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“The Awakening” and “A Respectable Woman” by Kate Chopin

Updated October 31, 2021
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“The Awakening” and “A Respectable Woman” by Kate Chopin essay

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What does it mean to be a woman? Does it mean one has to be a submissive, domestic creature who serves their families before themselves? Kate Chopin explores the purpose of being a woman and the labels associated with it, and how one breaks those boundaries in The Awakening and “A Respectable Woman”. In both of these stories, Chopin highlights the oppression against women and their inevitable breakthrough of society’s expectations.

During the Victorian Era, women had little to no division from their families’ needs and their own. Edna Pontellier is a mother and wife who strives for independence from the constricting labels associated with being a woman. She states “I’m going to pull myself together for a while and think–try to determine what character of a woman I am; for, candidly, I don’t know” (Awakening).

Edna knows society will not accept her decisions for independence, but she continues to seek freedom. Her liberation from society’s standards is evident when she tells Madame Ratignolle, ”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” (Awakening). Unlike most mothers in this time period, Edna is unwilling to give everything to her children, and keeps some part of her identity to herself. The “essential” part of Edna is intangible and is what defines her. It is the part of her personality she is unwilling to give up. However, when Edna takes her life it is no tragedy or struggle for her as she deemed it “unessential”.

Occasionally, a woman breaks away from society’s expectations of her and lives by her own principles. For example, Mrs. Baroda from “A Respectable Woman” is supposed to be a submissive wife. However, she is enticed by her husband’s friend Gouvernail. There is a battle within her, whether or not to abide by society’s unwritten rules of “being a respectable woman” or giving in to her desires to be with Gouvernail (“A Respectable Woman”). Mrs. Baroda eventually triumphs these temptations and she tells her husband “I have overcome everything! You will see. This time I shall be very nice to him” (“A Respectable Woman”).

This can be interpreted as Mrs. Baroda being rid of all her extramarital temptations with Gouvernail. However, Mrs. Baroda is alternatively stating that she has overcome society’s expectations of her and is now willing to give in to what she desires: to have an affair with Gouvernail. Chopin intentionally leaves this up to the reader’s interpretation, but it can be inferred from her attitude towards femininity and sexuality, as seen in The Awakening, that Mrs. Baroda is willing to give into her desires and has overcome society’s expectations.

In both The Awakening and “A Respectable Woman”, Edna and Mrs. Baroda are dissatisfied with their labels and strive for independence. They realize they want to live their lives without restrictions and they ultimately both choose their own paths, without being limited to the labels of society. The concept of breaking out of society’s expectations was completely unheard of at the time, but Kate Chopin explores the complex and unknown world of being a woman during the Victorian Era. The meaning or purpose of being a woman is constantly being defined and redefined. In every society, the role has a different description, and in every society people still manage to defy the expectations.

“The Awakening” and “A Respectable Woman” by Kate Chopin essay

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“The Awakening” and “A Respectable Woman” by Kate Chopin. (2021, Oct 31). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-awakening-and-a-respectable-woman-by-kate-chopin/

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