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Understanding Realism in The Awakening by Kate Chopin

In the aftermath of the Civil War, numerous artists and writers had been inspired to reject the lofty ideals of romanticism and concentrate interest on a new movement – 1 representing elements of daily life. American realist authors such as Mark Twain and Charles Chestnutt are nicely-identified for their depictions of life in the South about the time of the Civil War. These authors relied heavily on setting and historical context to mold their characters, in contrast to romantics, who isolated their protagonists from the social context. In this manner, realist authors sought to portray their lives as objectively as possible. Regionalism, a popular branch of realism, emphasized the realistic depiction of life in a certain area. Like Twain and Chestnutt, writer Kate Chopin believed that regional components such as speech, social structure, and customs had been essential to an understanding of the situation of the characters. Chopin’s “The Awakening” utilizes four literary conventions of regional realism: 1) a protagonist rooted in a complicated social atmosphere, frequently involving oppressive situations two) an emphasis on regional specifics such as dialect 3) a psychologically complicated protagonist 4) an objective and amoral stance toward the protagonists’ situation (this convention draws from the closely-related college of naturalism). By calling attention to the impact setting has on a character’s life, and by generating a psychologically complex character, Chopin breaks away from the literary conventions of romanticism, which would have isolated the sharply defined hero-or-villain protagonist from his or her social atmosphere. “The Awakening”, nonetheless, contains components of romantically-influenced transcendentalism, as demonstrated by the protagonist, Edna’s, desire to explore her spirituality and defy societal expectations.

In order to totally recognize Edna’s situation, Chopin recognizes the need to familiarize the reader with her world. “The Awakening” therefore supplies a vivid illustration of Creole life in the late 1800s. Chopin, though not an activist herself, was properly conscious of the different women’s rights movements stemming from the 1890s (Campbell 62). The ultra-conservative South was a prime location to discover the impacts of sexism on a female protagonist. The Napoleonic codes in Louisiana created separate gender spheres – men existed in the public sphere, whilst females existed in the private sphere, or “cult of domesticity” (Schedler, lecture 9-28-04). Ladies have been anticipated to be pure and loving wives and mothers, and have been scorned by society for failing to play this function. Sexuality was bound to marriage, and sex was only valued for procreation. Girls were objects to be owned by their husbands. Such rampant sexism is revealed in “The Awakening” when Edna’s husband, Leonce, looks at her as if she is “a useful piece of property” (Seyersted 882). Edna is a item of society: her self-worth is determined by her functionality in a part that has been thrust upon her. It is not until Edna “awakens” to realize that she lacks a correct sense of self that she rebels by disregarding societal expectations. By placing Edna in such an oppressive yet realistic condition, Chopin employs the 1st convention of regional realism.

The second convention of regional realism utilised by Chopin in “The Awakening” is a generous assisting of area-distinct information such as dialect. Regional realists strived to familiarize readers with places and individuals they have been unlikely to encounter in their everyday lives. Chopin lends an exotic flavor to the text with elaborate descriptions of New Orleans architecture (such as the description of the Pontellier house) and the frequent utilization of French phrases. In reality, the first lines of the novel are spoken by a multi-lingual green and yellow parrot: “Allez vous-en! Allez vous en! Sapristi! That is all right” (Seyersted 881). The parrot exemplifies the French influence in Louisiana but, much more importantly, serves as a symbol for Edna herself.

Birds are crucial symbols in “The Awakening”. The parrot in the beginning of the novel represents Edna: living in a cage and forced to invest a lifetime repeating the words society expects to hear from her, however in a position to speak “a language which nobody understood, unless it was the mocking-bird that hung on the other side of the door” (Seyersted 881). Right here, the mockingbird serves as a symbol for Mademoiselle Reisz, Edna’s deeply spiritual friend who acts as a part model for an option lifestyle. Mockingbirds are typically perceived as “annoying” birds similarly, Madame Reisz is an annoyance to society. She is rude and rebels against the sexist environment by way of her outspoken nature. Nonetheless, Madame Reisz is the only a single capable of understanding Edna’s situation.

Whilst listening to Madame Reisz’s piano playing, “the really passions themselves were aroused inside her soul” (Seyersted 906). It is Madame Reisz’s music that awakens Edna’s need to discover her sexuality and create her spirituality. Edna abdicates her part as wife and mother, at some point moving out of her family’s home. She rebels against her father, and misses her sister’s wedding. She begins to exist for her own selfish whims, and spends a excellent deal of time lost in self-reflection or painting.

The novel continues as Edna escapes her cage only to sadly uncover that her spirit isn’t powerful sufficient to exist independent of her maternal obligations. Mademoiselle Reisz wisely points out that “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice should have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth” (Seyersted 966). Getting spent her whole life caged in by society, Edna’s wings have grown as well weak to enable her to soar above the societal obligations of motherhood, yet stay also strong to permit her to submit to her intended part. Her death is foreshadowed when she sees a bird with a broken wing “beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water” (Seyersted 999). Here, Edna is portrayed as simultaneously weak and strong, which brings to light the third convention of regional realism.

Edna’s psychological complexity stands in sharp contrast to the romantic literary convention of possessing a sharply defined hero-or-villain as the protagonist. Edna’s character, with its abundance of flaws and vices, epitomizes realism. She is no idealized heroine, but rather a raw presentation of realism in its purest type. Edna doesn’t look to understand how her actions effect other individuals. Her attitude of “conditions would some way adjust themselves” (Seyersted) coupled with her intense need for independence certainly has a unfavorable effect on her youngsters. It is not until the finish of the novel that Edna remembers her maternal obligations, and even then it is only in response to a plea from her pal, Madam Ratignolle, who urges her to “Think of the kids, Edna. Oh believe of the youngsters! Remember them!” (Seyersted 995). When Edna realizes that she can in no way be an completely independent lady in her present society, she selfishly decides to drown herself, never considering how her suicide will effect her family members. Interestingly, Chopin never condemns Edna, despite the fact that she provides her a great several flaws: this is in maintaining with naturalism, and with the fourth convention of regional realism.

Realist literature is related to naturalism in that each schools view a character’s behavior as a direct result of their instinctual drives as a result, man should be presented objectively, free of charge from the judgment by the writer. In “The Awaking”, Edna’s sexual desire is fueled by her physical attraction to Alcee Arobin. Right after their 1st kiss, “there was neither shame nor remorse” (Seyersted 967) but merely a “dull pang of regret since it was not the kiss of really like which had inflamed her, due to the fact it was not really like which had held this cup of life to her lips” (Seyersted 967). Edna is stepping outside of societal boundaries by actively exploring her sexuality. She engages two males: one particular who she loves (Robert), and 1 who she lusts for (Arobin). Edna celebrates her sensuality and sexuality, indicating that her sexuality is not bound by marriage, and clearly defying the expectations of Creole society.

In maintaining with naturalist tradition, Chopin presents Edna’s situation from an amoral stance she never suggests that Edna is at fault for her actions. This is yet another example of Chopin’s determination to break away from the romantic convention of employing a sharply-defined hero/villain protagonist. Even even though the novel includes many other examples of literary conventions that defy romantic ideals, Chopin’s romantic influences can nonetheless be felt.

Transcendentalism was a philosophy practiced by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau in the mid-1800s. Transcendentalists appreciated independence, even in defiance of societal expectations. An example of this mindset can be identified in Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”: “What I should do, is all that concerns me, not what folks think” (Emerson 1163). This quote recalls Edna’s struggle to win her independence from society, only to discover that total independence is impossible in her predicament. How suitable that her very first night alone in the mansion “she sat in the library after dinner and read Emerson” (Seyersted 956).

Edna feels a sense “of having descended on the social scale, with a corresponding sense of possessing risen on the spiritual” (Seyersted 97) when she 1st moves into the pigeon home. This new sensation reinforces Edna’s decision to dive deeper into her spirituality. She spends a great deal of time focusing on self-reflection, thereby employing even much more elements of transcendentalist philosophy.

In “The Awakening”, Kate Chopin asserts her belief that human behavior is contingent on the social context. By using 4 certain conventions of regional realism combined with naturalism, she breaks away from the prevalent literary tradition of romanticism while nonetheless maintaining specific components of transcendentalism. Even although “The Awakening” was initially criticized and labeled “morbid” (Campbell 62) for examining such risque topic matter as a married lady who neglects spousal and maternal obligations in order to celebrate her own sexuality, Chopin eventually won sympathy by way of her portrayal of the character of Edna Pontellier and her tragic, however unquestionably actual life.

Works Cited

Campbell, John. Ed. The Book of Wonderful Books. New York: The Wonderland

Press, 1997.Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Self-Reliance.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature.

Eds. Nina Baym, et al. 6th ed. Vol. B. New York: W.W. Norton and Company,

2003.Schedler, Christopher. Lecture. 28, September, 2004.

Seyersted, Per. “The Awakening.” The Comprehensive Functions of Kate Chopin. Baton Rouge:

The Louisiana State University Press, 1969. 881-1000.
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