Awakening Mother-Women ( Adele Ratignolle) Mother-Women ( Essay

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Awakening mother-women ( Adele Ratignolle) mother-Women ( Edna

Back to Sleep: Edna's Fate

Kate Chopin's The Awakening functions as a turn of the century tragedy regarding the domesticated lot of women in American society. Its protagonist, Edna Pontellier, is forced to forsake all of the wonder, delight, and sensations of life -- those that are intrinsically hers, anyway -- for an unyielding society in which her only virtue is that of raising children and her role as a mother. That her reaction to her fate is decidedly different from that of the other mothers portrayed within the novel only serves to underscore the author's point that women must sacrifice their essential selves (their aspirations, their desires, their link to crave the very things that animate their children and which they themselves craved as children) to become credible matriarchs due to the "external, repressive force" (Wolff 449) of society. Edna was unwilling to make that sacrifice, and therefore lost her life along with the passions that animated it, rendering this tale one of tragedy.

The author's central premise in this story, that women must distinguish themselves from their ardor for life in order to become accomplished mothers as society would have them, is evinced through an analysis of a wide range of female characters. None of them are able to combine true interests of their own, outside of their domestic duties, with the conventional responsibilities of a good mother. And yet there is no shortage of the sort of staid, tranquil domestics that exemplify the virtues of motherhood -- many of which Edna herself does not possess nor entirely desires to possess -- particularly when one considers the example of Adele Ratignolle, which the following quotation describing quintessential mother-women demonstrates.

It was easy to know them…They were women who idolized their children, worshipped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels…one of them was the embodiment of every womanly grace and charm…Her name was Adele Ratignolle (Chopin). This quotation defines society's conception of a virtuous mother.
It is interesting to note that these virtues are akin to those of "womanly grace," which alludes to society's expectation of women to become mothers. Yet there is a selfless aspect of this description of such mothers, in which they readily "efface" themselves while pursuing the needs of their husbands and children. They lack individuality and passion for life as they experienced it before motherhood, and can never count Edna among their numbers for this reason. Because Edna refuses to submit to such a definition and the existence it encompasses, she is fated for a life of unhappiness or a death of defiance. She chooses the latter.

Edna's defiant attitude towards this stereotype is most palpably demonstrated in the conclusion of the tale, which alludes to the rewards of motherhood. Those rewards are demonstrable in other aspects of this tale as well, and in the lot of other mothers. Edna's mother-in-law, after a near lifetime of raising Edna's husband, is rewarded for her efforts by raising her grandchildren (who Edna leaves with her). Another mother portrayed in the story, Mrs. Lebrun, has adult children to look after when she is not tabling the advances of her 20-year-old suitor due to her status as a widow. Yet the ultimate reward of motherhood is indicated by the following quotation in which Edna takes a final swim. "The children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her; who had overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul's slavery for the rest of her days. But she knew a way to elude them" (Chopin). This quotation reveals how Edna truly perceives her children, who she did not dislike. Yet the very nature of the role they subjected her to renders them "antagonists" whose literal subjugation of her is alluded to in the reference to her soul's enslavement. What is significant about this quotation, and how it relates to the rewards of motherhood, is that this enslavement is something that Edna believes,….....

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