EdnaPontellier’s Character Development Specifically In Relation ToOther Characters in the Novel and Generally In Relation To Women’sRole In The 19thCentury America

AnalyzeEdna Pontellier’s Character Development Specifically In Relation ToOther Characters in the Novel and Generally In Relation To Women’sRole In The 19thCentury America

TheAwakening isan 1899 novel by Kate Chopin. The book attracted massive criticismfrom audiences and critics alike, who showed minimal considerationfor Chopin and Edna Pontellier, the book’s central protagonist.Edna Pontellier is portrayed as a married woman who seeks greaterindividual freedom as well as a more gratifying and independent lifefor herself in a male dominated society. Her life is that of atypical wife to Leonce Pontellier and mother to Etienne and RaoulPontellier. However, she is constantly fighting against thesestructures of society and nature that force the “wife-mother”definition on her. In contrast, she would rather be defined as herown individual being.

Chopinuses two female characters in the novel, Mademoiselle Reisz and AdeleRatignolle, to exhibit Edna’s options in the path of life. The twowomen act as benchmarks against which she is measured by the menaround her. They set the standards and expectations that she mustmeasure up to based on the activities and characters of these twowomen. Adele is a “mother-woman”, the true epitome of thesociety’s definition of wife and mother. A rather talented pianist,she keeps up her music for the sake of her children, a factor thatshe and her husband consider vital for keeping the home bright andattractive. Edna feels that this kind of life fails to appeal to herideal definition free life. The two women are basically defined byfour cardinal virtues, being domesticity, purity, piety andsubmissiveness. Edna finds this path extremely difficult to identifywith or follow. On one instance, she explains her reservations aboutidentity loss to Adele but Adele fails to comprehend her point ofview.

MademoiselleReisz, on the other hand, is devoid of both motherly tendencies andsexuality. She is a musician who makes music for herself as opposedto Adele who does it for her family. She strongly believes that herseclusion and disregard for society will define her as an artist andalso enable her create real art. Edna enjoys a rather gratifyingfriendship with Reisz, though she is not in support of the lonelyartistic lifestyle due to the fact that it lacks sexuality. She nowassociates this dull, quiet, lonely and imperfect lifestyle with allartist women.

Adele’sintimate touch awakens an unfamiliar affection level in Edna. She isopened to a world of new sexual possibilities, a factor that makesher shun the Mademoiselle Reisz’s artistic, asexual and dulllifestyle. This is despite the fact that it may offer her theindividuality she seeks. Being a mother-woman translates to abjuringself for others’ sake, while being a woman artist translates toliving a celibate life and giving all a person’s love toexpression. These are paths that Edna finds difficult to follow asshe craves a more physical and intimate relationship.

Ednamakes attempts aimed at finding self-definition through creating athird option which allows her to act like a man. In her view, menhave the permission to live sexually fulfilled lives devoid ofexpectations to bear or rear children. They also develop anindividual self through their participation in the world of business.The later nineteenth century experienced a major step as things beganchanging for women. The change came as a result of modernity and theactions of women desiring to break away from limits imposed on theirgender. However, the old tensions still presented themselves in thedifferent situations including work, family, practice of profession,dress, pleasure, domestic ideal and social utility among others. Thisnineteenth century transformation is directly applicable to the lifeof Edna Pontellier as portrayed by Chopin.


Kaplon,M.P. (2012). Kate Chopin’s The Awakening: Struggle Against Societyand Nature: InquiriesJournal.Vol. 4(7) 1-2.