Often in novels, a character faces conflicting directions of ambitions, desires, and influences. In such a novel, like “The Awakening,” the main character, Edna Pontellier, faces these types of conflicting ideas. In a controversial era for women, Edna faces the conflict of living in oppression but desiring freedom. The patriarchal time period has influenced women to live only under the husband’s thumb but at the same time, break away from such repression. These opposing conflicts illuminated the meaning of “social awakening” in the novel.
In the first direction, the reader witnesses the era when women only existed to make the male happy. The main character Edna finds that she has nothing to do other than stay in the house bored, since even her children are raised and cared for by servants. Day after day, all Edna is permitted to do is care for her husband and be there whenever he needs help or entertainment. Woman at that time could not vote, could not go out without a male escort, were not allowed to smoke in public, and were not allowed in the work place.
These ideals set by the male driven society caused Edna to face her second trend of free will, conflicting with her other direction of oppression.
When Edna felt dissatisfied with the life she is given, she pursues other ways in which to live more fully. She attempts painting and enters into an affair with another man. As her desire for freedom grows, she moves out of her husband’s house and tries to live life as she sees fit. She lives a life reflecting her new philosophies towards life, philosophies that are in conflict with that of society. The oppression by man caused Edna to have a social awakening, illuminating the meaning of the novel.
In “The Awakening,” the conflicting directions of oppression versus free will illuminate the meanings of social awakening and overcoming tyranny. Awakening from the slumber of patriarchal social convention, Edna must rouse herself from the life of dullness she has always lived. What she awakens to is a completely new life contradicting her old one. From the oppressing view, she learns the value of her final direction of free will.
In the end, the two conflicting directions of coercion and independence illustrated a meaning in the novel, The Awakening. The male domineering life of woman at that era made them realize the importance of freedom. From their awareness came a social awakening of women to overcome the patriarchal and self absorbed society.
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