The Conflicting Forces in The Awakening by Kate Chopin

All the way throughout history, in both real life and in works of fiction, people have frequently been affected by two or even more conflicting forces. An excellent example of this phenomenon can be found in the novel The Awakening by Kate Chopin. The two main viewpoints that affect protagonist Edna Pontellier the most are the push towards being a perfect homemaking mother and wife that society is insisting upon and her own mind pulling her towards the idea of being an independent woman who is in control of her own life.

One of the first instances in which cross pressure appears in Madame Pontellier’s life is how part of her feels as if she is required to be the stereotypical homemaker. In the conservative New Orleans of 1898 that Edna Pontellier inhabited, the role of a woman was strictly defined. These perfect women were supposed to be an impossibly ideal mix between strong in order to care for their children and submissive in order for their husband to be the one who was in charge of the family.

At the beginning of the novel, Edna Pontellier seems to have accomplished at least some of this. She mindlessly follows just about every order that her husband Leonce gives to her; seemingly not even noticing that she is doing it. Her following is somewhat like that of a child, therefore it is not very hard to see why she isn’t exactly the perfect mother figure.

For most of the novel, she seems to just hand her children off to their nanny and forget about them.

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Madame Ratignolle, one of Edna Pontellier closest friends, seems to be the exact opposite of her. Where Edna is slightly awkward and detached from her children, Madame Ratignolle is very close to her kids and seems to be a good mother. Because Edna’s best friend is a perfect example of what society wants from women, it puts even more pressure on Edna to become that herself. This push towards being an ideal woman in the society of the late 19th century is a job that Edna feels is important, but does not try very hard to accomplish in the story.

The next example of conflicting viewpoints in The Awakening is Edna’s internal desire for independence. When the Pontelliers and their children take a summer vacation to Grand Isle, Madame Pontellier is exposed to many new circumstances. One of these new things is the gossip from her new, more liberal, friends. The women in Grand Isle were very different from Edna’s other friends like Madame Ratignolle. They didn’t mindlessly follow every order that a man gave them and because of this, Madame Pontellier first impression of them involved both admiration and shock. Another one of these new things she is introduced to is Robert Lebrun, a servant who mainly pays attention to the married women vacationing.

At first Edna avoids him because of the warnings she receives from some of her more conservative friends like Madame Ratignolle, but soon finds herself wanting to spend more and more time with the younger servant man. As they grow closer, Edna becomes more attached and is crushed when Robert leaves for Mexico. This extra time being spent with him leads Edna on a journey to realize that she does not actually love her husband Monsieur Pontellier, whereas the time spent with her more liberal friends makes her realize that she does not actually like the idea of marriage at all. To a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage with kids she doesn’t necessarily want, being free with or without a man she actually did love looked like a dream. She longed for that type of freedom throughout most of the novel.

From the very first time she swam in the clear waters of Grand Isle to the very last breath Madame Edna Pontellier took in those very same waters, she remained a troubled woman. Throughout the novel, she was plagued by the conflicting pull of what society was trying to tell her she had to be and what her own mind was telling her. The world was telling her that she had to be a perfect, idealistic woman but all she wanted to be was free to do what she wanted. In the end, Madame Pontellier made up her mind to become free from the orders of her husband and the stress of motherhood and ends the story of her journey towards self awareness by drowning herself in the very waters where she first realized her hunger of independence.

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The Conflicting Forces in The Awakening by Kate Chopin. (2022, Dec 13). Retrieved from

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