Both of Kate Chopin's works focus on the choices and pressures that both of the main characters endure throughout the stories. Both women were powerless against their male counterparts. Chopin delves deep into the personal thoughts and desires of her characters, especially married women. Chopin investigates the social perceptions of women in the 19th Century.
She challenged the chauvinistic views of society during the time period. Her stories were critically disapproved by the public. Chopin's genre of writing focuses on naturalism. "The basic premise of naturalism is that the thoughts, emotions, and actions of men and women are determined by forces beyond their control: nature, heredity, and social forces" (Barton & Hudson, 1997, p. 117).
A main theme in both works is the main characters becoming victims of faith. In Desiree's Baby, Desiree is asked to take her child and leave her husband Armand. Armand no longer loves his wife, because their son is not white. As Desiree explains the situation to her mother in a letter, she is lost and confused. "My mother, they tell me I am not white. Armand told me I am not white" (Chopin 369).
Without Desiree knowing, it is Armand who is the cause of her son being black. From society's perception of what is deemed appropriate, Armand must get rid of his wife and child even though he is the cause of the problem. In a note, Armand's mother wrote that she never wanted her son to know that he was of African American heritage. "I thank the good God for having so arranged our lives that our dear Armand will never know that... he belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery" (Chopin 368).
Both women are owned by their husbands and seen as property. In The Awakening, when Leonce discovers that his wife Edna was moving out of their family's house, he thought of how society would perceive him. "He [Leonce] was simply thinking of his financial integrity... It might do incalculable mischief to his business prospects" (Chopin 441). Mr. Pontellier's main concern is his social status. In Desiree's Baby, when Armand discovers that his child is black, he blames is wife and only cares about his family.
"Moreover he [Armand] no longer loved her, because of the unconscious injury she had brought upon his home and his name" (Chopin 369). In Chopin's two stories, both women are destined for death. Both wives cannot go on living in the male-dominated society that they live in. After being insulted and thrown out of her home, Desiree loses control and tries to defend herself from her husband's false allegations.
"You must know it is not true. I shall die. I must die. I cannot be so unhappy, and live" (Chopin 367). Desiree has lost the only love of her life and cannot go on living and takes her son to the river and does not return. In The Awakening, Edna wants to be unchained from her husband's name and wants to live in freedom and choose her own way of life.
Robert, her lover in the story, asks Edna to leave her husband and be with him. Unfortunately, Edna knew that she would feel alone once again and be under another man's control. As a result, Edna drowns herself in the ocean. Both women look towards water to free themselves from their possessors.
After reading the two works and reading more background knowledge of Kate Chopin, I agree that both women were victims of faith. Many critics perceive the women as the only victims in the stories. I would like to challenge this point of view and look more deeply into the minds of the husbands, especially Leonce. In Desiree's Baby, Armand fell deeply in love with Desiree the moment his eyes laid upon her. "The passion that awoke in him that day... swept along like an avalanche, or like a prairie fire, or like any thing that drives headlong over all obstacles" (Chopin 365).
Marrying Desiree and having a child softened Leone. In the beginning, he did not care that Desiree was abandoned by her mother. He would was honored to give her his family name. Armand, like his wife, is also a victim of faith.
He loved his family and was eager to start a new life. Unfortunately, faith, along with societal pressures, caused him to get rid of his family in order to save face. In the beginning of the story, the reader sees hope and unconditional love ever-present in the Aubign y household. Faith destroys Armand's family and causes the death of Desiree and their child. In The Awakening, Leonce deeply loved his wife even though she expressed little interest in him. "He thought it very discouraging that his wife, who was the sole object of his existence, evinced so little interest in things which concerned him...
". (Chopin 372). Also, Edna showed little interest in her two children which upset her husband. "In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman" (Chopin 374). Other women in the story thought Leone was the greatest husband. Unfortunately, Edna did not agree and wanted her freedom to do what she wished and see other men.
What surprised me while reading The Awakening was how Edna idolized Adele Ratignolle. Adele was the typical housewife who loved her children and worshiped her husband. Edna listeners to her advice throughout the story and treats her with deep respect. Even knowing of her infidelities, Leonce still loved his wife. From the beginning, Edna did not love her husband. "Her marriage to Leonce Pontellier was purely an accident, in the respect resembling many other marriages which masquerade as the decrees of Fate" (Chopin 382).
As a reader, I see Edna's selfishness and distaste for her entire family. Her husband respected Edna's choices even though he wished otherwise. His wife interacted with other men and moved into her own house without his wishes. At the end of the novel, Edna only sees death as a way to free herself from her family and does not care that he is leaving her two children. Edna had once told Madame Rattignolle that she would never sacrifice herself for her children, or for any one" (Chopin 404). Throughout the story, Edna vacillates back and forth in the feelings she expresses.
She loves Robert, then she loves Al cee. She hates her life, but respects her husband. What mindset is Edna dealing with? "It sometimes entered Mr. Pontellier's mind to wonder if his wife were not growing a little unbalanced mentally" (Chopin 413). In the end, Edna chooses to be free from any man's allegiance, either her husband or Robert, and drowns herself in the ocean.
.".. All sense of reality had gone out of her life; she had abandoned herself to Fate" (Chopin 450). She gives up on life and her family. Edna did possess a caring husband, two healthy children, and the freedom to do whatever she wished. Chopin makes Edna look like a prisoner in her own home, controlled by her family and held to the highest standards from society. She does not use rational thinking and cares little to the consequences of her actions.
Chopin's ending is predictable and shows how Edna is not a role model for women to look up to. She wanted her freedom at the consequence of her losing her family. Edna commits adultery with her lovers, disrespects her husband, and showed little interest in raising her children. When presenting this story to my students to read, I will develop a lesson plan where the students chose to rewrite the ending to The Awakening.
I will give the students the following choices: 1. Edna can be with her lover (in any manner she wishes). 2. Edna can be married (to a man of her choice).
3. Edna can live alone. The students will select one of the three choices and create their own ending. Then, as a group, each student will read their endings to the rest of the class. I will highlight that in # 1, Edna would once again become a man's possession. In # 2, Edna would still be in a "traditional marriage" no matter if she was with Robert or someone else.
In # 3, Edna would be alone like Madame Reis z, which she did not want to be like. This lesson will allow the students to critically analyze the themes and issues that arise in the story. It will also serve as valuable assessment tool for me to know that my students understand the concepts and lessons from the readings.
Barton, E.J., & Hudson, G.A. (1997).
A contemporary guide to literary terms with strategies for writing essays about literature. (Volume 2). New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. Chopin, K. (2002).
Desiree's Baby. In P. Lauter (Ed. ), The heath anthology of american literature (p. 364-368). Chopin, K. (2002).