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Edna Pontellier And Elizabeth Bennet: Challenge Of 19th Century Conventional Methods

2735 words - 11 pages

Kate Chopin and Jane Austen could readily be referred to as literary heroines of the nineteenth century. Both women often challenged conventional societal methods within their works, which inherently caused these literary geniuses to write in complete secrecy. Chopin and Austen gave birth to characters such as Edna Pontellier in The Awakening, and Elizabeth Bennett, the renowned protagonist of Austen’s novella Pride and Prejudice. While noble in their respective ways one can easily mistake Edna and Elizabeth to be selfish creatures of society because of their ardent pursuit of happiness and love, and their disregard of nineteenth century societal constructs and family expectations. In ...view middle of the document...

Edna is a woman who we see early on doesn’t idolize her husband Leonce. This could result from the fact that Edna feels Leonce inherently views her as property, and we see this when Leonce scolds Edna for being sunburned, “you are burned beyond recognition (p.31).” Chopin re-affirms this notion by stating that Leonce “looked at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage (p.31)”. After adhering to Leonces concern of her burned skin, Edna takes time to reflect not on her wedding rings that her husband has just returned to her but her amusing and joyous time she has just spent with Robert in the water. This ensures the reader that Edna is not focused on her marriage but inherently on Robert who is seen as Edna’s initial perception that she is in some way different from her old self. Aside from Edna’s blatant infatuation with Robert who she encounters during the summer at Grand Isle, she later in the novel confirms her disdain for her not only her marriage but all marriages by stating, “a marriage is one of the most lamentable spectacles on earth” (Wolff 450). We see that Edna married Leonce not for love, but because she views Leonce as a great man and someone who is infatuated with her. Inevitably Leonces dullness and even callousness toward Edna does not outweigh her new found need for reaffirmation as a woman. Cynthia Griffin Wolff states this mere fact in her critical analysis Thanatos and Eros: Kate Chopin's the Awakening:
The marriage to such a man as Leonce was, then, a defensive maneuver designed to maintain the integrity of the two "selves" that formed her character and to reinforce the distance between them. Her outer self was confirmed by the entirely conventional marriage while her inner self was safe-known only to Edna. An intuitive man, a sensitive husband, might threaten it; a husband who evoked passion from her might lure the hidden self into the open, tempting Edna to attach her emotions to flesh and blood rather than phantoms. Leonce is neither, and their union ensures the secret safety of Edna's "real" self.
In the novel Edna ultimately relinquishes her duties as a mother and a wife. One would say not only her encounter with Robert Grande Isle, but a swim that she took in the ocean in which she perceived herself to have “swam further than any woman had swam before”(p.57) was the ultimate initiation to her awakening, self-discovery, and courage to challenge the conventional methods of society. Edna eventually moves into her own home away from her husband, and passes the responsibility of taking care of her children to their grandmother. She has relinquished her status in society and also her attachment to her husband’s wealth. She believes that she can successfully survive with the money she will make off selling her artwork. Edna realizes that she has succeeded at her new found freedom and has broken the chains of her oppressive role as a wife when “Leonce decides to leave her...

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