Symbolism of Feminism: The Awakening and The Yellow Wallpaper
Feminism is a widespread topic for numerous discussions in books, articles and media resources. The reason of this fact is that both men and women want to determine social and family roles. Some individuals do not understand at all why gender equality is the focus of public attention, because they are satisfied with the distribution of male and female duties and responsibilities. A significant contribution to developing the topic of feminism in literature was made by talented female authors who managed to express their fears and uncertainty through their writings. This paper analyzes the feminist symbols in The Awakening by Chopin and in The Yellow Wallpaper by Gilman and strives to prove that both stories describe significant changes in social understanding of gender roles.
At the beginning of the discussion of feministic symbols in the considered works, it is worth noting that both of them were created by the female authors, for whom the topic of feminism was very close. Sharma proves that Chopin was considered to be a controversial writer of the 19th century and her The Awakening was heavily criticized (882). However, after the authorВ’s death, this work was reconsidered, reanalyzed and recognized as classical (Sharma 882). Therefore, ChopinВ’s ideas were closer to the society of the 20th century than to people who lived in the 19th.
The Awakening is a long story of a feminist struggle of the main character, whose name is Edna Pontellier. The woman is married and has two children. However, she does not exist in harmony with the surrounding world and its patriarchal principles: В“Edna was dominated by her husband, Leonce Pontellier, who always imposed authority upon herВ” (Sharma 883). The mood of the story is determined by Chopin at the very beginning, when the author cites the words of EdnaВ’s husband: В“’You are burnt beyond recognition,’ he added, looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal propertyВ” (5). At this moment, the reader understands that the name of the story В“the awakeningВ” refers to some deep change, which may happen in the consciousness of the oppressed lady.
It is better to separately consider each topic of feminism revealed in The Awakening, and some symbols chosen by the author with the purpose to convey her ideas.
EdnaВ’s husband is a classical male representative of the 19th century. His views are conditioned by the social norms and ideas, which, at that time, dictated that domestic labor was a direct obligation of a woman. A woman had to keep house and be engaged in educating her children. It was not typical for a man to assume the responsibility for caring for his children. However, this fact did not mean that the males were bad fathers (Chopin 883). At the same time, to be a good mother, a woman had to devote maximum attention to her children.
However, Edna does not accept the described approach to her duties as a woman. Besides her indifference to usual duties, which females performed at home at that time, Chopin indicates that Edna does not miss her children when they are away and she is not close to them: В“In short. Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother womanВ” (Chopin 5). To support the description of this part of EdnaВ’s personality, Chopin uses the image of Adele Ratignolle, a good acquaintance of Edna. Adele is a wonderful mother who is proud of her children and of her ability to be pregnant every two years (Chopin 13). Edna once confesses to her that she would never sacrifice everything for her children (Chopin 124). Therefore, EdnaВ’s understanding of family relations is revolutionary for her time.
Search for the identity in the patriarchic society
EdnaВ’s thoughts about womenВ’s predestination and identity are not limited to some original understanding of family roles. Chopin numerously repeats in the text that Edna thinks about her destiny and cries without understanding the reason of her emotions (Chopin 10). Edna admits her role as a wife and a mother at the very beginning of a novel, but she does not feel calm performing these functions, and she stays in a hidden conflict with her husband and the surrounding people who do not share her views. Edna likes Adele and enjoys their communication, but she can laugh at Madame RatrignolleВ’s statements about relying on Bible in building her family ties (Chopin 53). Edna analyzes why so many regulations and ethical norms have become laws for womenВ’s existence.
Chopin tells the story of Edna since her early childhood. The author states that even as a child Edna lived her own small life, which was secret for everybody, and she was not close to her family (Chopin 18). Even at an early age, Edna saw some serious contradictions in the surrounding world, and thus, two images of Edna are described by Chopin: В“Kate Chopin portrayed Edna as autonomous, self-centered and ambitious being who desires a life that is free from restriction, the limitations imposed on her by the family and the societyВ” (Sharma 886). EdnaВ’s protest is not revealed only in her attitude to Leonce and their children. She does not want to go to her sisterВ’s wedding as she considers weddings to be trite ceremonies (Chopin 78). EdnaВ’s attempts to determine her identity are obvious through the entire story.
Love and cheating
The topic of EdnaВ’s true love and cheating on her husband is the most symbolic in The Awakening. One may conclude that Edna immediately recognizes her interest in a young man named Robert, who spends summer in the company of Edna and her friends. She wants to swim, communicate and spend as much time as possible with the young man. Her attitude to Robert is noticed by Adele and she warns the man of the fact that his politeness and courtesy can be seriously taken by Edna (Chopin 24). However, Robert rejects this option because he also feels some connection with the married woman. Edna and RobertВ’s friendship is the beginning of her awakening.
However, EdnaВ’s process of awakening is not immediate and has a few stages. Each of these stages is described by Chopin in details. Edna starts to understand that her marriage is accidental and that she is not obliged to do the things that she does not want to do either with her husband or with her friends. After Robert leaves for Brazil, EdnaВ’s protests become especially obvious. She expresses a desire to live separately from her husband for some time; she does not support LeonceВ’s ideas to make their home more comfortable, and she is generally glad when he leaves for a long period of time. At the end of the novel, during an anticipated meeting with Robert, Edna states: В“It was you, who awoke me last summer out of a life-long stupid dreamВ” (Chopin 117). Edna is thankful to Robert for her determined identity.
Symbolism of The Awakening
There is no doubt that EdnaВ’s affair with Robert can be criticized nowadays by the wives and husbands who are faithful to their partners. It is worth noting that before Robert returns, Edna has another romantic affair with Arobin when her husband is away. This affair is not so emotionally intense for Edna as her relationship with Robert. Robert initiates an important process in EdnaВ’s head. The lady starts to listen to her feelings and emotions and behave in a way she wants to.
The affair between Edna and Robert is a symbol of the ruining of trite ideals of gender roles that prevailed in the 19th century. It is unreasonable to state that EdnaВ’s husband is oppressive and this fact makes Edna cheat on him. Leonce behaves as all other males of his time. Some of their wives do not feel the necessity to search for their identity as Edna does. Both Edna and her husband become the victims of their time and conditions created in the society, which do not give females any right to be free and develop independently. In her final conversation with Robert, Edna states: В“IВ’m no longer one of Mr. PontellierВ’s possessions to dispose of or notВ” (Chopin 117). Edna symbolizes all women of the 19th century with a rebellious temperament.
The Yellow Wallpaper