“She has tossed off the garments of false selves; she has learned to swim, to master the waves and move away from the shore to freedom” (Lant). Although the strict confines of proper behavior certainly trap Edna and force her suicide as she “awakens”, the same social restraints affect every character in the novel, albeit in different ways. Li?? once Pontellier, Edna’s husband, clearly suffers little under societal rules, being a man, until his wife starts breaking said rules.
Madame Reisz has completely escaped the constraints of polite society, but pays the price in her near ostracism.Adile Ratignolle, on the other hand, has sacrificed her self in order to conform to society and thrives due to her lack of self-awareness. These three characters, who assist and hinder Edna’s “awakening”, are all caught in the web of social expectations. Mr.
Pontellier is the epitome of a successful man: he is wealthy, kind and generous to his wife and children, and utterly conventional. He is lauded to the sky for sending a box of bonbons back to Edna: “All declared that Mr. Pontellier was the best husband in the world. Mrs.Pontellier was forced to admit that she knew of none better” (Chopin 10). However, Mr. Pontellier does not consider his wife the “best.
.. in the world”, as he is vaguely dissatisfied with his wife for not conforming to the female standard in mothering, sending her to go check on the children and questioning her on their well-being. He expects Edna to obey him in all things; he is to be the ultimate authority in her life. Mr. Pontellier even calls Peterson 2 upon a doctor friend of his, Doctor Mandelet, to explain his wife’s changing attitude.
When Edna starts making moves towards her own independence while he is in New York for business, his first concern is not what prompted her to this move, but what society would think of it. He quickly does damage control, spreading the news that the house is being remodeled and bringing artisans in. This effectively covers for Mrs. Pontellier’s previously inexplicable move to the “pigeonhouse” and enhances their status in a display of wealth. In short, Mr. Pontellier is only hampered by societal constraints when his wife doesn’t follow them.In these situations, which become more numerous as the novel progresses and Edna “awakens”, he is forced to assume the role of damage control in order to maintain his preeminent position.
Madame Reisz, on the other hand, has managed to free herself from the rules of polite society by defying them all. However, she is still accepted in their ranks due to her virtuosic ability at the piano. Her rudeness, though detested, is excused as the hallmark of an artiste of the greatest talent, although she derides her audience. This is all at Grand Isle, when there is less restrictive social distinction and all the Creoles come together.Once returning to New Orleans, she is essentially ostracized. Her very home reflects her lesser status, as it is located in a less “stylish” and expensive area of town. It is doubtful as to whether she even retains a maid, something unthinkable in the upper class.
Madame Reisz accepts and enjoys her lower status, her near recluse status; she is surprised when Edna comes to visit. She has little use for society and its extensive confines of “proper” behavior, as these merely serve to obstruct her creativity and artistic ability. Chopin further emphasizes her distance from society and life in general in never revealing her first name,Peterson 3 which would permit a certain amount of intimacy. Madame Reisz is the essential free spirit, heeding nothing but her own desires and self-imposed tenets of living. Adi?? le Ratignolle, on the other hand, is unhampered by society only due to her mindset. She, unlike Edna and Madame Reisz, has not “awakened” and conforms perfectly with society’s expectations as the most preeminent of the “motherwomen.
.. who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels” (Chopin 10).She is constantly sewing, knitting, making something for her children or her husband; in addition she seems constantly pregnant. She and her husband appear completely devoted to one another; when she expresses a nai?? ve fear of making her husband jealous, it arouses an amused reponse: “The right hand jealous of the left! The heart jealous of the soul! ” (Chopin 13). The strange comparisons make it seem as if Adi?? le is equal to her husband in their marital relationship, although it defies the conventions of the time.Her utter surrender to said conventions, however, renders this possibility unlikely. Adi?? le is completely open, devoid of any artifice or insincerity, wherein lies her sensuous charm and Edna’s attraction to her.
She embodies the openness , the “absence of prudery” (Chopin 12), that characterizes all Creoles in her tale of “the harrowing story of one of her accouchements, withholding no intimate detail” (Chopin 12). This further emphasizes Edna’s status as an outsider in Creole society, even after spending an entire summer with them on Grand Isle. Adi??le exemplifies all Edna should have been before her “awakening,” and in her perfect contentment and acceptance of all that life has brought her, serves as the perfect foil for Edna’s emotional turmoil and confusion. Society rules Adi?? le’s life, although she is utterly unaware of this. Peterson 4 The rules of society act differently upon Li?? once Pontellier, Madame Reisz, and Adi?? le Ratignolle.
Mr. Pontellier allows society to confine him, as it deems him prosperous, successful, and a good and caring husband. The only time he truly feels its confines is when his wife breaks through them in order to manifest her independence and self.Madame Reisz, as an artist, is allowed slightly more license than any other. However, she is a near social outcast due to her refusal to conform to expectations. A spinster with amazing talent and emotion in her piano playing, she is barely accepted into the drawing rooms of the elite as a result of her defiance of societal conventions. Adi?? le Ratignolle, on the other hand, is esteemed and admired for her utter devotion to her family, as is expected of all women of the time.
Almost simpleminded when compared to Edna or Madame Reisz, she is the societal exemplar of motherhood in every phrase and action.The constraints of society act differently on all three characters: they are all trapped, but feel the entrapment in different ways, or not at all.Works CitedBloom, Harold. “List of Characters. ” Bloom’s Modern Critical Views: Kate Chopin. New York City: Warner Books, 1987. Chopin, Kate. The Awakening.
New York City: Seven Treasures Publications, 2008. Lant, Kathleen M. “The Siren of Grand Isle: AdÃ¨le’s Role in “The Awakening.
“” Bloom’s Modern Critical Views: Kate Chopin. By Harold Bloom. New York City: Warner Books, 1987.