Some novels are written to show the many struggles of everyday life that people go through. These struggles are experienced by the characters in the novel in an attempt to relate to that of real life, thus making many novels effective in representing societal flaws and difficulties. Kate Chopin’s the awakening reveals the story of Edna Pontellier, the heroine of the novel, who lives a life full of oppressions. The novel depicts how she gradually goes through a process of awakening, through which she comes to realize her own identity as an individual white-skinned middle-class woman and explore her sexual desires and the satisfaction of her wants and needs. The novel had a feministic approach to the lives that the classic Victorian woman of the late 1800s lived and shows how Emma breaks free of the chains on her freedom and experiences her own independence and individuality. When the book resurfaced again in the 1060s it was strongly appreciated by second wave feminists, who were mainly white-skinned middle to upper-middle-class women who did not view the difficulties of women of color rising from racism and classism as a major issue at the time. However, as time passed, what is collectively known as third wave feminism emerged. These new feminists, considered part of the third wave of the feminism movement, had novel ideas and motifs. Some of these current and newer ideas, such as the concept of intersectionality, expanded the limits of the former ideas. These newer and altered viewpoints of the third wave feminists gave them another degree of criticism and insight of the novel The Awakening. The theme of feminism in the novel was interpreted differently in changed eras of feminism because of the intersectional viewpoints that exist in the 3rd wave of feminism. In fact, the 3rd wave feminists had a rather different interpretation of feminism in the awakening from the former 2nd wave ones because of the new intersectional viewpoints that exist in the new era of feminism.
Firstly, we need to understand how Kate Chopin portrays the theme of the oppression of women in the awakening and realize its significance to the fight against the oppression of women at the end of the 19th century. The novel has 39 chapters, roughly the gestation period of women, and through the passage of these chapters, we see the growth and progress of Edna Pontellier’s awakening. Victorian women of that time were expected to perform the duties to care for the family’s health and well-being and were repressed, incapable of seeking the satisfaction of their own wants and needs. At first, Mrs. Pontellier is not fully aware of her desires for individuality and freedom, but gradually the plot leads to momentous events that make Edna grasp how much she yearns to be free of the responsibilities and oppressions of her life, like handling and caring for her children and the social norm and role she has as a pure and married white women. Edna’s relationship with Robert fails in the end because of the sexual freedom that she does not have and her place in the society. Edna desires the nature of freedom and independence possessed by her Mademoiselle Reisz, an unmarried woman. However, Adele Ratignolle, a married creole woman with three children, inspires Edna to just be normal as the perfect picture of the white woman that was ideal at the time. Additionally, she envies the sexual freedom and expression of a women of color, Mariequita, who is mentioned in the story when Edna and Mademoiselle Reisz are at a beach. Overall, the novel shows how Edna Pontellier, a married Victorian white-skinned wife and mother, attempts to break the chains of sexual and emotional oppressions brought upon her by the society and social constructs and in the end, kills herself as what some believe is an act of freedom. According the biography of Kate Chopin by Per Seyersted, Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography, “When the apparently defeated Edna takes off her clothes, on the other hand, it symbolizes a victory of self-knowledge and authenticity as she fully becomes herself” (Seyersted). Edna’s rejection of societal restrictions places her on a victorious journey to selfhood, which she achieves when she swims out further than she ever has before. When Edna rejects the restrictions that have been placed on her by the society, she finally fully becomes herself and achieves selfhood. She dies in a fight for the right to her own freedom and basically wins the right to her own existence. HSHSIUFHFHH USE THIS FOR 3RD WAVE ANALYSIS TOO.
At the time of its writing during the era of first wave feminism, the novel was not quite appreciated, and some say claim that it was even removed from libraries, probably because of its low demand among readers back then, especially men who believed that the book was giving women dangerous ideas like being independent of their husbands. This idea portrayed in the book would mean that women would not be objects at the service of their husbands and families anymore, something men back then would have wanted to avoid. However, when the novel resurfaced again in the 1940s-1960s it was highly appreciated by the second wave feminists of that era. The second wave feminists were groups of women who wanted better rights and more influence for women such as more political rights and equal wages. These women rejected the positions that society had given them and wanted improved conditions. They mainly consisted of white-skinned middle to upper class women and for the most part were largely concerned with their own rights as women. These women mostly neglected the oppressions experienced by women of color as forms of racism and classism.
The second-wave feminists mainly focused on the seriousness of the struggles that Edna Pontellier has as a Victorian woman of the late 19th century. In Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography, the critical biography by Per Seyersted, it is clear that the struggles possessed by Edna Pontellier as a woman are taken seriously, and these struggles are a priority that the critical biography focuses on. The critical biography was written in 1969, which in a feminist timeline would be known as the second wave of feminism. Hence, we can view this particular work by Seyersted as a 2nd wave critique of the Kate Chopin’s works, specifically The Awakening.