“The Controlling Men of The Awakening by Kate Chopin”
The Awakening by Kate Chopin is a novel, which reflects theGrand Isle society. Chopin demonstrates how the society treats women.Women are viewed as a man’s possession and their roles are reservedto taking care of their homes, husbands and children (Mayer 3). Toexpress this view, the author uses the protagonist Edna. On numerousoccasions, all through the novel, Edna is placed in a society whereshe is subject to the men in her life, right from her father,husband, sons and other men she interacts with. It is thus apparentthat Chopin presents the men in the novel as controlling.
The following paper focuses on the male characters in the novel. Itexplains why Chopin portrays them as controlling towards Edna, andhow every male she interacts with has a motive to dominate her life.Hence, the paper is an analysis of the controlling men in TheAwakening as expressed through their behaviors towards theprotagonist, Edna.
The Controlling Men
In order to understand the author’s rationale for portraying themale characters attempts to control Edna, it is important tounderstand the setting of the narrative. The novel takes place in apatriarchal society. Tyson (83) describes such a society as one wheremen have more privileges than women, due to the promotion andupholding of traditional gender roles. The literal meaning ofpatriarchy is to be ruled by a father, in a society where mendominate over women (Tierney 1048). Tyson (85) further explains thatthe objective of patriarchy is to use ideals, which weaken theability of women to speak out. When women are unable to self-expressthemselves in society, they naturally become submissive. It becomeseasier for men to control them, which is the main objective of apatriarchal society.
Such a society clearly defines the roles of men women. Men areexpected to be courageous and ensure that they diligently provide andmeet all their family needs. A man must become successful, as apatriarchy society does not permit them to fail. Failure signifies afailed manhood (Tyson 86). Men are urged to avoid acting or engagingin activities that may be considered feminine. This is because“whenever patriarchy intends to undermine a behavior, it portraysthe behavior as feminine” (Tyson 87). Such a view outwardly impliesthat being feminine resonates to being inferior to men. Hence, awoman’s role centers on submissiveness. She is supposed to takecare of her man, their children and do housework duties. A womanliving in such a society only desires to become married have childrenand a home. This resonates to the life of most of the women in TheAwakening.
As a woman, society does not expect one to act out of the norm,through demonstrating a desire to become employed or open a business.All financial problems are taken care of by the man. Apart fromfinancial stability, a woman in a patriarchal society cannot freelyexpress her sexuality. As a good wife, she is expected to bedisgusted and frightened by sex (Tyson 89). For such roles toprevail, men ought to keep reminding their women about their roles insociety. It ensures that women accept the fact that they aredependent on their husbands (Tierney 1048). Such male dominatedthinking is entrenched in the minds of women from an early age thus,making it impossible for women to become free thinkers.
All through The Awakening, there are many illustrations toexpress that Edna was living in a patriarchal society, where the menaimed at quashing her. Chopin uses Edna, to inform her reader aboutthe society she grew up in (Hoder-Salmon and Chopin 16). It isthrough writing that she exposes the male-dominated society. Forinstance, she says that “it seems to me the utmost folly for awoman at the head of a household, and the mother of children, tospend in an atelier days which would be better employed contrivingfor the comfort of her family” (Chopin 62). In a different passage,Chopin (12) notes that “they were women who idolized theirchildren, worshipped their husbands and esteemed it a holy privilegeto efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministeringangels”. These statements affirm that indeed Edna lives in apatriarchal society. It also affirms her most important duties oftaking care of the home, as her husband worked (Gray 53). There isno way Edna could disobey her husband as she would be going againstsociety’s rule.
The first man in Edna’s life is her father. He is referred to as aColonel. Edna’s father is strict, a protestant and views theresponsibility of the husband as managing women through power andforce. Edna lived with the father from when she was a child up towhen she gets married. Her mother died at an early age, meaning thather father has been a major influence in her life. She witnesses howhe treats women and the patriarchal rules become internalized in her.The father clearly expresses his control over women, based on how headvices Mr. Pontellier to handle women. Following a visit from Mr.Pontellier, the Colonel tells him “you are too lenient by far,Leonce, asserted the Colonel. Authority, coercion are what is needed.Put your foot down good and hard the only way to manage a wife. Takemy word for it” (Chopin 76). This is a clear illustration that theColonel thinks women should be controlled.
In a different illustration, Edna fails to attend her sister’swedding. The Colonel is very angered by Edna’s disobedienceprobably because he views it as a form of deviance to his authority.As a result, he refers to her as a bad woman and sister. The passagesare an illustration that the Colonel is a very authoritative man. Inspecific, he exerts his authority towards women. He assumes thatwomen must follow the rules of men, or what their fathers andhusbands tell them as per patriarchal norms (Stone 23). It is clearthat Edna is controlled by her father. The Colonel’s controlappears to have contributed to the way Edna accepts her role insociety as a woman. This possibly explains her decision to getmarried to an older man. She thinks that the old man is better placedto treat her as a woman than the father. The decision angered herfather, more so because Mr. Pontellier was Catholic.
Mr. Pontellier is Edna’s husband. He is forty years old, father toEdna’s sons and a rich businessman from New Orleans. He loves hisfamily and provides according to society standards, by concentratingmore on his job. As Edna’s husband, he illustrates how men in thesociety control women.
Edna makes it clear that the husband is controlling. She isdissatisfied with the fact that her marriage is unromantic. Sheexpected a marriage that would be filled with romance. She says that“there was a sympathy of thought and taste between them, in whichfancy she was mistaken” (Chopin 22). Edna perceived the potentialhusband as pleasing and loving. However, later in the novel, we learnthat Edna was mistaken in thinking of the existence of a differentman. Chopin notes that “it was not long before the tragedian hadgone to join the cavalry officer and the engaged young man and a fewothers and Edna found herself face to face with the realities”(Chopin 23). In the statement, face to face realities refer to herhusband expecting her to submit to him, meaning yet again she wouldbe living with another controlling man.
She clearly expresses this by saying that “she would, throughhabit, have yielded to his desire nor with any sense of submissionor obedience to his compelling wishes, but unthinkingly, as we walk,move, sit, stand, go through the daily treadmill of the life whichhas been portioned out to us” (Chopin 35). The quote is symbolic tohow women were viewed in Edna’s patriarchal society. Chopinpresents a woman who is controlled by her master/husband. There is noway she can think of defying what her husband says, as she isnaturally accustomed to fulfilling his wishes.
The controlling nature of Mr. Pontellier manifests itself early on intheir marriage. He works most of the time and rarely has time to bewith his family. He also expects that Edna acts as a wife. Chopininforms that “Mr. Pontellier was very fond of walking about hishouse examining its various appointments and details, to see thatnothing was amiss” (54). The reader gets the image of a husband whois in charge of how things are done in his house. He walks around toensure that the wife does things as he instructs. This is asserted byChopin when she states that “this had been the programme which Mrs.Pontellier had religiously followed since her marriage, six yearsbefore” (Chopin 54). The statement affirms Edna’s acceptance tobe controlled by her husband.
Mr. Pontellier has a clear plan for his wife. She is supposed tolook after their sons, the house and children. When Edna feels thatshe is incapable of handling all the pressure from him, she becomesreluctant in her duties. The husband, in order to assert hisauthority over her, is quick to remind her that he is unsatisfiedwith her devotion. Chopin explains that “he reproached his wifewith her inattention, her habitual neglect of the children” (Chopin8). Mr. Pontellier progresses to say that “if it was not a mother’splace to look after children, whose on earth was it” (Chopin 8).Edna does not respond to her husband and it is obvious she feels sadbecause she later cries. She is dissatisfied with the way her husbandcontrols her, but in the end she is compelled to fulfill her wifelyduties.
Edna is clearly trapped by her husband’s control. To furtherillustrate how, Chopin uses symbolism. The novel begins with theimage of a parrot and mocking bird, which are caged (Chopin andMetzger 10). The novel notes “a green and yellow parrot, which hungin a cage outside the door” (Chopin 5). By use of imagery, theauthor compares the caged bird to Edna. The parrot and the bird “hadthe right to make all the noise they wished” (Chopin 5). Despiteall the noise, Mr. Pontellier chooses to ignore. The parrot issymbolic of Edna. As the bird is trapped in the cage, she is trappedby societal norms. Similar to the parrot, she can make as much noiseas she wants, when expressing her ideas. However, no amount of noisewill change how her husband treats her. Just like he ignores theparrot and bird, in the same way he ignores Edna’s wishes. Hebelieves that he must continue to control her as the husband.
Another illustration of Mr. Pontellier’s control is expressedthrough the pigeon house. Chopin uses the pigeon house to signifyEdna’s escape from her husband’s control. She explains that “thepigeon house pleased her …every step which she took towardrelieving herself from obligations added to her strength andexpansion as an individual” (Chopin 99). The reader may assume thatthe pigeon house makes Edna free. Nevertheless, the idea of a pigeonhouse means that she is never free. The author uses the pigeon houseas a symbol of something that is restricted from being free. Suchhouses have cages used to hold pigeons from flying. Since the birdflying is symbolic of freedom, provided the birds continue to becaged and cannot fly, Edna’s presence in the pigeon housesymbolizes how her freedom is controlled.
It is also clear that Mr. Pontellier is controlling based on hisview of Edna as his property. Chopin illustrates this early in thenovel. When Edna returns from the beach, he looks at his wife andsays “you are burnt beyond recognition” (Chopin 7). While doingso, Chopin (7) notes that he looked “at his wife as one looks at avaluable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage”.Mr. Pontellier’s expression is an indication that he sees Edna ashis possession. It may seem loving that he expresses concern over hersun burnt face. However, it is a suggestion that he wants Edna tolook like he wants. He goes ahead to reprimand her by saying “whatfolly! To bather at such an hour in such heat!” (Chopin 6). Theauthor brings out the image of a husband angered by the appearance ofsomething he likes, which becomes damaged, instead of referring toEdna in her person.
Lebrun is twenty-six years, young and attractive. He works as anattendant to women who visit Grand Isle during the summer. As heattends to Edna, both become attracted to each other. The loveinitially starts out as a friendship, but Lebrun later finds out heis in love with Mrs. Pontellier. However, it is not possible forLebrun and Edna to be in a relationship. Similar to other men, Lebrunviews Edna as Mr. Pontellier’s possession.
When Lebrun expresses his feelings to Edna, he tells her of his“wild dream some way becoming my wife” (Chopin 113). He isoptimistic that it could happen because he knows “men who had settheir wives free” and hopes Mr. Pontellier would do the same(Chopin 113). Lebrun, by using the words set free, he implies thatEdna is someone’s possession. On the basis of a logical analysis,for a man to set his wife free, it implies that she was hispossession. This means that the woman is not free as long as sheremains married. Hence, Lebrun highlights the property-owner marriagein the patriarchal society. Edna reacts by saying “you have been avery, very foolish boy… when you speak of Mr. Pontellier setting mefree! I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions” (Chopin113). The statement demonstrates Edna’s discontent in the wayLebrun refers to her as a possession. She was hopeful that as a youngman, he would not accept society’s way of treating women.
Edna realizes that a relationship with Lebrun would not be differentfrom that with the father or husband. All these men aim atcontrolling her (Zhan 32). It is apparent that she immediately losesinterest in Lebrun for referring to her as a possession. When Edna isinformed that Madame Ratignolle was sick, she prepares to leave toattend to her. Lebrun suggests that he should accompany her, but sherefuses “no, she said, I will go with the servant” (Chopin 113).Although Edna later expresses her love to the young man, at thispoint it appears that she has mixed feelings. Despite loving him, sheis apprehensive that he might not be better. She fears that despitetrying so hard to free herself, she could become a possession toanother man.
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