Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening”, her most famous novella, was written in 1899 and is widely regarded as one of the earliest American works that earnestly focuses on women’s issues and ideals. Chopin's novel captures the essence of the struggle for freedom, equality, and independence in which women have been formally engaged for almost 150 years. In Edna Pontellier we find a woman that goes beyond being a symbol for freedom and the pursuit of female independence, but a complex individual coming to terms with very human cognitions and emotions.
As the novel begins, we are introduced to a “Mrs. Pontellier”, a woman seen through her husband’s eyes, one whose identity was clearly bound to her spouse, his surname, and perhaps most importantly –
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This is particularly obvious near the end of the novel, when she thinks of Mademoiselle Reisz, the epitome of an artistic and therefore “courageous” soul: “How Mademoiselle Reisz would have laughed, perhaps sneered, if she knew! “And you call yourself an artist! What pretensions, Madame! The artist must possess the courageous soul that dares and defies.”” (pg. 176) In quoting M. Reisz, Edna seems to feel that by going into the ocean, her soul is finally daring and defiant (as described by Mademoiselle Reisz), and she is dying a death suitable for an artist. This appeals to the yearning every woman undergoes in her formative years, a desire to be more than they are, to spread the wings society has ruthlessly clipped with its demands and expectations. The desire for an identity separate from the family nuclei is an issue many women struggle with, especially young first-time mothers. These desires were muted if at all existent back in the time “The Awakening” was written, but instead we find Edna having very real, independent, and even selfish thoughts about what she’d be willing to sacrifice. In chapter XVI she boldly states, “I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself. I can't make it more clear, it's only something