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The Awakening by Kate Chopin and Women


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Title: The Awakening by Kate Chopin and Women

The Awakeningby Kate Chopinand Womens History
  • Womens History

Property-owning New Jersey women could vote from
1776 to 1807.
  • During the time of the Revolutionary War It was
    almost universally believed that a womans brain
    was smaller in capacity and therefore inferior in
    quality to that of a man.

Early Advocates for Women
  • Abigail Adams Remember the ladies!
  • Anne Hutchinson challenged the authority of male
    religious leaders in Puritan Massachusetts.

Republican Motherhood
  • The concept related to women's roles as mothers
    in the emerging United States before and after
    the American Revolution (c. 1760 to 1800).
  • It centered around the belief that children
    should be raised to uphold the ideals of
    republicanism, making them the perfect citizens
    of the new nation.

Early 19th century Women
  1. Unable to vote.
  2. Legal status of a minor.
  3. Single ? could own her own property.
  4. Married ? no control over herproperty or her
  5. Could not initiate divorce.
  6. Couldnt make wills, sign a contract, or bring
    suit in court without her husbands permission.

Separate Spheres Concept
The Cult of Domesticity
  • A womans sphere was in the home (it was
    arefuge from the cruel world outside).
  • Her role was to civilize educate her husband
  • An 1830s MA minister

The power of woman is her dependence. A woman
who gives up that dependence on man to become a
reformer yields the power God has given her for
her protection, and her character becomes
Cult of Domesticity Slavery
The 2nd Great Awakening inspired women to improve
Lucy Stone
Angelina Grimké
Sarah Grimké
  • American WomensSuffrage Assoc.
  • edited Womans Journal
  • Southern abolitionists

Cult of Domesticity
  • Between 1820 and the Civil War, the growth of new
    industries, businesses, and professions helped to
    create in America a new middle class.
  • (The Middle class consisted of families whose
    husbands worked as lawyers, office workers,
    factory managers, merchants, teachers, physicians
    and others.)

Cult of Domesticity
  • Although the new middle-class family had its
    roots in preindustrial society, it differed from
    the preindustrial family in three major ways
  • I) A nineteenth-century middle-class family did
    not have to make what it needed in order to
    survive. Men could work in jobs that produced
    goods or services while their wives and children
    stayed at home.
  • 2) When husbands went off to work, they helped
    create the view that men alone should support the
    family. This belief held that the world of work,
    the public sphere, was a rough world, where a man
    did what he had to in order to succeed, that it
    was full of temptations, violence, and trouble.
  • A woman who ventured out into such a world could
    easily fall prey to it, for women were weak and
    delicate creatures. A woman's place was therefore
    in the private sphere, in the home.
  • 3) The middle-class family came to look at
    itself, and at the nuclear family in general, as
    the backbone of society. Kin and community
    remained important, but not nearly so much as
    they had once been.

Cult of Domesticity
  • A new ideal of womanhood and a new ideology about
    the home arose out of the new attitudes about
    work and family.
  • Called the "cult of domesticity," it is found in
    women's magazines, advice books, religious
    journals, newspapers, fiction--everywhere in
    popular culture.
  • This new ideal provided a new view of women's
    duty and role while cataloging the cardinal
    virtues of true womanhood for a new age.

Charles Dana Gibson, No Time for Politics, 1910
Cult of Domesticity
  • This ideal of womanhood had essentially four
    parts--four characteristics any good and proper
    young woman should cultivate
  • Piety
  • Purity
  • Domesticity
  • Submissiveness

Cult of Domesticity
  • Piety Nineteenth-century Americans believed that
    women had a particular propensity for religion.
    The modern young woman of the 1820s and 1830s was
    thought of as a new Eve working with God to bring
    the world out of sin through her suffering,
    through her pure, and passionless love.
  • Purity Female purity was also highly revered.
    Without sexual purity, a woman was no woman, but
    rather a lower form of being, a "fallen woman,"
    unworthy of the love of her sex and unfit for
    their company.

Cult of Domesticity
  • Domesticity Woman's place was in the home.
    Woman's role was to be busy at those morally
    uplifting tasks aimed at maintaining and
    fulfilling her piety and purity.
  • Submissiveness This was perhaps the most
    feminine of virtues.
  • Men were supposed to be religious, although not
    generally. Men were supposed to be pure, although
    one could really not expect it. But men never
    supposed to be submissive. Men were to be movers,
    and doers--the actors in life.
  • Women were to be passive bystanders, submitting
    to fate, to duty, to God, and to men.

Look at the following photo. On the organizer
provided you, write down what you see? What
inferences can you make based on your evidence?
(Remember Background knowledge text clues
The Awakening
  • By
  • Kate Chopin

Setting and Social Background
  • Grand Isle and New Orleans, LA circa 1899 are
    the two settings
  • N.O. Catholic, French, with a great deal of
    interracial mixing is a relatively easy-going
  • Husbands are NOT overly jealous of the attentions
    that their wives receive from other men. Women
    do not place too much credence on these
  • The problem comes from Edna who is not from there
    she does take Roberts flirtations seriously.

  • Edna is a Southern Presbyterian who contrasts
    with her husband who is a Creole.
  • Creoles are the descendants of early French or
    Spanish settlers. Another definition is a
    mixture of African and French or African and
    Spanish. A third definition is Gens de Couleur
    or Free People of Color

  • NO was established in 1718 as a French-Canadian
  • Located by the mouth of the Mississippi, it
    developed rapidly.
  • Its unique social structure began to evolve with
    the mass importation of African slaves in the
  • By the end of the 18th century it was the haven
    of smugglers, gamblers, prostitutes, and pirates!
  • Became refuge of whites and free blacks and
    their slaves escaping slave revolts in St.

  • The Spanish, French, and people of color worked
    together, lived next door to one another, and
    intermarried, creating a distinctive Creole
  • NO was already a diverse city when it was part of
    the Louisiana Purchase American immigrants
    werent particularly welcome there.
  • Then, in the Battle of NO, the final battle of
    the War of 1812, Anglos and Creoles fought side
    by side. They were even backed by pirates like
    Jean Lafitte!

  • Before the Civil War, NO experienced an economic
    Golden Age as a port and finance center for the
    cotton industry.
  • This came to an end with the Union occupation and
    the Union blockade.
  • The Old French Quarter- where Edna and the
    others live is the site of the original
    settlement. The Quarter is laid out on a grid
    that hasnt changed since 1721.
  • The architecture is predominantly Spanish, with a
    strong Caribbean influence.

Victorian and Early 20th Century Sexuality
  • The Victorian attitude toward human sexuality was
    largely influenced by two people Darwin and
  • Darwin lowered man to almost animal status
  • Freud revealed that mans most every thought
    was sex related
  • Although it is clear that Alcee Arobins threat
    to Edna is sexual and that they did indeed
    consummate their relationship, Chopin does not
    openly discuss this.
  • Men and women were not supposed to talk or THINK
    about sex.

Symbolism in the Text
  • ART
  • - a symbol of both freedom and failure
  • - a major part of Ednas awakening is her
    decision to take up painting again
  • - through her sale of paintings, she is able to
    leave Leonces house and move to the Pigeon House
  • - there is the suggestion that her art is flawed
    (her drawing of Mad. Ratignolle is not a good
  • - Mad. Reisz often cautions Edna about what it
    takes to be an artist the courageous soul and
    the strong wings.

  • Birds
  • - major symbol from the first page to the final
  • - the mockingbird and parrot symbolize various
    ineffective attempts at communication.
  • - both birds are best known for their imitation
    of others, rather than having their own voice
    they cannot tell their own stories
  • - the parrot screeches Get out! Get out! which
    could foreshadow Ednas desire to leave confines
    of her middle-class life.

  • - The fact that both birds are caged clearly
    shows entrapment.
  • - the ability to spread wings and fly occurs
    often in the novel strong wings
  • - while listening to Mad.Riesz, Edna daydreams
    about a naked man standing on a beach watching a
    bird fly away.

  • There are several symbolic meals in the novel
  • The meal on Cheniere Caminada which occurs when
    she wakes up from her fairy tale sleep
  • The dinner party at her old house when she is
    ready to leave for the Pigeon House viewed by
    some to recreate the Last Supper

  • Appears as a central issue 3 times
  • - Edna tells Mad. Ratignolle of her experience
    as a young girl swimming through the meadow
    here the swimming is an escape from formalized
    religion (Ednas fathers gloomy prayers)
  • - Edna finally learns how to swim after trying
    all summer. Experiences exhilaration and
    freedom. Also experiences the fear of drowning

  • The final swimming episode is ultimately
    ambiguous. Is edna embracing a new freedom from
    restriction by stripping off her clothes and
    surrendering herself to the seduction of the sea,
    or is it a final desperate act because she can
    no longer live the life she seems destined to

  • Water is a symbol of both freedom and escape.
  • Edna remember the Kentucky fields of her
    childhood as an ocean, and she daydreams of the
    day she swam the meadow. Her learning to swim
    in the Gulf is a show of self-assertion, and she
    finally escapes to the sea. Even in NO there
    are lots of references to water in the form of
    rain or the river.

Piano Playing
  • Even at the beginning of the novel we hear the
    Farival twins playing the piano. Here, the fact
    of playing the piano is an allusion to the opera.
    On the evening of Edna 1st swim, the twins play
    again, but their inept poundings are replaced by
    Mad. Reisz.
  • Both Adele and Mad. Reisz play the piano. Each
    woman functions to underscore a different aspect
    of the novel. Adele is good because she
    practices every day but she does not love it.
    She wants to set a good example for her kids.
    Mad. Reisz is an artist. She serves as a mentor
    to Edna.

Sleep and Awakening
  • The 1st night of the novel, Edna cannot sleep
    after her husband rebukes her for neglecting the
    children. It is during this sleepless night that
    her awakening begins. We are told, An
    indescribable oppression, which seemed to
    generate in some unfamiliar part of her
    consciousness, filled her whole being with a
    vague anguish.

  • Similarly, the night of Ednas 1st successful
    swim, she also cannot sleep. Yet, the next day,
    she experiences a deep, dream-filled sleep during
    her nap at the home of Madame Antoine.
  • Each major episode disagreements with Leonce,
    encounters with Alcee, Madame Ratignolles
    childbed are punctuated by specific mentions of
    Ednas sleep, or lack of sleep. During this
    time, physical sleep also comes to represent a
    state of awareness as in Ednas conversation with
    Doctor Mandelet the night of the birth.

  • Repressed Feelings almost everyone in the book
    , w/ the possible exceptions of Mad. Ratignolle
    and her hubby, repress their feelings, and this
    repression has a significant impact on how the
    characters interact and how the plot develops.
  • - We are told very early that Leonce truly loves
    Edna. But does he tell her??? Robert flees to
    Mexico rather than express his love. On his
    return to NO, he delays seeing her for the same
  • - Mademoiselle Reisz seems to possess an insight
    into matters of the heart and soul yet she never
    reveals what in her past gives her this wisdom.
  • - It is ultimately Ednas inability to repress
    her newly discovered feelings that drives her to

  • Personal Freedom all of the characters are
    trapped by social expectations. The only
    characters who are not ( Victor, Mad. Reisz, and
    Alcee) are criticized by others. As Edna begins
    to gain a sense of personal freedom (evidenced by
    her learning to swim, painting, bagging her at
    home days, and moving out), she, too, falls
    subject to gossip and criticism.

  • Role of Women- The society of Chopins novel
    allows for essentially one feminine role, and
    that is wife and mother (women who idolized
    their children, worshiped their husbands, and
    esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves
    as individuals and grow wings as ministering
    angels.) The various female characters in the
    novel represent the various responses to this
    single role.

  • Madame Ratignolle fills the role perfectly. She
    is the embodiment of every womanly grace and
    charm. Notice that she is pregnant throughout
    the novel.
  • Mademoiselle Reisz represents the woman who has
    thumbed her nose at the role. She is described
    as a disagreeable little woman, no longer young
    (with) a temper which was self- assertive and a
    disposition to trample upon the rights of others.
    She lives in near poverty.
  • Edna, of course finds it difficult in her role

  • Search for Self To some extent, this theme is a
    combination of the idea of the repressed feelings
    and the search for personal freedom. It is only
    by witnessing Ednas struggle of
    self-actualization that we can question whether
    any of the characters has a strong sense of self.
    If there is such a character, it is probably
    Mad. Riesz.

Alienation and Loneliness
  • Mad. Riesz lives alone but does not seem to be
    lonely. Edna, on the other hand, feels lonely
    when her husband and children and more but she
    feels no less alone when she is with him. With
    Robert, however, she is not lonely. It is the
    ultimate aloneness caused by Roberts final
    leaving that immediately precipitates Ednas
    final act.

  • Consequences of Choices
  • - Immediately before Robert and Ednas reunion,
    Madame Ratignolle warns Edna, You seem to me
    like a child, Edna. You seem to act without a
    certain amount of reflection that is necessary in
    this life. Does Edna care about the
    repercussions of any of her decisions?