Antagonist In The Awakening Essay

Kate Chopin's characterization of the potential male antagonists -- Leonce Pontellier and Robert Lebrun -- seems to indicate that the antagonist is not a person but is, instead, the larger society in which Edna lives, its expectations, and its norms. Chopin seems to critique not individuals but institutions like marriage that limit women's freedom. If there is one individual that we might say could serve as an antagonist, the closest would likely be Edna herself,...

Kate Chopin's characterization of the potential male antagonists -- Leonce Pontellier and Robert Lebrun -- seems to indicate that the antagonist is not a person but is, instead, the larger society in which Edna lives, its expectations, and its norms. Chopin seems to critique not individuals but institutions like marriage that limit women's freedom. If there is one individual that we might say could serve as an antagonist, the closest would likely be Edna herself, as much of what is dramatized in the novella is Edna's internal conflict. 

While Edna does have verbal altercations and what we would term "conflicts" with both her husband, Leonce, and her potential lover, Robert, Chopin makes it clear that neither Leonce nor Robert is a villain, but both are merely products of their time and place. They are both upper class Southern gentlemen. They expect their wives to behave in particular ways. They perform what society has deemed as their duties toward their families. Leonce is considered a model husband by the other women in the Pontellier's social circle; however, we see very little interaction between Leonce and Edna. Early in the novel, when the family is vacationing on Grand Isle, Leonce goes to the club for dinner only to return much later to chastize Edna for not attending to one of their "sick" children. He has not spend the evening with the family and accepts no responsibility for the children's care. He wakes Edna to scold her and to insist that she do something. This could be considered antagonistic behavior, but Edna herself thinks that it is unusual for her to cry or have any emotional reaction at all, as scenes such as these "were not uncommon in her married life." She recognizes that "They seemed never before to have weighed much against the abundance of her husband's kindness and a uniform devotion which had come to be tacit and self-understood." While over the course of the novel, Edna and Leonce do argue as Leonce attempts to tighten his hold over his wife, who begins to act out and behave erratically (such as when she leaves the house in New Orleans when she is supposed to be waiting on callers), it is clear that Chopin does not want to paint Leonce as a particularly villainous individual or even as a bad husband; he's simply the typical husband of the time. The problem is with the institution of marriage and the social mores that govern women's behavior, not with this one man who seeks to uphold the gender norms of the society in which he was reared. While Robert is younger and seemingly more carefree, when it comes time for Edna and Robert to confess their feelings for one another, Edna is shocked to hear that he wants to make her his wife. Over the course of her awakening, Edna has come to realize that she feels oppressed  by marriage -- as an institution --(note how she reacts to her sister's wedding) -- and even though she loves Robert, she does not want to "belong" to any other person.

That said, if there is an antagonist in the form of a person, it may be Edna herself. She struggles throughout the novel to understand and to articulate the feelings she has toward her position "in the universe," as the narrator notes early on. She is torn between the side of her that has been brought up to believe in strict gender roles and propriety and the newly-awakened side of her that wants to simply act and be as she sees fit (this is Emersonian -- she does not feel the need to be consistent and acts on whims and impulses and does not apologize for it). Edna realizes that she has always understood that she, and by extension, other women, live different lives on the surface than what is true to their selves under those socially-appropriate surfaces. However, it is only during the course of the novella that her rebellious side begins to act out and to defy the conventions of her time and her society. Eventually, Edna's decision to drown herself could be seen as her inability to resolve these two conflicting internal voices or forces. 

Theme of Isolation in The Awakening Essays

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Theme of Isolation in The Awakening

One theme apparent in Kate Chopin's novel, The Awakening, is the consequence of solitude when independence is chosen over conformity. The novel's protagonist, Edna Pontellier, is faced with this consequence after she embarks on a journey of self-discovery. "As Edna's ability to express herself grows, the number of people who can understand her newfound language shrinks" (Ward 3). Edna's awakening from a conforming, Victorian wife and mother, into an emotional and sexual woman takes place through the use of self-expression in three forms: emotional language, art, and physical passion.

The first form of self-expression Edna learns is the emotional language spoken by the Creole…show more content…

Chopin notes, "Perhaps it was the first time she was ready, perhaps the first time her being was tempered to take an impress of the abiding truth" (699). Mlle. Reisz feels the music is a mode of communication between Edna and herself. This prompts her to tell Edna during a party, "You are the only one worth playing for" (Chopin 700). The music calls to something within Edna, which further wakes her from the slumber of domesticity. As Edna realizes the expressive nature of music, she wants to apply this expression to her painting. She seeks the encouragement of her first teacher of expression, Madame Ratignolle, hoping her kind words will "help her put her heart into her venture" (Chopin 723). When Edna surrendered to "the service of art" her husband noted, "she was not herself. That is, he could not see the she was becoming herself" (Chopin 724). Self-expression through art progresses Edna in her new sense of self, but one more form must be learned to complete her transformation.

Lastly, Edna explores self-expression in her own physical passion. Her romantic relationships with Alcee and, most importantly, Robert, give her the means to express love and passion she had preciously repressed. When Edna first explores these sexual feelings she, as Davis states, "succumbs to the seductions of a roué, Alcee Arobin, without

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