Kate Chopin, born in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 12, 1850, was the daughter of an immigrant Irishman and a French- American mother. Chopin, typically seen as a happy child, was the youngest of three children. At the age of five Chopin suffered from a great loss in her life, her father. Following this tragic event, she was forced to restructure her thoughts on life which were heavily put in order by her father. Her future upbringing would now primarily be supervised by women consisting of her widowed mother, widowed grandmother, and her widowed great-grandmother.
"This lack would also prevent her from experiencing what was basically a fundamental social concept of her time-the tradition of submission of women to men in all social spheres, but especially that of marriage" (Ker). Many readers have suggested that the atmosphere she was raised in, lacking the representation of the typical male figure, is what affected Chopin's determination of eventually finding the ultimate awakening through the protagonist's evolvement in her novel, The Awakening. The Awakening commences in the year 1899, on a trendy and chic summer vacation site, usually populated by prosperous Creoles from New Orleans known as Grand Isle. Here we are introduced to the protagonist, Edna Pontellier; we learn that she is vacationing with her husband, L'eonce, and their two sons. While on vacation the families along with several other wealthy families inhabit Madame Lebrun's cottages. Mr.
Pontellier's repeated business trips soon result in a number of significant relationships for his wife. Throughout the story we will see how Ad " ele Ratignolle, Robert Lebrun, and Mademoiselle Reisz all affect Edna's awakening and the immoral treatment she posed towards her family. Ad " ele Ratignolle is presented to us as the representation of the perfect female individual, who is vacationing along with Edna. We learn that Ad " ele has managed to balance out the responsibilities and duties that come with being a mother and a wife.
She is the typical Victorian woman, making her family the focal point of her life. Edna's recurrent conversations with Ad " ele throughout the entire story teach her a lot about the act of expressing herself freely. Edna finds it difficult to stand up for what she believes because of the assumption that Creole women are innocent and virtuous. As Edna begins to open herself up slowly, she realizes that she is searching for much more in life, a meaning for her whole existence. "Ad " ele reminds Edna of the romantic dreams and fantasies of her youth, and Edna gradually begins to uncover the desires that had been suppressed for so many years" (Ward). Edna soon recognizes that her feelings of happiness have been concealed in the past and she wants nothing more than to gain independence, which we ironically find to be her downfall.
While on the search for freedom, Ad " ele constantly reminds Edna that her children are of utmost importance and that she should not forget them. Towards the end of the story Ad " ele calls for Edna's presence while giving birth, Edna stands by her side and watches as she witnesses the pain. Edna gets ready to depart, but Ad " ele has realized that Edna has become very distant and that her relation with Robert has become stronger, Ad " ele bids her farewell and leaves her with a few words, "Think of the children, Edna. Oh think of the children! Remember them!" (Chopin 182). Edna's journey to freedom and self-fulfillment is the main focus of the novel, made only stronger by the protagonist's relationship with Robert Lebrun. Robert is the son of Madame Lebrun and is usually known for accompanying a different woman each summer in Grand Isle.
This summer, Robert and Edna form a strong bond and spend most of the days talking and relaxing by the shore. The relationship held by the two begins innocently and typically consists of casual talk and bathing in the ocean. As the summer goes on, their connection only seems to be building stronger and Edna begins to have several revelations. Bathing together in the ocean one day, one can see that Edna's awakening has begun once these thoughts cross her mind, "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 25).
Although the two never converse about their feelings for one another in Grand Isle, the reader sees that Edna becomes uninterested in sharing nights with her husband, and then is seen in a state of bliss when she is enjoying her freedom either with Robert or alone. Robert never carries out his love for her physically because of certain common standards that limit his actions. Robert departs Grand Isle for Mexico because he can not handle being near her knowing it will be impossible to act out on his love. Edna becomes discontent thinking of how close they had become and returns to her home in New Orleans with a new look on life. While away in Mexico, Robert remains in Edna's thoughts and is still a most important factor of Edna's awakening process even if he is not present. For the remainder of the novel, the protagonist remains in love with Robert, and slowly begins disassociating herself from her family, friends, and the rest of society.
Her husband begins to worry as she had put a halt to daily tasks around the house which she used to take part of. She puts all her effort into her paintings, and before we know it Edna moves out of her home while determined to find her freedom. Later in the story we are told that Robert moves back to New Orleans with complete recognition that the love he has been waiting for is unattainable because of societal limitations. He feels so strongly about this that he rejects the following disclosure by Edna, "I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier's to dispose of or not.
I give myself where I choose." (Chopin 178) When Robert leaves Edna the final time, he leaves a note saying he must say goodbye because of the love he has for her. This note finally makes it clear to Edna that the transformation she had been in search of is unattainable, leaving her in a vast state of solitude and feeling as if she did not belong anywhere. Edna feels her only escape now is to take her own life because of the unexpected outcome of her awakening. Finally we are able to analyze, Mademoiselle Reisz, the most influential character present during Edna's awakening. Edna and Mademoiselle's first encounter was in Grand Isle, where Edna's reaction to her piano playing allowed her to feel and become aware of her emotions. By the end of the story we see that Mademoiselle's piano playing opened up a new sense of feminine ability for passion in Edna's life.
The piano being Mademoiselles passion and her sense of freedom and independence all refer to the thoughts Edna has making Mademoiselle her muse. Remaining unmarried and childless, Mademoiselle is regularly available to converse with Edna, quickly making them companions. Although Mademoiselle is not very social in Grand Isle, she manages to form a connection with Edna and speaks to her about Robert's departure from Grand Isle; the two women form a bond and continue their friendship after the summer in New Orleans. Throughout the story we learn that Mademoiselle is the only person who knows of the relation held between Edna and Robert. The two continue to meet on several occasions and provide company for each other, but Edna's understandings of herself as a woman with a passion for painting continues to increase as they communicate. "The lonely and bitter musician Mademoiselle Reisz both helps Edna entangle herself with Robert and warns her of the sacrifice any artist must make, thus serving both the romantic and the realist of the ever vacillating Edna" (Wyatt).
Edna finds her companion so entertaining and inspiring because of her sense of self-governing and her ability to pursue her passion of the piano without putting too much emphasis on societal standards which seem to regulate Edna's life. It is clear that the protagonist, Edna, is determined to find independence and self-fulfillment throughout the story. In the novel, The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, we are introduced to three main characters that all influence Edna's extensive and crucial search for freedom. Each individual leads Edna's search in a different direction, causing her to take her own life by drowning herself in the ocean.
"In the end, despite her developments in selfhood, the only escape from her biological destiny as a woman in society, possessed, sexual, and ruled, is death" (Wyatt). It is understood by many that Chopin's upbringing as a child, primarily run by women, heavily influenced the character portrayed by Edna Pontellier and her constant search for autonomy. As we begin to see the protagonist evolve in the story, it is made clear to us that Chopin's personal history as a child had a massive impact on Edna's character. After completing the novel the reader is able to see that Chopin was affected greatly growing up in a female oriented household resulting in her widespread search for independence and discovering the power of her own sexuality.