A Mothers Sacrifice in “The Awakening”

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To be a mother in society women must surrender a portion of their individuality. Mothers who devote themselves to their family offer every part of themselves. All these mothers do are in the name of their children. Once they consume themselves in motherhood, they put what makes them happy aside, and focus on their family. They lose part of their identity, and their family takes its place, but they are willing to make the sacrifice. Other women, however, are reluctant to allow motherhood to stifle their aspirations because they prioritize their self identity. They see motherhood as oppressive rather than beautiful, and do not meet society’s standard role of the traditional mother. The maternal are split into these two categories of women, those who make the sacrifice and those who hesitate.

In The Awakening, author, Kate Chopin manifests the two classifications of the maternal instinct in Edna and Adele’s conflicting attitudes towards motherhood. Edna is in the non mother-women class of the maternal instinct. She finds mother women and society’s expectations dull and repetitive. To her, motherhood is oppressive and keeps her from personal fulfillment, so she neglects the responsibilities that are attached. She was only “fond of her children in an uneven, impulsive way” and “would sometimes forget them” (25). Edna does not claim her motherly duties, and values her freedom and singularity. When Edna comes closer to her awakening she embraces her hobby of painting because art liberates her. Art is indispensable in making up her identity and symbolizes her freedom, which Edna would not trade for anything. She “would give up the unessential; [she] would give up [her] life for her children; but she wouldn’t give [herself]” (64). Women surrender a sizeable piece of their individuality when they become a present mother, and Edna is not willing to lose much of herself going in to motherhood. Essentially, Edna views her lifestyle as “a responsibility she had blindly assumed and for fate had not fitted her” (25). She is not the mother which society expects her to be, but that is not the highest of her priorities; her motherly duties come second to her self care.

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Edna’s unmotherly nature is also seen in her physical characterization when Chopin explains her more masculine characteristics. She paints her as “rather handsome than beautiful” with a face “captivating by reason of a certain frankness of expression and a contradictory subtle play of features” (4). Edna’s harsh physical attributes correspond to her weak connection to motherhood. In Victorian society, women with a strong relationship to motherhood were dainty and feminine, with a persona like that of Adele. As Edna’s revelation progresses, her desire for singularity continuously strays her from conventional motherhood. She continues to prioritize her independence over her family because she is not like the mother-women who “idolized their children, worshipped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals…”(19). Adele, contrastingly, is a true display of the mother-women side of the maternal instinct. Immediately after Adele gives birth to her child she tells Edna to, “think of the children” which gives insight on what state of mind Adele is constantly in. Even through intense pain Adele is consistently focused on children, highlighting how motherly she is. She is “the embodiment of every womanly grace and charm” and sees beauty in family (10).

Adele’s physical appearance also mimics her motherly nature; “there was nothing subtle or hidden about her charms; her beauty was all there, flaming and apparent…” and she had grace in “every step, pose, gesture” (11). Her traditional womanly manner hints that she meets the standard for mothers because mother-women are typically conventional members of society. Her family is the absolute manifestation of the ideal Victorian family, which she strives to embody. Adele sacrifices a fraction of herself for her family, and is more than happy to do so because she is utterly devoted to motherhood. She does not have a life outside her family and assumes her expected responsibilities as a mother. Unlike Edna, Adele is willing to give all of herself for her family. In today’s society the definition of an ideal mother is subject to deliberation. There are no concrete standards a mother must meet in order to succeed in motherhood, but there is still a universal understanding that it takes an enormous sacrifice of a woman’s character. Knowing this fact, women are faced with the choice of which maternal instinct to follow. Mothers’ lives inevitably change when they start a family because they cannot enjoy the same freedoms. A piece of them is gifted to their children.

Chopin constructs the characters, Edna and Adele in order to communicate the complex sides of the motherly instinct and the battle they both share. Edna and Adele each approach motherhood with contrasting mindsets, but ultimately share the same struggle. Adele is distracted by the beauty and excitements of motherhood, which stifles any negative thoughts she may harbor about motherhood. Edna, however, sees the oppressive qualities of the responsibility and they overpower her mere fondness of her children. These two women ideally model the divided maternal instinct in the face of mother’s universal battle of self vs. family.

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A Mothers Sacrifice in “The Awakening”. (2022, Feb 15). Retrieved from


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