Human beings are bound by the rules of society and have to lead their lives in accordance to those rules. The novel “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin brings forth the struggle of a married woman who is caught between her own desires and rules of the society. The protagonist of the novel is a married woman, Edna Pontellier who finds happiness in an extramarital affair. Leonce Pontellier, the wealthy husband of Edna Pontellier is unable to understand the feelings of Edna, as he too occupied with his business. Edna falls for a bachelor, Robert. Robert also loves Edna but hesitates to express his love and ultimately decides to leave her so that they are able to forget each other. But Edna is unable to forget Robert and his thoughts make it impossible for her to live happily with her husband. Edna seeks comfort by having an affair with Alcee Arobin, a town seducer. At this point she starts to lead an independent life by removing herself from the world of her husband. When she again meets Robert, she tells him that now she is an independent woman and ready to lead her life with him. Although Robert openly expresses his love for her, he hesitates to spend his life with her.
Robert’s hesitation and fear of the society is so intense that he leaves Edna, as he is not prepared to face the disapproval of the society by having an adulterous relation with a married woman. The three Creole men that are depicted in the novel “The Awakening” differ from each other in various aspects. All the three men love Edna but the manner in which they express their love for her differs from each other. Their behavior and actions bring forth their character and thinking. Although all three of them belong to the society of Creoles, their opinion regarding the beliefs and rules of the society is in contrast to each other. In this paper, we will compare and contrast these male Creole characters in context to their relation with Edna Pontellier.
Leonce Pontellier is a sort of individual who is more concerned about his business than his wife and children. In pursuit of success in his business, he ignores the emotional needs of his wife. He represents a typical Creole man who wishes his wife to lead her life in accordance to his desires and needs. He is one of those husbands who think that they can make their wives happy by providing them with a luxurious life. He loves his wife and tries to please her by presenting costly gifts for her. Even when he was away from the home, for the sake of his business, he used to send gifts to his wife. “A few days later a box arrived for Mrs. Pontellier from New Orleans. It was from her husband. It was filled with friandises, with luscious and toothsome bits — the finest of fruits, pates, a rare bottle or two, delicious syrups, and bonbons in abundance.” (Chopin 9). Judging by the kind of gifts Mr. Pontellier presented to his wife, the other Creole women thought that, “Mr. Pontellier was the best husband in the world.” (Chopin 9). But Edna differed from the views of other women, for she was aware of the true nature of her husband.
Mr. Pontellier loves her wife but his feelings for her, lack the care and concern which a wife expects from her husband. He wants his wife to behave in a manner which pleases him, and aids him in becoming a successful businessman. If Edna fails to behave in a manner expected by Mr. Pontellier, he rebukes her. Any changes in the physical appearance of Edna are also disapproved by Mr. Pontellier. When Edna’s skin is affected by sunburn while they were spending their time on the beach, Mr. Pontellier expresses his discontent. “You are burnt beyond recognition,” he added, looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage.” (Chopin 5). Mr. Pontellier is more concerned about the scarring of the skin rather than Edna’s pain and discomfort. “Even Edna’s physical being is subjected to his scrutiny and approval. For example, when she becomes sunburned, he reacts as though the temporary marring of her skin is an asset lost.” (Martin 19). Owing to this lack of care and concern, Edna feels that she is being trapped in a loveless marriage. Edna’s financial needs are satisfied but her emotional needs are not understood by her husband and so he is unable to fulfill those needs. Edna’s married life with Mr. Pontellier is far different from the kind of married life she has dreamt about. Mr. Pontellier’s thoughts regarding marriage influenced his relation with Edna. “Mr. Pontellier, on the other hand, regarded their matrimony as being based on a quasi-commercial contract that entitles him to treat Edna as one of his material possessions.” (Holz 3). For Mr. Pontellier, Edna is a personal property which is owned by him.
As Mr. Pontellier is more interested in his business than his wife, he always judged Edna’s actions in context to the affect it would have on his business. If he feels that Edna’s behavior is detrimental to his business, he reprimands Edna. He desires his wife to be submissive and supportive, and when Edna fails to live up to his expectations he becomes angry. “A shrewd businessman, he becomes agitated whenever he believes Edna’s actions devalue his considerable investment in her. He is a courteous husband as long as his wife remains acquiescent.” (Berman 51). He advises his wife to please those people who could be beneficial to his business and when Edna neglects such people, he tells her to mend her ways. “Mrs. Belthrop.’ I tell you what it is, Edna; you can’t afford to snub Mrs. Belthrop. Why, Belthrop could buy and sell us ten times over. His business is worth a good, round sum to me. You’d better write her a note.” (Chopin 46). Mr. Pontellier always thought of Edna as a wife and mother and because of this attitude, he failed to notice that apart from being a wife and mother, Edna is an individual who has her own likings, desires and wishes. He never allowed her to behave in manner which pleases her. Edna was supposed to the play the role of a subservient wife and a good mother. “Leonce Pontellier, Edna’s husband, is the conventional nineteenth-century man who treats wife paternalistically. Her husband’s possession, Edna is required to submit to his commands.” (Praver 26). Although Mr. Pontellier provides Edna with a luxurious life, he fails to understand his wife’s suffering and pain which she experiences owing to his lack of concern regarding her individual thoughts and wishes.
Mr. Pontellier’s thinking regarding marriage and the role of wife are shaped by the beliefs of the society in which he is leading his life. He is a conservative husband who looks at Edna as only his wife and the mother of his children. He never realizes that Edna would have wishes and desires which may be different from his own. He wants a typical Creole wife who obeys the commands of her husband and leads her life in a way which pleases her husband. Mr. Pontellier aims to become a respected member of the society and so he also wants his wife to behave in a respectable manner. His love for his business is so intense that he fails to notice that his wife needs his care, love and affection. He is thought of as perfect husband by other women but Edna thinks that she has lost her individuality owing to her marriage to Mr. Pontellier who is unable to provide her wife with the love, affection and the freedom which she is yearning for. As a conventional husband, he regards Edna as homemaker whose only concern is to care for her husband and her children and whenever Edna failed to fulfill her duty as a mother or a wife, he reproves her. “He reproached his wife with her inattention, her habitual neglect of the children. If it was not a mother’s place to look after children, whose on earth was it?” (Chopin 7). Leonce Pontellier treated his wife as a property rather than a human being, and owing to this inequality, Edna felt that her marriage had curtailed her individual freedom.
Robert Leburn is the one who leads to the awakening of Edna, owing to which she seeks to fulfill her own desires without thinking about the society and its reaction. Robert Leburn is known among his society as a man who flirts with married woman and keeps turning his attention on a new woman every year. “Since the age of fifteen, which was eleven years before, Robert each summer at Grand Isle had constituted himself the devoted attendant of some fair dame or damsel. Sometimes it was a young girl, again a widow; but as often as not it was some interesting married woman.” (Chopin 11). Being a handsome young man, Robert Leburn always succeeded in catching the attention of women with whom he had decided to flirt. Robert Leburn was a kind of man who knew how to please women. As a result of his charming ways, he was popular among women.
When Edna arrived at Grand Isle, Robert Leburn devoted his attention to her. Initially Robert and Edna share a friendly relationship but as both of them started spending more time with each other; their relation develops into a love affair. Robert teaches swimming to Edna and it is owing to swimming that Edna discovers her true self and realizes that she is in love with Robert. “The resort owner’s young son, Robert Leburn, attaches himself to Edna as a self-appointed friendly cavalier, but a real romance brews between them after he teaches her to swim, and she feels power and sensuality in her body.” (Toth 210). Both of them are aware of their feelings for each other but they refrain from expressing their love openly. Robert succeeds in fulfilling the emotional needs of Edna by providing her with the love and care which she was yearning for.
Robert loves Edna and enjoys the time spend with her but at the same he realizes that he is going against the rules of the society by having a romantic relation with a married woman. The fear of disapproval by the society regarding his relation with Edna makes him to leave Grand Isle abruptly. Fearing that his love affair would lead to consummation, Robert decides to go to Mexico. Even Edna is unaware about his decision until she hears about it in the dining room. “As she seated herself and was about to begin to eat her soup, which had been served …..He had been with her, reading to her all the morning, and had never even mentioned such a place as Mexico.” (Chopin 37). Robert fears that the society would condemn him for his relation with Edna, so he makes his mind to bring an end to his relation with Edna by leaving for Mexico.
Although Robert is staying in Mexico, he is unable to forget Edna and his love for her. So he returns to New Orleans and reveals his feelings to Edna. “There in Mexico I was thinking of you all the time, and longing for you.” (Chopin 93). Edna also expresses her love for Robert openly and promises to spend her life with him. But once again Robert is overpowered by his fear of the society. He leaves a note for Edna and exits from the life of Edna. “Robert was not waiting for her in the little parlor. He was nowhere at hand. The house was empty. But he had scrawled on a piece of paper that lay in the lamplight: “I love you. Good-by — because I love you.” (Chopin 97). The thought that Edna is Mr. Pontellier’s wife prevents Robert from accepting Edna’s suggestion of living together. Robert fails to garner courage to take Edna with him even after she had told him that she has removed herself from Mr. Pontellier’s world. “I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose.” (Chopin 93). Edna defies the rules of the society by expressing her desire to lead her life with Robert but Robert deserts her, as he is not courageous enough to fight the society for the sake of his love. Robert realizes that if he lived with Edna, Edna’s reputation in the society would be ruined, as he loved her, he desires to save her from ignominy by leaving her. “But she is called away to be with Adele during her delivery, and when she returns Robert has left because he loves her too much to destroy her standing in society.” (Paris 223). Although Robert is a flirtatious man, he respects the rules of his society and aims to behave in accordance to that.
Robert Leburn is the reason behind the awakening of Edna. “Truly Robert Leburn acts as the sole catalyst for Edna’s remarkable change. Upon realizing her deep love, Edna shrugs off her social responsibilities and enjoys her newfound social and sexual freedom.” (Burnett 132). He aids Edna in discovering her true feelings and her real position in the universe. But by deserting Edna owing to the fear of disapproval of their relation by the society, Robert disappoints Edna to such an extent that she decides to end her life. Robert Leburn resembles Leonce Pontellier as far as his views regarding the rules of the society are concerned. Both of them respect the rules of the society and aim to lead their lives following those rules. The major difference between Leonce and Robert is related to the manner in which they express their love for Edna. Leonce expresses his love for Edna by presenting expensive gifts to her whereas Robert shows his love for Edna by caring for her feelings and aiding her in discovering her true self. The passion, that Edna yearned for, is lacking in the behavior of her husband. “Although her husband was kind to her, he does not exhibit any passion.” (Applegate 70). Robert is the person who arouses Edna’s passion and desire for freedom from the social roles that have been enforced upon her by her husband and the society.
Alcee Arobin is a seducer who completely disregards the rules of the society and leads his life in a manner which pleases him. After Robert’s departure from the Grand Isle, Edna finds it difficult to continue with her life. Even after returning to New Orleans, she is troubled by the memories of Robert. It is during this period that Edna meets Alcee Arobin at the race course. Alcee Arobin is a man of pleasing personality. “There was a perpetual smile in his eyes, which seldom failed to awaken….He possessed a good figure, a pleasing face, not overburdened with depth of thought or feeling; and his dress was that of the conventional man of fashion.” (Chopin 65). When Alcee converses with Edna, he is attracted towards her. As Alcee and Edna keep meeting each other, they come to regard each other as close friends. “They became intimate and friendly by imperceptible degrees, and then by leaps. He sometimes talked in a way that astonished her at first and brought the crimson into her face; in a way that pleased her at last, appealing to the animalism that stirred impatiently within her.” (Chopin 68). Edna yields to the advances of Alcee and has a sexual relationship with him but she never harbors any sort of feelings for Alcee. “Edna knows that she does not love Arobin, but she cannot help feeling attracted to him and so does eventually succumbs to his entreaties.” (Rippon 76). Her relation with Alcee is bereft of love.
Although Alcee succeeds in seducing Edna, Edna never falls in love with him. She refrains from being emotionally involved in her relation with Alcee. Alcee Arobin’s adulterous relation with Edna points towards his disregard for the rules of the society. He fulfills his sexual desires without thinking about the reaction of the society regarding his illicit relations. Alcee stands in contrast to Leonce and Robert who respect the rules of the society in which they are leading their lives. Although Robert loved Edna intensely, he never attempted to have a sexual relationship with her, for he intended to obey the rules of his society. Alcee’s love for Edna is superficial; he is more interested in satisfying his sexual desires. Leonce and Robert represent those men who honor the rules of their society and restrain themselves from breaking those rules for the sake of the fulfillment of their pleasures. Alcee breaks the rules of the society without any kind of hesitation.
The three Creole men influence the life of Edna in various ways. Leonce Pontellier, being a conservative husband, makes Edna to represses her individual feelings and expects her to lead her life according to his needs and desires. His devotion to his business exceeds his love for his wife. Although he loves his wife, Mr. Pontellier’s way of expressing his love fails to impress Edna. Robert Leburn brings forth an astonishing change in Edna by aiding her in discovering her power. He loves Edna in a way which she always dreamt about. Owing to the love of Robert, Edna succeeds in gaining her lost independence. But Robert ends his relation with Edna thinking that the society would disapprove their relation and condemn both of them for flouting the rules of the society. Alcee Arobin enters the life of Edna at a point when she is longing for Robert’s return. Alcee seduces Edna and has a sexual relation with her. The traits of Leonce Pontellier, Robert Leburn and Alcee Arobin differ from each other in various aspects. Each man brings forth a distinct set of beliefs and thoughts. Their actions and behavior are shaped by their thoughts regarding the beliefs and rules of society in which they are living. Mr. Pontellier and Robert emphasize the need of following the rules of the society through their behavior. Alcee Arobin’s actions show that he is a womanizer who breaks the rules of the society for fulfilling his sexual desires.
The novel “The Awakening” depicts the married life of the protagonist, Edna Pontellier. Leonce Pontellier, husband of Edna behaves like a typical businessman and a conservative husband. He expects his wife to be subservient, and to support him in developing his business. He is pleased with his wife till she behaves according to his wishes but when she defies his commands; he becomes angry and scolds her. Mr. Pontellier regards his wife as his personal property. Robert Leburn provides Edna with the love and care that was lacking in Mr. Pontellier’s relation with Edna. But Robert Leburn ends his relation with Edna, owing to his fear of the society. He thinks that by having a relation with Edna, he was breaking the rules of the society. Robert honored the rules of his society and aimed to obey those rules while leading his life in the society. Alcee Arobin displayed complete disregard for the rules of the society through his illicit relation with Edna. Mr. Pontellier and Robert Leburn respected the rules of the society whereas Alcee Arobin broke those rules to satisfy his sexual desires. Mr. Pontellier and Robert Leburn represent those Creole men who wish to lead a respected life. Alcee Arobin pursues fulfillment of his pleasures rather than honor and respect.
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