuous Madonna,” and she paints her picture.
At this beginning point in her artistic development Edna thinks of herself as a “dabbler.” However, though Edna has had no formal training, Chopin establishes the fact that she is talented for “she handled her brushes with a certain ease and freedom which came not from a long and close acquaintance with them but from a natural aptitude.” We also see early on that Edna has the capacity for self-criticism as “after surveying the sketch critically, she drew a broad smudge of paint across its surface and crumpled the paper between her hands.” Later when Edna’s critical faculties are turned against conventional values of home, husband, and family in the direction of autonomy, Adèle will show the negative side of her mothering qualities. By constantly reminding Edna of her duty to her children, she binds her to society’s rules and impedes her creative growth.
In these early scenes at Grand Isle where Edna’s struggle to be an artist is beginning, Robert is another source of imaginative power. As she paints Adèle’s portrait, he encourages her with “expressions of appreciation in French.” While this may simply be Creole flattery, it is more encouragement than she has ever received from her husband. Like Adèle, he is sensual, and as she paints he rests his head against her arm. He also speaks about himself freely, telling her of his plans to go to Mexico. Under his influence she speaks to him about her life, and it is he who awakens her to the passions of her body. A few weeks after the painting scene on the beach, Chopin again uses the sea as a symbol of growth, and again in connection with Robert. One evening he proposes a night swim and we see him lingering behind with the lovers, “and there was not one but was ready to follow when he led the way.” Robert’s appearance is associated frequently with lovers; he becomes Cupid who awakens Edna to the force of Eros. This evening she learns to swim and feels herself “reaching out for the unlimited in which to lose herself.” Loss of boundaries suggests orgiastic union which foreshadows Edna’s final merging with the sea. Significantly, that evening as she lies in a hammock, an image of lovemaking, she feels herself “pregnant with the first felt throbbing desire” for Robert.
When her husband returns later she refuses to go inside when he asks her to. By now she has achieved mastery over her body by learning to swim and mastery over her environment by challenging his authority. She now has to achieve mastery over her imagination, but at this point can only “blindly follow whatever impulse moved her.” Next morning, without much thought, she asks a servant to tell Robert she wishes him to take the boat with her to Cheniere for mass. Walking to the wharf, there are, as always when Robert appears, lovers who already stroll “shoulder to shoulder.” Edna’s imagination is subsumed by the romance phase of her creative growth as she spends an idyllic day with Robert….
The woman who represents a structured form of art is Mme. Reisz, the true artist Edna wishes to become. While Madame Ratignolle plays the piano solely for the pleasure of her family, Mme. Reisz plays Frederic Chopin with great feeling and art. Before hearing Mme. Reisz play, music had evoked pictures in Edna’s mind. After listening to her play, Edna’s passions are aroused. But like such nineteenth century female artists as Emily Dickinson, Mme. Reisz is unmarried, childless, eccentric in manner and in dress, and alienated from society. She cannot serve as a role model for Edna. Nevertheless, Edna’s creative development continues. After the family’s return to New Orleans, she takes up her painting once more in spite of her husband’s admonishment that she “not let the family go to the devil” while she paints. She works with “great energy and interest” though she feels she is not accomplishing anything….
There are factors beyond Edna’s control, however, which limit her development. [Sandra] Gilbert and [Susan] Gubar [in The Madwoman in the Attic, Yale University Press, 1979], in a discussion of the woman writer in patriarchal society, describe “the loneliness of the female artist, her feelings of alienation from male predecessors coupled with her need for sisterly precursors and successors, her urgent need for a female audience.” Certainly this describes Edna’s situation as she seeks out her two contrasting women friends for validation, Mme. Reisz and Adèle Ratignolle. She brings her paintings to Adèle even though she knows in advance, “her opinion in such a matter would be next to valueness … but she sought the words of praise and encouragement that would help her to put heart into her venture.” Adèle, true to her character as a “mother-woman,” tells her that her talent is immense, and Edna is pleased even though she recognizes “its true worth.” She receives a much harsher judgement of her artistic capacity from Mme. Reisz. In reply to the question of what she has been doing, Edna tells her “I am becoming an artist” and her friend says, “Ah! an artist. You have pretensions, Madame.” Sensing the insecurity which keeps her from total commitment to art, Mme. Reisz warns, “To be an artist includes much; one must possess many gifts—absolute gifts—which have not been acquired by one’s own effort. And moreover, to succeed the artist must possess the courageous soul.”…
Two events occur almost simultaneously at the novel’s climax, events which portray the forces that finally defeat Edna’s search for artistic wholeness. One is her witnessing of Adèle’s suffering in childbirth and the other is Robert’s admitting that he loves her and wants to marry her. Edna has gone to Adèle, leaving Robert just after he tells her he has dreamed of marrying her if her husband will free her. She has replied that she is no longer one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions to be given away. When she returns from Adèle’s he is gone, having explained in a note that he has left not because he doesn’t love her but because he does. Robert has been deeply connected to her sexual growth, which in turn affected the growth of her imagination. Through him she has begun to transfer the authenticity of her romantic vision to her paintings. Now, romantic illusions shattered, she loses the catalyst for her art.
The other illusion that is shattered is that of childbirth being a moment of joy. Edna does not remember her own pain when she gave birth, since she was chloroformed. Now, seeing Adèle’s pain, she recognizes that she cannot rebel against nature. Adèle’s parting words “think of the children” remind her of her mother-role which conflicts with her new-found freedom. Chopin was far ahead of her time in exposing the myth of bearing children as a woman’s ultimate fulfillment, calling Adèle’s “acouchement” a scene of torture. Almost a century later Sylvia Plath was to use the same image in The Bell Jar by describing the delivery room as “some awful torture chamber.”…
The next morning Edna returns to Grand Isle and walks to her death in the sea. Is her suicide triggered by Adèle’s suffering in childbirth? By the knowledge that it is futile to rebel against biology? Does she kill herself because Robert has left her? Or because she has failed to become an artist? Edna drowns herself because she cannot live as a conventional wife or mother any longer, and society will not accept her newfound self. The solitude she enjoys makes for artistic growth, but she is bound to children, home, social duty. She will not sacrifice her new autonomy because, as Anne Jones points out [in Tomorrow Is Another Day: The Woman Writer in the South, 1859-1936, Louisiana State University Press, 1981], “she will not relinquish the core of her vision, which is not finally romance, but rather her own autonomous being … so she freely goes to the sea, losing her life. But she does not lose her self.”
By beginning and ending The Awakening with the sea Chopin gives the book a wholeness that Edna cannot find in her life. Furthermore, Chopin’s themes of sea/mother, love/lover, self/birth, sexuality/creativity are joined as Edna’s birth of a new self is juxtaposed against Adèle’s giving birth to another. In a moment of liberty she stands naked on the beach feeling like “some new-born creature” before entering the sea which becomes the universal Great Mother. To be sure, Chopin uses one image of defeat, the “bird with the broken wing,” which Edna sees “reeling, fluttering, circling, disabled down down to the water.” This was the image used by Mlle. Reisz when, as if predicting Edna’s fall she said, “it is a sad spectacle to see the weakling bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.” But how strong must a woman be at this time in order to maintain her artistic vocation without any support from community?….
Yet Edna’s final moment is one of autonomous sexuality, as the world of her imagination resonates with fertility—“There was the hum of bees, and the musky odor of pinks filled the air.” Chopin repeats the description of the sea which describes Edna’s first swim, “The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace,” and with this symbolic closure portrays Edna becoming whole in the only way she can, by immersion in the universal sea of love. But how can Edna’s death be positive? Many critics think it is not…. Nevertheless, Edna Pontellier succeeds in giving birth to a new self even though the fact that she can not live on earth as this new self is tragic. The triumph of The Awakening lies in Chopin’s depicting, when others did not, the conflicts faced by women who wish to become artists. Courageously, she built in her novel a bridge from past to future so that women might find their way across. Like her heroine, she too was a pontellier, a bridgemaker.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1998 Gale Research, COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale
Stone, Carole. “The Female Artist in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening: Birth and Creativity.” Novels for Students, edited by Diane Telgen and Kevin Hile, vol. 3, Gale, 1998. Gale Literature Resource Center, https://0-link-gale-com.wave.lccc.edu/apps/doc/H1420012140/LitRC?u=lccc_main&sid=LitRC&xid=0b37895e. Accessed 16 July 2020. Originally published in Women’s Studies, vol. 13, no. 1 & 2, 1986, pp. 23-31.
Edna’s Sense of an Ending: A Rhetorical Analysis of Chopin’s Use of Narrative in The Awakening
Cuff, Mary. The Mississippi Quarterly; Mississippi State Vol. 69, Iss. 3, (Summer 2016): 327-345.
Peter Rabinowitz, in examination of the rhetorical power of beginnings and endings in fiction, notes that in nineteenth- and twentieth-century novels, beginnings and endings hold privileged positions, governed by a handful of metarules, one of which is the metarule that leads us to expect balance in a text, to expect that the ending will somehow be prefigured in the beginning. The notion of a prefigured ending ties into Frank Kermode’s earlier concept of the sense of an ending, which he argues all readers develop as they encounter narratives. The scholarly response to the ending typically falls into four camps. The first camp views Edna’s death as a suicide brought about by a crushing social script. There is a divide within this camp between scholars who view Edna’s suicide as a conventional death-as-punishment ending that does not fit the novel and those who read it as essential to the novel’s social critique.
Peter Rabinowitz, in his examination of the rhetorical power of beginnings and endings in fiction, notes that in nineteenth- and twentieth-century novels, beginnings and endings hold “privileged positions,” governed by a handful of metarules, one of which is “the metarule that leads us to expect balance in a text, to expect that the ending will somehow be prefigured in the beginning” (300, 305). The notion of a prefigured ending ties into Frank Kermode’s earlier concept of the “sense of an ending,” which he argues all readers develop as they encounter narratives. Rabinowitz and Kermode both acknowledge that the end of a narrative is rhetorically powerful because people have a natural inclination to organize and make sense of the entire narrative based on its ending. The beginning’s promises and the end’s fulfillment thus help the author to shape narrative expectations in order to get readers to sense a particular purpose to the story. However, Rabinowitz points out that there is also significant rhetorical power to narrative endings that upset the expected or promised ending, as in novels that begin conventionally and end unconventionally. Rabinowitz explains that such “novels often have endings that do not simply surprise . . . but that seem, when we get to them, flagrantly to defy what has come before-which end . . . with what musicians call a deceptive cadence” (305). This characterization seems particularly apt for the general perception of the ending of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. Recent criticism of the novel has focused increasingly on its narrative and artistic elements, as opposed to the more thematic and social elements common to earlier readings. However, this approach has continued the deep scholarly divides over how to interpret the novel’s ending.
The scholarly response to the ending typically falls into four camps. The first camp views Edna’s death as a suicide brought about by a crushing social script. There is a divide within this camp between scholars who view Edna’s suicide as a conventional death-as-punishment ending that does not fit the novel and those who read it as essential to the novel’s social critique. This first subgroup includes many classics of Chopin criticism: for instance, Elaine Showalter’s complaint that such an unconventional narrative concludes with an ending she believes to have been externally imposed upon both character and author (81). George M. Spangler characterizes the end as “a conclusion for a novel other than the one she wrote, a conclusion for a novel much more conventional and much less interesting than The Awakening” (254). Rachel Blau Duplessis provides the most direct comment on the narrative implications of the novel’s ending, noting that death, as opposed to marriage, is the ending merited by the female character who “has a jumbled, distorted, inappropriate relation to the ‘social script’ or plot designed to contain her legally, economically, and sexually” (295). More recent criticism from the second subgroup attempts to reconcile the ending to the rest of the novel by arguing that Edna’s death either subverts a patriarchal society or is her last method of escape. Catherine Mainland and Marion Muirhead argue that the ending depicts the arbitrary restrictions that society has placed upon a woman with as much natural talent as a man (Mainland 84-85; Muirhead 53). Jennifer Gray sees Edna heroically and tragically escaping from the dominant patriarchal ideology that would otherwise force her into the only socially acceptable role: motherwoman (71-72).
The second camp, made famous by Sandra Gilbert, argues that Edna’s end is a creative return to the feminine realm. More recently, this strain has been continued by scholars such as Angela Hailey-Gregory and Jarlath Killeen. These scholars argue that Edna plunges into the sea not to die but to be reborn as a mythic Aphrodite or feminist Madonna, free from male models. A third camp insists that Edna’s end is deliberately ambiguous. Robert Treu is representative of this approach when he argues that the novel’s importance lies in the questions it raises, not whether Edna wants to die-or does die-at the end: “Kate Chopin had every right, I think, to deny her readers the pleasure of an easy ending. Had she wanted to, she might have ended the novel with a funeral scene, complete with ideological clarification in the form of weeping friends” (34). Finally, a small fourth group examines the ethics of Edna’s actions to argue that Chopin uses her protagonist as a warning. William Bartley reminds readers that, while Edna and other women of her day might be severely limited in their social scripts, they still commanded some authorial control over their identities (730-31), and therefore were not simply passive victims of society. Peter Ramos suggests that Edna’s suicide serves as a warning of what could happen to a protagonist who seeks unattainable freedom by rejecting all available social roles (147).
Recent scholarship has also shown increasing interest in both Edna-as-artist and Chopin-as-artist readings, and has dwelled on the novel’s various narrative and stylistic elements to shed light on the ending. Here, too, there is a wide spectrum of interpretations. Xianfeng Mou discusses Chopin’s use of free indirect discourse to show how the character develops into an artist figure in close harmony with the narrator (104), while Muirhead examines the characters’ conversational styles and argues that Edna fails to achieve self-expression as an artist (42). Rebecca Dickson analyzes narrative control in the novel to argue that Edna’s story is about giving nineteenth-century women control over their lives and stories, rather than having them continue to accept the “cult of the virgin” imposed by men (43). Mainland fits The Awakening into the traditional genre of male bildungsroman to show how women are naturally capable of male story arcs, while Killeen examines Chopin’s Catholic background in order to provide Edna with an alternate, female aesthetic model in contrast to the male-dominated, Protestant, and Enlightenment realm of Darwinian realism (433-34). Jean Witherow examines The Awakening in light of literary history, contrasting Chopin’s narrative stance with that of Flaubert in order to reject an overly realistic or naturalistic reading in favor of a more sympathetic account of her character (110-11). This focus on female artists engaged with literary and aesthetic history in the novel has revealed Chopin’s incredible artistic control over her subject matter, but no consensus has been reached as to what exactly she says by having Edna step into the waters of the Gulf at story’s end.
Building from the scholarly interest in Chopin’s use of narrative, I employ James Phelan and Peter Rabinowitz’s theory of the rhetorical significance of narrative endings in relation to beginnings. Chopin was highly conscious of the rhetorical power inherent in those narrative elements, and there are, in fact, two narratives at work in the novel, one controlled by Edna as a self-author rewriting her own life’s narrative, and the other crafted by the novel’s implied author.1 I take the position that Edna seeks to craft a narrative free from limitations, while the implied author faithfully crafts a beginning that subtly prefigures a particular end and an ending that fulfills the promises of its beginning. The end of the novel becomes the final confrontation between two differing narrative worldviews: Edna’s rejection of narrative structure and the implied author’s acceptance of narrative reality. This confrontation allows Chopin to comment on a universal truth about human experience: Edna steps into the water at the novel’s conclusion not simply because she is a defeated or defiant woman in an oppressive society but also because her unconventional yet human aspiration towards limitlessness is literally and literarily contained within a world governed by limitation and endings. Rhetorically, then, the confrontation between the implied author’s narrative and Edna’s narrative reveals the dangers involved in self-creation and serves as an urgent warning for those about to embark upon their own awakening.
The beginning of the novel borders on metafiction in its awareness of itself as a beginning. While beginnings are often treated in terms of first chapters, paragraphs, or sentences, Phelan and Rabinowitz note that, narratively, beginnings can be much more expansive. In their exposition of rhetorical narrative theory, they suggest that one of the ways to view narrative sequences is through the terms of initiation (beginning), interaction (middle), and farewell (ending). The beginning as entrance
identifies both the imaginative movement of the actual reader into the storyworld at the moment of launch and the authorial audience’s initial hypothesis (often inchoate) about the overall direction and shape of the narrative as it is experienced during the time of reading, what we call its configuration. (“Time” 60-61)
An adequate understanding of the initiation and configuration of the storyworld of The Awakening must expand to include the entire first section of the novel, which spans a gigantic swath of text, sixteen chapters, and which takes place almost entirely on Grand Isle. The beginning act is distinctly separated by location from the middle act, as the middle takes place almost entirely in New Orleans, while the final act of the novel is once more distinctly separated by location, again at Grand Isle. While the beginning is unconventionally sprawling, the end is very tightly contained in a single chapter. In the beginning section, there are constant references to firsts, openings, and beginnings as Edna experiences the start of her awakening. In the midst of this, the implied author pauses to reflect upon the nature of beginnings themselves:
A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her,-the light which, showing the way, forbids it. . . .
In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her. . . .
But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such a beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult! (Chopin 14)
The narrator is careful to note that all beginnings are like this, which, readers focusing on narrative should note, includes the beginnings of novels as well as of worlds and of individuals. Witherow emphasizes that passages such as this show that Chopin’s narrator sympathizes with and, to an extent, identifies with Edna (104), unlike the typical realist narrator’s detached relationship to a protagonist (103). The implied author’s reflection upon beginnings here suggests not only sympathy but also a significant parallel between the creation of the storyworld and Edna’s self-creation: implied author and character are fundamentally engaged in the same project with the same risks. Either their beginnings will be creative, allowing them to progress to a middle and end to their stories, or, alternatively, their beginnings will be abortive: not foreshadowing their endings, but one and the same as those endings. As Bartley notes, “The Awakening is about Edna Pontellier’s effort to imagine, to plot, a future life sufficiently extricated from psychological, intellectual, and social constraints. This is nothing if not an artistically creative endeavor: Edna must compose her life as she might a work of fiction” (725-26). This effort is mutual, as it is necessary for both the implied author and Edna-as-self-author. The stakes for Edna’s awakening and The Awakening are the same: Will they be among the very few souls (or books) which manage to emerge from the beginnings of their narratives and imagine a plot, or will they be like the great majority who are stillborn?
Before examining the implied author’s narrative and comparing the two, it is essential to trace Edna’s attempts to construct her own narrative. As Edna gains awareness of her place as an individual character in this narrative world, she becomes aware of existing in a beginning: “She could only realize that she herself-her present self- was in some way different from the other self!” (Chopin 39). The chaos and ambiguity of this beginning is absolute for Edna: she cannot sense how the narrative of her awakening will go. As she reflects upon her summer with her friend, Adele Ratignolle, she characterizes it as like the memory of a green meadow from her childhood:
I was just walking diagonally across a big field. My sun-bonnet obstructed the view. I could see only the stretch of green before me, and I felt as if I must walk on forever, without coming to the end of it. . . .
. . . . sometimes I feel this summer as if I were walking through the green meadow again; idly, aimlessly, unthinking and unguided. (17)
Edna knows that something has begun, but she has no sense of an ending; just as the field seemed to not have a limit, her walk through it had neither direction nor purpose. While she had no purpose for wandering in the meadow, Edna did have a reason for being there. She had been running away from her family’s Presbyterian service. This fact does more than merely demonstrate Edna’s apostasy from religion; that she was running away from a church service adds significance to the seeming endlessness of the meadow, as the Christian narrative requires both a beginning and an end, and the roles of each are defined. Paul Fiddes notes in his treatment of narrative endings in religion and literature that
In the Christian West we have read history according to the narrative of the Christian drama of creation and redemption, organized by its ending in the apocalypse of the new creation. . . . History is regarded as God’s story, and when the story has been revealed to us through the Bible, we can make sense of history. (9)
The beginning contains the end far more definitely for Presbyterians than for Catholics like Edna’s neighbors and husband. Those who “emerge” from a Calvinistic beginning were predestined to do so, while those many more souls that perish have also a set narrative of predestination, with their eternal end contained literally in their beginning. From such a rigid understanding of narrative beginnings and endings, the child Edna fled into a field seemingly with neither an end nor a purpose, rejecting the teleological narrative of Christianity.
Edna’s aversion to endings is emphasized at various points in the opening act of the novel. The first description of Edna by the implied author comments that she “had a way of turning [her eyes] swiftly upon an object and holding them there as if lost in some inward maze of contemplation or thought” (Chopin 5). A maze is, of course, a contraption in which the beginning is clearly defined but the way to the hidden ending has been obscured. Those lost in a maze are so because they cannot comprehend the organizational pattern that will guide them to the end. Again, when she finally learns how to swim, Edna does not think of her accomplishment as a fulfillment of the “desired end” seen by those around her as the teleological fulfillment of an entire summer’s effort. Instead, Edna couches it in terms of being a baby taking its first steps: only as a beginning. She does desire to utilize this beginning, but does not articulate a clear end or goal. Rather, she “grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before” (27). The end of her desired swim is certainly further than her own bodily limits allow, for she seems “to be reaching out for the unlimited in which to lose herselfj” (28). Time and again, Edna searches for the limitless. This disregard for endings renders her beginning aimless. After she first asserts her will over her husband and lies in the hammock until the small hours of the morning, Edna’s dreams leave “only an impression upon her half-awakened senses of something unattainable” and, after waking up and stepping outside, “she was not seeking refreshment or help from any source, either external or from within. She was blindly following whatever impulse moved her, as if she had placed herself in alien hands for direction, and freed her soul of responsibility” (31-32). The loss of a sense of narrative purpose manifests itself in an intense dissatisfaction with the day-to-day sorts of ends and limitations that Edna would normally accept: she leaves church before the end of Mass, rejecting the “stifling atmosphere” in favor of the “open air” (34-35). Edna rejects the contained space in favor of limitless space and dismisses the importance of the service’s narrative: Catholic Mass is theologically arranged with the beginning and middle liturgically preparing the way for the all-important end. It is significant that Edna cannot stay to the end, given her budding antipathy for such narrative elements. Not only does she reject endings provided by life, but she also rejects creating them in narratives. When she does not complete her sons’ bedtime story, she leaves them to speculate wildly upon what the ending might be rather than go to bed, which had been the original purpose of telling the story (42).
In the midst of this, an ending is imposed upon her: Robert, clearly uncomfortable with their growing attachment that summer, has decided to leave for Mexico. Edna cannot “read” this end, instead coping by refusing all attempts to make narrative sense of it:
The past was nothing to her; offered no lesson which she was willing to heed. The future was a mystery which she never attempted to penetrate. The present alone was significant; was hers, to torture her as it was doing then with the biting conviction that she had lost that which she had held, that she had been denied that which her impassioned, newly awakened being demanded. (44)
Here at the end of the beginning of her awakening, Edna does not have a clear sense of any narrative elements. Her beginning feels like a loss and holds no direction she might take in her quest to rewrite her story; it does not contain any promised end (or, more significantly, no end she is willing to acknowledge). She does not even try to “read ahead” using traditional narrative structures or natural human curiosity to guess where it will go. In other words, she does not view her life as a narrative even as she has experienced an awakening affording her awareness of her status as a character in a narrative world. From such a beginning Edna must emerge, if she hopes to have an ending that does not end in the tumult of her beginning.
While the middle portion of the novel involves Edna as actively rewriting her social script, she continues to neglect narrative structure. At this stage, Edna is no longer waking up. Her beginning is indeed over and now she must establish some sort of emergent narrative middle and ending from it. In many ways, Edna acts as if she is in a narrative middle in her life choices in New Orleans, since she significantly changes her lifestyle and thereby seems intent to advance her life’s plot. This activity, according to Mainland, signals a male-centered bildungsroman story arc for Edna as her awakening moves from childhood (represented by her small sons) to a youthful flirtation with Robert to the independence and emancipation of a young adult in the affair with Arobin (75). Indeed, following up on her awakened sense of individualism, she increasingly drops her adherence to “les convenances,” the social conventions that have limited her so drastically, and explores alternative identities as an artist and a sexually free woman who increasingly participates in traditionally male activities such as gambling. Mainland argues that this signals a maturation, as Chopin gives Edna a traditional male narrative structure to prove that women are capable of male story arcs (75).
Edna’s inability to accept narrative structure undermines her successes: her attempt to become a new woman is as impulsive and as unsteady as the maternal instincts that have separated her out as an unfit mother in a world of mother-women. This unsteady grasp on her new identity is betrayed by Edna’s alternation from exuberance with her freedom from limitations and purposes to dread that her story is not going anywhere or is headed inevitably towards its end. These differing emotional frameworks in the middle section match the two promises of Edna’s beginning: one is happy, while the other evokes death. The pictures associated with these feelings in Edna’s mind are significant:
There were days when she was very happy without knowing why. She was happy to be alive and breathing, when her whole being seemed to be one with the sunlight, the color, the odors, the luxuriant warmth of some perfect Southern day. She liked then to wander alone into strange and unfamiliar places. (Chopin 56)
These happy days are a psychological continuation of wandering in that childhood meadow, escaping from endings. On one hand, her happiness stems from a present-oriented focus, as nothing is more immediate than breathing. On the other hand,
There were days when she was unhappy, she did not know why,-when it did not seem worth while to be glad or sorry, to be alive or dead; when life appeared to her like a grotesque pandemonium and humanity like worms struggling blindly toward inevitable annihilation. (56)
In other words, Edna fluctuates-without being able to understand why-between celebrating her disavowal of all endings and feeling unable to avoid the ultimate of all endings: annihilation. Being trapped does not bode well for her, as it recalls the tumultuous beginning when she was at risk of perishing unless she could find a way to emerge. Additionally, while Edna externally appears to be progressing in self-creation, her inner turmoil suggests that her maturation is stagnant. What makes Edna most happy is not progress but stasis, while forward movement is only negative.
While the middle section shows Edna actively rewriting her social narrative-her affair with Arobin, her rejection of familial bonds, including with her husband, her father, her sister, and, to some degree, her own children-the dominant movement of her narrative is towards monotony. For instance, just after she has remarkable success at predicting the ending of the horse races, Edna returns home and attempts to entertain herself in her empty house: “She wanted something to happen-something, anything; she did not know what. . . . But there was nothing else to do, so she went to bed, and tossed there for hours in a sort of monotonous agitation” (72). Edna can predict the endings of trivial things, such as a race, but cannot use her talents to predict her own. The entire middle portion of the novel becomes a quest to find something that can give her narrative meaningful forward movement. Muirhead suggests that Edna’s desire to express herself as an artist is the meaningful goal in the middle section and that her “failure to articulate her feelings and to gain access to discourse contributes to her demise, as does being denied access to her chosen profession of painting, another form of self-expression” (42). It is true that Edna-and therefore the implied author as well as Chopin herself-exists in a world where there appear to be only two viable options: doting wife and mother (Adele) or sexually frigid and isolated spinster-artist (Mlle. Reisz). But the novel does not make it entirely society’s fault that Edna does not succeed as an artist. Rather, just as her entire valuation of life fluctuates by the day and the weather, so too does her desire to paint. The implied author informs us that Edna could not paint when it was not sunny outside, and even when the sun was out, “being devoid of ambition, and striving not toward accomplishment, she drew satisfaction from the work in itself!” (Chopin 70). Even as an artist, Edna has no concrete goals, and is quite literally a “fair weather fan.” The label of “profession” is not apt here-Edna is an artistic dilettante only. Because Edna will not create the necessary goals that would allow her forward movement in her narrative, she betrays her role of self-author:
moving toward “some image of the future” and the variety of goals or ends that give it form requires an act of the hypothetical imagination, both in terms of imaging the goals themselves and the steps needed to achieve them. This requirement is true for ends or goals in the long or short term, whether grand or mundane, good or evil. (Bartley 730)
Edna’s inability to commit makes her “a protagonist whose unwillingness to continue dedicating herself to any of the available social roles leads her to abandon all of them in favor of an enticing yet ever-elusive freedom, the kind one associates with a tantalizing, idyllic childhood” (Ramos 147). Indisputably, the available social roles are overly restrictive, but it does not seem plausible that, given a different set of circumstances, Edna’s troubles would be solved simply by having more options, since she would still encounter the limitations that are part of the human condition.
Because Edna rejects the interrelatedness of beginnings and endings, she cannot actually craft a narrative that can emerge from its beginning, because in order to progress, it must be pointed toward some purpose, some sort of end. As in the opening act, she does not include endings in the stories she relates. While trading tales at the first dinner party, Edna tells the story of two lovers who slipped off in a boat, sailed away together, “and never came back. They were lost amid the Baratarían Islands, and no one ever heard of them or found a trace of them from that day to this” (Chopin 67). The story’s conclusion gives no real closure: Where were they going? Did they drown or did they escape to some remote area to be alone together? While the implied author does not record what the adult audience’s reaction was to such a non-ending, if Raoul and Etienne had snuck down from bed and were listening in, they surely would have spent the remainder of the evening speculating wildly once again over the (non)ending of one of their mother’s stories. This same evasion of endings comes again after Edna has moved into the pigeon house. When she visits her sons, who are staying at their grandmother’s house, the boys ask their mother what will happen when they and their father come home to New Orleans. Rather than face the reality that her idealized existence in the cottage with no social responsibilities cannot go on indefinitely, Edna promises her sons that “the fairies would fix it all right” (90). While this easy conclusion might satisfy children, one gets the sense throughout the latter half of the middle section that Edna has no plan. In fact, less than a single page after the boys ask where they and their father will fit into the pigeon house, Madame Ratignolle asks the same question. The implied author does not give us Edna’s answer, but Adele’s reaction speaks volumes: “In some way you seem to me like a child, Edna. You seem to act without a certain amount of reflection which is necessary in this life” (91). Ramos notes that this childishness is indicative of Edna’s false conception of freedom, which constitutes a rejection of all restriction and definition. From an ethical standpoint, Ramos argues that Edna’s failure to define herself renders her life meaningless, her resulting death serving as a warning against such an understanding of freedom (147). In other words, Edna’s response to the future and to approaching ends and limits is to leave everything up to the fairies, rejecting reality in favor of fantasy in an irresponsible and unsustainable bid to maintain an eternal present.
The fantasy is shattered by some very real ends that Edna cannot avoid. These ends originate in elements that have been present in the storyworld from the beginning, and as such are not imposed on Edna by the implied author but are the natural result of what has been building throughout the narrative. First, Adele Ratignolle, who is pregnant throughout the novel, actually gives birth. Edna’s narrative of birth is entirely tied to beginnings and endings: thinking back about her own experiences, she remembers “awakening to find a little new life to which she had given being, added to the great unnumbered multitude of souls that come and go” (Chopin 104). Souls that come and go: childbirth is the beginning of the end because life ends with death, and Edna’s dread comes from that inevitable encounter of beginnings with promised, unavoidable ends. Significantly, there is no room in her image of childbirth for middles or for a life in between birth and death that gives any meaning to those beginnings and ends: the souls are unnumbered, faceless. Edna cannot find a way to make the story meaningful; she can see an ending only as limitation rather than telos. Madame Ratignolle begs her to think of the children, suggesting that the personal connection of putting faces, identities, and relationships on those unnumbered souls might counteract the existential despair that otherwise follows from such a definition of the end of the narrative of life. But Edna can see her children only as forces that would seek to control her narrative rather than to aid in its meaning.
The next ending with which Edna must contend is Robert’s final departure after the young man cannot bring himself to consummate the couple’s illicit relationship. The beginning of the novel foreshadowed this end, if only Edna had paid attention. Both the implied author and Adele Ratignolle described Robert’s penchant for casual flirting with married women. Robert flirts the same way Edna paints: without a goal. As it is, Edna’s inability to cope with endings continues here, and there are no fairies to set it right. However, Edna has pushed all plans from her mind in favor of the present moment, which she believes she has with Robert, waiting for her at home: “Tomorrow would be time to think of everything” (106). The future with all of its conclusions and decisions is pushed away in favor of a present of fantasy with no responsibilities and no limits-that is, until Edna returns to find the empty house and the note that gives the budding relationship a final, disappointing ending.
These two endings presented to Edna push her into her actual narrative end. Significantly, the final section of the novel is entirely located at Grand Isle, back where the beginning occurred. However, it has become “dreary and deserted” (107), a stark contrast from the novel’s beginning. Amanda Lee Castro highlights these differences in Chopin’s description of the island location, at first a utopia and then a scene of apocalypse, noting that such a shift in description is not unique to The Awakening. Rather, the hurricanes, which all but ended the resort life on the islands, caused nineteenth-century vacationers to feel as if they had lost an unfallen Eden: “Readers of the time were faced with what to them was already a post-apocalyptic setting, but for readers today, that same atmosphere is evoked by the pervasive imagery of desolation in the landscape of Grand Isle and Cheniere Caminada” (Castro 78). The landscape of that promising beginning is now thrown into chaos by the tumultuous weather in a sinister incarnation of the implied author’s warning about failed beginnings. Whether Edna intends to commit suicide or not as she prepares for her final swim seems, despite years of scholarly debate, impossible to conclude for certain, and perhaps Treu is correct when he suggests that Chopin might have intended it that way: “In the end, we have mistaken the author for her creation by assigning to her work inferences that provide a sense of closure she did not necessarily intend to give us” (34). On the level of Edna’s narrative, at least, it seems certain that the ending is still concerned with seeking the limitless present-Edna is not seeking closure. She has returned to the source of her awakening in a last desperate attempt to reclaim that moment, but time has moved on and Grand Isle has become a desolate ending, not a promising beginning. She is at her end, but she still has no sense of it: rather, she stands naked under the sky, feeling “like some new-born creature, opening its eyes in a familiar world that it had never known” (Chopin 109). Her maturation arc has stalled; her movement into the sea is her way to elude, not just her children’s demands upon her, but every human connection and every concrete identity. Edna is rejecting any and all definition of her as an individual, not just society’s rigid conception of her. Because she has rejected all narrative structure and limitation for herself, Edna cannot survive her beginning and will become one of the many souls whom the implied author had warned perish in their failed beginnings. Edna’s final thoughts are a search for that field with no beginning and no ending, but her swiftly tiring limbs betray her, trying fruitlessly to remind her that there are endings, and that the meadow had only seemed to have no limits.
While Edna’s swim into the Gulf is the final surrender of her role as an author constructing a viable narrative, the implied author is not surrendering control of her narrative. Rather, the implied author is highly conscious of the interconnectedness of beginnings and endings throughout the novel, constructing a beginning that deliberately contains subtle yet significant hints of its promised ending. The most overt similarity between the beginning and the ending is that the narrative circles back to the exact spot where the novel began. Additionally, the novel’s love triangles, affairs, and suicides are quietly teased in the opening scenes by means of operatic music as the Farival twins sing duets from Zampa throughout the summer. Zampa, by Louis Joseph Ferdinand Hérold, involves a half dozen or so star-crossed lovers who all meet tragic ends; the titular character’s faithlessness results in more than one death and he ends the opera being dragged to Hell by the statue of his wronged and dead lady. Robert alludes to romantic death and love triangles as he flippantly banters about the “spirits abroad tonight.” Edna feels them as she begins her awakening reverie in the hammock:
On the twenty-eighth of August, at the hour of midnight . . . a spirit that has haunted these shores for ages rises up from the Gulf. With its own penetrating vision the spirit seeks some one mortal worthy to hold him company, worthy of being exalted for a few hours into realms of the semi-celestials. His search has always hitherto been fruitless, and he has sunk back, disheartened, into the sea. But tonight he found Mrs. Pontellier. Perhaps he will never wholly release her from the spell. Perhaps she will never again suffer a poor, unworthy earthling to walk in the shadow of her divine presence. (29)
From a narrative perspective, Robert’s fanciful story suggests the outcome of the novel: Beings who are fruitless in their search for worthy company sinking disheartened into the sea perfectly describes Edna at the end of the story as she sinks into the sea after concluding that “There was no human being whom she wanted near her except Robert; and she even realized that the day would come when he, too, and the thought of him would melt out of her existence, leaving her alone” (108). Edna becomes the figure who rejects the limits of mortality and all of the companions whose relationships involve limitations to her “divine presence.” Treu suggests that Robert’s story could be a sly reference to Goethe’s “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” as the date is Werther’s birthday (30-31). Werther had been involved in a love triangle with a married woman and heroically and tragically decided to end the affair with his suicide. The suicide made such an impact on the audience that there were real-life imitations for years afterward, and a minor switching of roles gives the basic external plot of The Awakening. Thus, the implied author weaves together Zampa, Robert’s story, and “The Sorrows of Young Werther” to tease the tragic finale in its very beginning. The necessary imagination of the fUture Bartley points out as lacking in Edna’s self-narrative is very much present in these subtle suggestions of the novel’s ending.
The beginning section also enacts in miniature the skeletal plot of the entire novel, literally containing a possible version of the promised story within itself: Edna has a moment of awakening to selfhood, gains independence (in the form of learning to swim), flirts with a man other than her husband (albeit in a socially acceptable and relatively safe manner), and asserts her will over her husband. As will happen again in the novel, Edna’s husband leaves for business in the middle of the first section, freeing Edna to spend much more time with Robert, to the point that their relationship tests the limits of what is acceptable and Robert leaves, just as he will do at the end. The end of the beginning reflects back upon itself as Edna and Mlle. Reisz think about how the summer had gone and give it a narrative conclusion: “It has been a pleasant summer. . . . rather pleasant, if it hadn’t been for the mosquitoes and the Farival twins” (Chopin 47). The women’s words serve to wrap up the whole vacation and section of the novel with a conclusion. By including this conversation, the implied author indicates the rhetorical importance of conclusions: they should serve as a way of evaluating the whole of what came before. The summer has not been pleasant for Edna in many ways, and this ending is as false as the conversation is conventional. If the novel had ended in such a manner, we would be right to be disappointed about an overly easy arrival at closure. But the novel, unlike its protagonist, does not join the multitude of souls who perish in the tumult of their beginnings. Rather, the middle replays the narrative elements of the beginning with additions and alterations in order to advance the plot, raising the stakes for both protagonist and novel so that the implications of Edna’s awakening extend far beyond the pleasantness of a summer vacation. As the implied author describes Edna throwing off narrative patterns and structure, her own narrative closely follows the pattern she established in her narrative beginning.
The implied author repeats more than just the structure of the plot. The most significant repetition of the novel is in the opening and closing scenes. Just after the implied author’s all-important warning about beginnings, she connects them to the sea:
But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult!
The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude, to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation.
The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace. (14)
While the description is enrapturing, the idea of souls perishing in tumult makes the sea’s invitation dangerous. This troubling promise of the beginning is repeated with devastating finality at the end. As Edna is enveloped in despondency, imagining her children as antagonists and Arobin as one lover among a list of meaningless faces of other lovers, the implied author cuts in: “The water of the Gulf stretched out before her, gleaming with the million lights of the sun. The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in abysses of solitude.” Immediately afterward, the implied author draws our attention to the bird with the broken wing, “reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water” (108). As the waves touch Edna’s feet, the narrative repeats again, “The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace” (109). The bird will drown and the body will grow tired in the sea just a few short lines later. The implied author’s warning from the beginning is fulfilled in the end, though Edna, only a character and not the author of this narrative level, cannot see it. Instead, Edna is focused on her own repeated element in the narrative: the childhood memory of bees and pinks, the cavalry officer’s spurs on the porch, and most importantly, that bluegrass meadow with no apparent beginning or ending. Edna inserts that memory both in the novel’s beginning and ending, demonstrating a fundamental divide between the implied author and herself as narrative artists, for while the implied author emphasizes her interest in the narrative structure of beginnings and endings by her repetitions, Edna’s repetitions are non-narrative, featuring the illusion of an endless present with no beginnings and no endings.
Rhetorically, the implied author’s ending is not so much punishing a morally errant character or limiting a woman with a male-controlled script as it is warning against Edna’s method of rebellion and selfcreation. Edna attempts to throw off the entire structure of scripts, which leaves her story directionless and meaningless, and therefore as artistically effective as the still-life topics which make up her artistic endeavors. Edna cannot be a powerful artist in the self-creation of her new identity. Because she refuses to choose what sort of end she wants, Edna’s ending is chosen for her: a failed artist and a failed new sort (or even traditional sort) of woman. Witherow’s emphasis on Chopin’s obvious pathos for her character, as well as the overt parallels which the implied author creates between storyworld and character, are significant in reading the rhetoric of this ending. The Awakening is unlike the typical naturalistic novel in that the implied author stays with Edna in her last moments instead of gazing at her from an emotionally safe and disinterested distance, and so gives the reader Edna’s last desperate fantasies of that limitless meadow. The note that Edna’s legs are swiftly growing tired almost feels like an attempt by the implied author to break the wall that separates her from her character to warn Edna of the consequences of not acknowledging some limitations. The silence at the end, as the reader closes the book knowing that Edna has not turned around and is now too far from the shore, fulfills the subtly promised end of the beginning, but the implied author cuts away, almost as if it is too painful to watch. Edna has failed in her attempt to become the author of her own story, but the novel’s narrative is successful insofar as it shows the difficulties inherent in challenging social conventions in order to become a great artist or a new sort of woman. The clash between Edna’s artistic method and that of the implied author demonstrates that while both feel the same restrictiveness and mediocrity in Edna’s former life and society, Edna misdiagnoses the problem. While Edna rejects narrative ends in an attempt to find meaning, the implied author uses Edna to warn the reader against the dangers that lie ahead in her own possible awakening.
Ultimately, The Awakening is the story of a woman who, faced with an incredibly limiting world, lashes out against limitation itself in her attempt to write her own story and choose her own fate. In doing so, she limits her possible future even more than the most patriarchal society ever could. Her insistence upon narrative presents and artistic still-lives means that she is incapable of playing the long game, the “hectic improvisation of means and ends-the slow and painful approaches to what would always be a succession of partial deliverances, the process bearing fruit only in a future beyond her generation” (Bartley 742). The ability to play this game was characteristic of the life stories of many of the feminist pioneers of the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Nor is she capable of accepting a limited sort of freedom, such as Madame Ratignolle’s quiet “feminism at home,” which finds meaning and freedom within the reality of the given situation (Streater 406). Those women were able to imagine viable narrative futures despite limitations. Chopin herself, writing stories such as The Awakening, and, even more so, “The Storm,” could imagine narrative ends that allowed her to continue her artistic project despite her limiting literary and social climate. Edna, however, with her rejection of ends, cannot accept a world where her imaginative bird cannot fly forever into eternity, untiring, unopposed, and unattached.
1Phelan and Rabinowitz emphasize the importance of maintaining the distinctions between the actual author (here, the flesh-and-blood Kate Chopin), the implied author (the fictive voice assumed by the author), and characters who are very controlling of the narrative (“Authors”). The Awakening employs a significant amount of free indirect discourse stemming from many of its characters-most frequently, Edna herself.
Cuff, Mary. “Edna’s Sense of an Ending: A Rhetorical Analysis of Chopin’s use of Narrative in the Awakening.” The Mississippi Quarterly, vol. 69, no. 3, 2016, pp. 327-345. ProQuest, http://0-search.proquest.com.wave.lccc.edu/docview/2133374286?accountid=12044.
The re-understanding of Edna Pontellier’s death
Author: Limin Bai
Date: Apr. 2014
From: Theory and Practice in Language Studies(Vol. 4, Issue 4)
Publisher: Academy Publication Co., LTD
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 4,131 words
Kate Chopin’s The Awakening is one of the feminist classics in American literary history. Since its publication in 1899, the novel The Awakening has aroused controversy. Among the heated controversies is the female protagonist’s death. The previous discussions on the death of Edna Pontellier are either too reductive or absolute.The primary focus of this thesis is to reexamine Edna’s death. Darwinism shook the self-importance of man; nineteenth-century feminist discourse evoked feminine independence and self-identity; Nietzsche denounced the validity of God. On the basis of these, this thesis concludes that Edna’s death is neither a punishment nor an escape, but a triumph.
Index Terms–Kate Chopin, awakening, death
Since its publication in 1899, the novel The Awakening has aroused controversy. The changes of the ideological concerns have brought the changes of the nature of these discussions. “In retrospect the early attacks on the book seemed quite simple, a matter of moral condemnation of its main character that was supposed to represent important American values” (Toth, 1990, p338-344). Edna Pontellier’s free thoughts and behaviors were not accepted at that period. The attacks on the book were too harsh for Chopin to continue her writing career, and even ended the discussion on the book for almost half a century.
Since 1960s, many critics have begun to reread the book and presented various understandings on it, and Emily Toth was one of earliest Chopin scholars who made a great contribution to the revival of Chopin and her works. With her biography Kate Chopin: A Life of the Author of The Awakening (1990), Emily Toth more than any other American deserves credit for having nourished the Chopin revival. In 1968 there were four articles on Chopin’ work; in 1970 there were twenty-five; in 1975 there were forty-one. Chopin’ time had, indeed, come. By 1988 four books on her writing had appeared. Cathy N. Davidson, current editor of American literature, notes in her foreword to Kate Chopin Reconsidered that she sees “almost as many submission on Kate Chopin as on any other author. I have done a quantitative analysis, but it certainly seems that we receive essays on Chopin with nearly the same frequency as those on Melville, James, and Faulkner…. In less than a generation, she has gone from obscurity to canonization”(qtd in Lynda, 1992, pix). Therefore The Awakening has been ranked into one masterpiece of the literary mainstream.
The study on Kate Chopin’ The Awakening may fall into three phases. The first phase was in the year 1899. In this year the novel The Awakening was published, and The Awakening was commented lots of times in almost all the newspapers and in as much magazines as it could. The initial comments were generally negative but commentators still showed that they appreciated Chopin’s writing ability, and at the same time they insisted the strong negative attitude toward the novel’ moral points.
The second phase was from the 1950s to 1970s. During this period, Chopin’s The Awakening was renewed. For example, Edmund Wilson (1962) thought that The Awakening was “beautifully written,” but Chopin expressed her anticipation toward D.H. Lawrence in her novel The Awakening (p590). Chopin was finally accepted academically in the 1970s. During this period, the dominant approach to the novel was feminist, which caused the extensive readings on The Awakening, thus creating the focused theme that a strong-minded and independent woman seeking her own identity together with the roles both as wife and as mother. Most understandings derive of what Suzanne Wolkenfeld (1976) calls “the feminist fatalism of presenting Edna as the victim of an oppressive society” (p221). Ringe Donald (1976) more positively, sees her as “a solitary, defiant soul who stands out against the limitations that both nature and society place upon her, and who accepts in the final analysis a defeat that involves no surrender” (p206). Besides, a lot of critics began to emphasize the important position of The Awakening. They argued that The Awakening’s importance should be recognized from the phases of both romanticism and realism. Fletcher (1966) cites The Awakening as “an excellent example of the fiction written during the transition from romanticism to realism” (p117-132). Eble (1956) notes that “it anticipates in many respects the modern novel” (p262).
The third phase started from the early 1980s and extended into the 21st century. During this period, the dominant approach to the novel is still feminist. The themes of woman’s self-identity and free sexuality were a main focus in the exploration of The Awakening. From 1980s to the early 1990s the study on Chopin’ work boomed. More papers on Chopin were filed and the central theme of papers on Chopin became increasingly clear in their feminist direction. As critic Margit Stange (1998) asserts, “self-ownership” was central to the project of nineteenth-century feminism (p506). Jennifer (2004) claims that “In life, under the irresistible realm of ideology, Edna could exist only in a female role of limitation. In death, she symbolically enters the realm of nature as she wades into ‘the sea’, and becomes enfolded in its vast space of innumerable waves. Heroically, Edna escapes oppressive ideology, but tragically, does so only in death” (p72). In The Economics of the Body in Kate Chopin’ The Awakening John Carlos Rowe situates Edna Pontellier with “the new economics of speculative capitalism” in Chopin’s times, and argues “A woman’ rebellion will involve much more for Chopin than merely the assertion of her naked self; that rebellion will require a thorough transvaluation of the modes of production that govern both the psyche and the economy of late-nineteenth-century capitalism” (qtd in Lynda, 1992, p121). In the 21st century, the study on Chopin seems to reach a new height. Numerous academic papers are published each year which explore Chopin’s works from psychological perspective, aesthetical perspective, philosophical perspective and etc …
The studies on Kate Chopin and The Awakening have a relatively shorter history in China. Since the 1990s, more and more readers have begun to pay attention to Kate Chopin’s works, especially her masterpiece The Awakening. A large number of papers on Kate Chopin and The Awakening are also published in the last two decades.
The study on Kate Chopin’ The Awakening in China can be divided into two phases. The first phase was from the mid 1980s to 1990s, during which period, Kate Chopin’ works were dug out and reread. Several Papers were published, such as Liujuan’s “Awakening or Disillusion?–The Awakening of American Women Writer Kate Chopin (1985)”, Xie Jianxin’s “Chopin and her The Awakening” (1987), and etc … The earlier studies of this phase focused on the author’ life experience and American history and therefore provided plenty of background information about Kate Chopin and the book The Awakening for the later studies. However Kate Chopin and The Awakening didn’t receive enough attention at that time.
The second phase started from the mid 1990s and extended into the 21st century. During this period, the study on Kate Chopin and the book The Awakening developed in both depth and scope. Many critics began to read this book from different perspectives. There are mainly four perspectives. One is feminist, which centers on the heroine to illustrate women’s seeking of selfhood and fight for freedom and equality against the patriarchal society. The representative scholars are Jinli and Qin Yaqing, who have published several articles on Kate Chopin, such as “Ameican New Feminine Awakening and Rebellion: Kate Chopin and The Awakening” (1995). More than 15 papers are published in different periodicals. Another perspective is the psychoanalytic, which is on the basis of Freud’s theory to elaborate The Awakening and analyze the heroine’s psychological development and changes, The example is Miao Lingling’s “Freedom Pays–Explaining The Awakening from Freudian Perspective” (2004). The third is Emerson’s Transcendentalism, which expounds the elements of transcendentalism in the novel and accordingly illustrates the awakening process from seeking self to realizing spiritual perfection demonstrated by the protagonist Edna, such as Sun Quanjun’ The Re-explaining The Awakening from Transcendentalism Perspective (2006). The Fourth is philosophical, which adopts German philosopher Nietzsche’s philosophical thoughts such as “Will to Power” and “Superman” to affirm the instinctual impulse of human beings, and illustrates Edna’s awakening activities in accordance with Nietzsche’s thoughts. One of these studies is Jiang Lifu and Shi Yunlong’s “Edna: Typical Embodiment of “Will to Power”–Rereading The Awakening and Explaining Nietzsche’s Opinions of Women” (2006).
Most of the studies on Chopin’s The Awakening focus on Edna Pontellier’ life and women’s social situations in the 19th century. Some critics discuss the ending of the book–Edna Pontellier’ death, but their discussions on the death of Edna Pontellier are either too simplistic, reductive or absolute. Therefore a thorough and comprehensive study on the Edna Pontellier’ death needs to be conducted.
The analysis of Edna’s death is of great significance to understand the ending of the novel. In this thesis I try to reinterpret Edna’s death from the feminist perspective, and accordingly I will explore the meaning of Edna’s death based on naturalism, feminist theory and Nietzschean philosophy. I hope to show that Edna Pontellier’ death is neither a punishment nor an escape, but a triumph.
Naturalism is based on social Darwinism. Darwin claims the world is a product of evolution. His theory denies the Judeo-Christian story of the creation of the universe by God in six days, as expressed in Genesis, the first book of the Bible and the semi-divinity of humankind by connecting human beings to the animal world. Edna’s “awakening” to the fact of the Darwinian nature of the cosmos alerts her to her freedom from the dictates of God and gods, and also points out the gendered bias of the natural processes of life. To think of the children, and further to submit oneself fully to Darwin’s ideologies of survival, is ultimately to give oneself over to a natural process which we have little control and which ultimately controls us. Darwinism offers only an illusory freedom. A world without deities seems to offer the possibility to reshape our lives at will: this is what Edna believes is open to her at first. However, she finally finds that the door into the world is locked and she has no key only because she is a female. The path out of this dilemma is to reassert control in the only way we know how: through taking our own life. Edna insists that she would give her life for her children; but she wouldn’t give herself, and she doesn’t want anything but her own way. The Darwinian sea, where all life began, is also the Darwinian natural impulses that demand that women should be the re-creators of the species. The sea is the representative of that character and sexuality here. And here the return to the sea maybe finally overwhelms and engulfs Edna, while Edna still bravely swims in the sea finally in the end of the novel as a rebellion for her feminine freedom. Edna’s death is as natural as her subordinate position in society, which doesn’t mean she was punished to die due to the social morals. Her death is a celebration of Darwinian self.
This is where Edna’s Darwinian self comes into its own and she is beginning to realize herself as an individual. She is not one of the herd but an independent person. In a radical rewriting of Darwin, while still an endorsement of his basic principles, Edna’s activities are a feminist attempt to renegotiate the survival of the species on a more egalitarian basis. She rejects the role of mother-woman, because in this role she sees the creation of an illusion by Nature herself. The love of a mother for her children is seen by Edna as a dangerous creation by Nature, as Doctor Mandelet points out: “The trouble is that youth is given up to illusions. It seems to be a provision of Nature; a decoy to secure mothers for the race. And Nature takes no account of moral consequences, of arbitrary conditions which we create, and which we feel obliged to maintain at any cost” (Chopin, 1993, p111).
Chopin’s fiction expresses a complex mixture of influences while her own commentaries suggest that she sees herself as a naturalistic thinker for whom only non-contingent natural forces are of true significance. As a stylist, Chopin despises plot devices and tendentiousness. Scientific theories are her passion and she likes to have her own Darwin, Huxley and Spencer near at all times. These theories of the writing of texts are transformed by the arguments of Charles Darwin in his The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871). William Schuyler reports that “the subjects which … attracted [Chopin] were almost entirely scientific, the departments of Biology and Anthropology having a special interest for her … The works of Darwin, Huxley, and Spencer were her daily companions” (qtd in Seyersted, 1979, p117).
Kate Chopin has been considered a “quasi-anthro-logical” writer with an “almost scientific detachment” (Gilbert, 1983, p16-17), and at times it seems that The Awakening is a parable of post-Darwinian woman. Naturalism provides for a style of writing that allows sexuality to enter the novel without disrupting it. With Darwin, an approach to life which stripped away the layers of religious and mythological significance became intellectually respectable. Darwin’s major finding was that humanity was not a special creation at all: “man” was not made in God’s image but was biologically lost to the beasts that surrounded him. This naturally allowed naturalist to take full sight–without God a fully secularized literature and a fully naturalized human being seemed not only possible but unavoidable. Darwinism is a crucial influence on Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.
The famous sentence of Edna’s emerging individuality powerfully conveys this: “In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her” (Chopin, 1993, p57).
The path out of this dilemma is to reassert control in the only way she can choose through taking one’s own life. Thinking of the children is a reminder that we listen to the genetic calls for reproduction which we are unable to resist except through the process of death itself. Because the burden of Nature falls on one sex to a much greater extent than the other, women necessarily have to bear a heavier burden. Since Edna struggles in a Darwinian world, she can apparently, either accept her destiny to be the vehicle of Nature or reject it through death. Edna insists that she would give her life for her children; but she wouldn’t give herself, and she doesn’t want anything but her own way.
The Darwinian sea, where all life began, is also the Darwinian natural impulses that demand that women should be the re-creators of the species. The sea is the representative of that character and sexuality here. And here the return to the sea finally overwhelms and engulfs Edna, while Edna still bravely swims in the sea finally in the end of the novel as a rebellion for her feminine freedom. Edna’s death is as natural as her subordinate position in society.
“Nineteenth-century feminist discourse was an oppositional ideology, a resistance to obstacles to female fulfillment. The patriarchal ideology of nineteenth-century society required women to be objects in marriage and in motherhood, existing as vessels of maternity and sexuality, with little opportunity for individuality” (Jennifer, 2004, p53). Under the influence of the Darwinism, Kate Chopin makes her heroine realize herself as a human being in the universe, and then with feminist discourse Edna allows her to seek her self-identity in patriarchal society by experimenting with the ideal and alternative roles in turn, which embodied respectively by the female characters in the novel, Adele Ratignolle and Mademoiselle Reisz. Gilman (1966) argues that “each woman has had the same single avenue of expression and attainment,” and that “all other doors” are “shut” (p79).Therefore Adele Ratignolle becomes a perfect mother-woman representative shaped by the patriarchal social ideology, while Mademoiselle Reisz, as Peggy Skaggs (1974) states, “an identity built altogether upon selfhood and art is inadequate” (p352), realizes that she refutes the patriarchal ideal female image and accordingly she channels her feminine roles into her music. However, Edna cannot insist her female roles unaccepted by the patriarchal social ideology just because that she realized her self-awakening as a equal individual. Therefore even though “all other doors” are “shut” (Gilman, 1966, p79), neither like Adele Ratignolle who submits to the patriarchal ideology nor like Mademoiselle Reisz who chooses the alternative feminine role to elude the dominant patriarchal ideology, Edna adopts the oppositional role of “free-woman”, which threatens violently the patriarchal society. Edna bravely, even with death, faces the conflicts caused by her fight for her self-identity. “She went on and on. She remembered the night she swam far out, and recalled the terror that seized her at the fear of being unable to regain the shore” (Chopin, 1993, p115). Here the shore is the symbol of her original state before her awakening, and she has ever hesitated to keep her original state, while now she totally gives up and she just goes on and on without looking back. So Edna’s death is not an escape, but a feminist rebellion.
Louis Althusser (1998) defines ideology as an “imaginary relation to the real relations of existence” (p299). Women obey the requirements of marriage and motherhood, and exist not as the individuals but as attachments of men. Women should subject themselves to men and the patriarchal ideology. Chopin’s The Awakening embodies the conditions of sex inequality in the late nineteenth-century, and at the same time try to explore a road for women to seek their selfhood and freedom.
Darwinism shook the self-importance of man, nineteenth-century feminist
discourse evoked feminine independence and self-identity, and Nietzsche denounced the validity of God. Apollonian and Dionysian are the two terms from Nietzsche in his book The Birth of Tragedy to designate the two central principles in Greek culture. The paradox of Apollonian and Dionysian indicates the two life principles. In contrast to the typically Enlightenment view of ancient Greek culture as noble, simple, elegant and grandiose, Nietzsche characterizes it as a conflict between two distinct tendencies–the Apollonian and Dionysian. The Apollonian in culture he sees as the principle of individuation with its refinement, sobriety and emphasis on superficial appearance, whereby man separates himself from the undifferentiated immediacy of nature. Immersion into that same wholeness characterizes the Dionysian, recognizable by intoxication, non-rationality and inhumanity; this shows the influence of Schopenhauer’s view that non-rational forces underlie human creativity. Nietzsche describes how from Socrates onward the Apollonian had dominated Western thought, and raises German Romanticism as a possible re-introduction of the Dionysian to the salvation of European culture. Nietzsche used the names Apollonian and Dionysian for the two forces because Apollo, as the sun-god, represents light, clarity, and form, whereas Dionysus, as the wine-god, represents drunkenness and ecstasy. Nietzsche associated the Apollonian tendency with the instinct for form beauty, moderation and symmetry. The Apollonian corresponds to Schopenhauer’s principium individuation. Everything that is part of the unique individuality of man or thing is Apollonian in character; all types of form or structure are Apollonian, since form serves to define or individualize that which is formed; thus sculpture is the most Apollonian of the arts, since it relies entirely on form for its effect. Rational thought is also Apollonian since it is structured and makes distinctions. Dionysus, on the other hand, represents tumult, flux, and disorder. The Dionysian instinct is one of irrationality, violence, and exuberance. The Dionysian, which corresponds roughly to Schopenhauer’s conception of Will, is directly opposed to the Apollonian. Drunkenness and madness are Dionysian because they break down a man’s individual character; all forms of enthusiasm and ecstasy are Dionysian, for in such states man gives up his individuality and submerges himself in a greater whole: music is the most Dionysian of the arts, since it appeals directly to man’s instinctive, chaotic emotions and not to his formally reasoning mind. The paradox of Apollonian and Dionysian indicates the two life principles. In The Awakening, the people around Edna represent either the Apollonian image or the Dionysian image respectively. Typically Robert is the one of the representatives of Apollonian image, while Victor is the one of the representatives of the Dionysian. Ultimately Edna is unable to perfect the Nietzschean ideal–to reconcile the Apollonian and Dionysian in her life. The reason lies in that the Apollonian emphasizes the discreet limitation, illusion and patriarchy while Dionysian emphasizes nature, maternal responsibility. Both of them are inclined to the patriarchal society, and therefore they can not realize the reconciliation on Edna. Simultaneously it indicates that Nietzschean philosophy is masculine. Therefore Edna begins her own journey with a vision as Chopin (1993) describes “A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her, – the light which, showing the way, forbids it.” (p17). For this vision Sandra Gilbert has described in her “The Second Coming of Aphrodite: Kate Chopin’s Fantasy of Desire.” Gilbert (1983) asserts Chopin’s projection of “a feminist and matriarchal myth of Aphrodite/Venus as an alternative to the masculinist and patriarchal myth of Jesus”–and her alternative could add a feminist dimension as well as a feminine cast member to the Nietzschean script of Apollonian and Dionysian reconciliation (p44). From this perspective Chopin tries to “outdo Nietzsche through a kind of metaphysical transgendering of genders”, though the outcomes are a little “ambiguously rendered for certainty” (Bradley, 2005, p57). Therefore we need a standard, which, belonging to the masculine triumph standards, could not more compellingly illustrate the feminist triumph. Again let’s turn to Nietzsche to define that standard. Edna, however, “denies not only God but the equally patriarchy reaffirmed by Nietzsche’s words. If she is indeed freeing herself from both spiritual and cultural anchor, Edna demonstrates, in the expansiveness of her denial, a plenitude of terror, ambiguity, and seductiveness” (Bradley, 2005, p57-58). Sandra Gilbert (1983) points out that Edna, “neither perfected nor corrupted … is still swimming when we last see her” (p58). Edna is like some new-born creature, opening her eyes in a familiar world that she has never known, which evidences the Nietzschean concept of eternal recurrence, though the death will follow certainly. While the 19 century’ feminine “encounters terror, ambiguity, and seductiveness and stays safely ashore”; Chopin’s Edna “leaves the shore and swims to meet them” (Bradley, 2005, p58), thus illustrating that Edna Pontellier’ death is neither a moral punishment nor a feminine escape, but a feminist triumph.
While the 19 century’ feminine “encounters terror, ambiguity, and seductiveness and stays safely ashore”; Chopin’s Edna “leaves the shore and swims to meet them” (Bradley, 2005, p58), thus illustrating that Edna Pontellier’ death is neither a moral punishment nor a feminine escape, but a feminist triumph.
Bai, Limin. “The re-understanding of Edna Pontellier’s death.” Theory and Practice in Language Studies, vol. 4, no. 4, 2014, p. 845+. Gale Literature Resource Center, https://0-link-gale-com.wave.lccc.edu/apps/doc/A367301147/LitRC?u=lccc_main&sid=LitRC&xid=2f993b5d. Accessed 16 July 2020.
Plagiarism Free Papers
All our papers are original and written from scratch. We will email you a plagiarism report alongside your completed paper once done.
All papers are submitted ahead of time. We do this to allow you time to point out any area you would need revision on, and help you for free.
A title page preceeds all your paper content. Here, you put all your personal information and this we give out for free.
Without a reference/bibliography page, any academic paper is incomplete and doesnt qualify for grading. We also offer this for free.
Originality & Security
At Homeworkpaper.net, we take confidentiality seriously and all your personal information is stored safely and do not share it with third parties for any reasons whatsoever. Our work is original and we send plagiarism reports alongside every paper.
24/7 Customer Support
Our agents are online 24/7. Feel free to contact us through email or talk to our live agents.
Try it now!
How it works?
Follow these simple steps to get your paper done
Place your order
Fill in the order form and provide all details of your assignment.
Proceed with the payment
Choose the payment system that suits you most.
Receive the final file
Once your paper is ready, we will email it to you.
We work around the clock to see best customer experience.
Our prices are pocket friendly and you can do partial payments. When that is not enough, we have a free enquiry service.
Admission help & Client-Writer Contact
When you need to elaborate something further to your writer, we provide that button.
We take deadlines seriously and our papers are submitted ahead of time. We are happy to assist you in case of any adjustments needed.
Your feedback, good or bad is of great concern to us and we take it very seriously. We are, therefore, constantly adjusting our policies to ensure best customer/writer experience.