Responsibility and Duty as they Relate to The Awakening Most cultures put heavy emphasis upon responsibility and duty. The culture portrayed in Kate Chopin’s book The Awakening visibly reflects a similar emphasis. The main character finds herself wanting to stray from her responsibilities and embrace her intense desire for personal fulfillment. Edna’s choice to escape shows two elements: rebellion to the suppression of her adventurous spirit and the lack of “fulfillment” in her relationship. Although she embraces her new found freedoms, she commits suicide at the denouement of the book due to her frustration with the world around her.
Many philosophers have dealt with the question of whether to live a life of servitude or to pursue ones greater happiness. Immanuel Kant stipulates that the more people cultivate their reason, the less likely they are to find happiness. Kate Chopin’s character Edna tries her entire life to fit in the prescribed mold of the women of her time.
She invests so much time into duty and responsibility that she loses any happiness that she could hope to achieve. With time, Kant noted, the person who devotes their life to reason finds themselves needing a release, in the end despising reason, and eventually pursuing only their true happiness. After being “reasonable” for the twenty-eight years of her life, Edna breaks down. She wants to pursue love and disregard her duty to her husband and children. She falls in what she considers “girlish” love with the character Robert. She proclaims to him: “I love you . . . only you; no one but you. If was you who awoke me last summer out of a life-long, stupid dream . . .Oh! I have suffered! Now you are here we shall love each other. Nothing else in the world is of any consequence.” In keeping with Kant’s philosophy, Edna’s life has been riddled with reason and duty, essentially giving herself away to the people around her. This devotion to responsibility causes her to break away from her common behavioral pattern and moves her to focus on finding her inherent happiness. Ayn Rand objectivism states that a person should live life by pursuing their abilities and engaging in trade of equal value with others. Further her philosophy states that working for another’s good or sacrificing your self for another’s happiness goes against the very nature of existence. Edna was not engaged in the pursuit of her finest abilities. She lived her life for others, not for herself. In the initial text it states that “Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-women,” she did not truly fit that profile until further along in the novel. For the duration of her marriage she stayed in her place as a child-bearing wife, doing little but existing for the pleasures of her husband as a prized token more than a companion. These philosophies all profess the logic of abandoning culturally imposed responsibility in order to pursue those activities that contribute to one’s own happiness. Being subdued by society, the character Edna Pontellier, has no other choice than to rebel and find happiness by redefining her position in life. Direct Response to the Quotations in the Essay In Chapter XVI, Edna explains to 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.” Her unwillingness to sacrifice herself for her children and her husband demonstrates that she does not want to give herself away in order to make others happy. Edna can give her children superficial items, yet because of her new found “awakening” she can no longer truly serve to provide for their happiness. The only point that she makes clear in that statement is that she would give her life for her children, showing that she loves them but cannot define herself based on creating their happiness. Her awakening evolves into a selfish agenda, concerned only with her own happiness and disregarding all others. “In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman.” This quote states the simple truth that Edna, by nature, is not a “mother” in the classic sense of the word. She loves her children, though she cannot provide them the same type of nurturing, and care as the Creole women around her. She simply will not allow her inner self to be crushed by the bounds of mother hood. By nature she craves freedom and happiness, and as a mother she can neither provide that to her children or herself. Edna says the following to Robert: “I love you . . . only you; no one but you. If was you who awoke me last summer out of a life-long, stupid dream . . .Oh! I have suffered! Now you are here we shall love each other. Nothing else in the world is of any consequence.” In this quotation Edna is craving the adventure, love, and freedom that has been void from her life since her birth. Her dream, as she puts it, has truly been her nightmare, a prison containing her very life. This statement marks one of her greatest transitions, from a woman in a relationship of comfort to one trying to build a relationship on love. Now that love consumes her nothing else matters to her, she exists to find happiness, even if it means awakening from her dreams of responsibility and duty to do it.
Kate Chopin’s main character, Edna Pontellier, gradually finds herself by a series of “awakenings” throughout the story. These events give her justification for actions that most readers would perceive as selfish, lacking fore-thought, and avoiding responsibility. Her actions resemble those of a child. She has an inherent inability to deal with her emotions and lacks the responsibility to maintain her “freedom.” Mrs. Pontellier no doubt loves her children, yet she seems to lack any motherly characteristics of the Creole women around her. After her first liberation in the water, she begins to distance herself from both her husband and children. She is willing to give up her children in order to avoid being crushed by the bonds of motherhood. Edna craves freedom from her family in order to find happiness. To facilitate this, she allows her children to be sent to their grandmothers home, where they stay for the remainder of the book. Edna then purchases a house that is noticeably small which displays another indication of her avoidance of responsibility. The house provides little room for the children to reside, if she had allowed them to return. This act presents a clear example to the reader of Edna’s avoidance of her responsibilities. Her selfish lust for freedom and happiness separated her from her children. One of the main themes of Edna’s awakening came from her relationships with various men. Her most scandalous relationship took place with Alcee Arobin, a notorious ladies man in the Creole society at her time. She selfishly uses him as a form of rebellion against all that she believes held her back in the past. She no longer cares for her husband and her affair demonstrates this. Edna has no concern for the feelings of those around her, including her husband. Ironically when she pondered the act with some regret, it was not directed towards her husband, but to her betrayal of her fantasy love Robert. Edna makes her greatest transitions when she falls in love with Robert. She transforms from a woman in a relationship of comfort to one attempting to build a relationship based on love. Amazingly she even betrays her fantasy love Robert by rejecting him after he returns from Mexico for her. Edna goes from one man to another at her whim, taking what she needs from them. She uses her husband for security, Robert for a feeling of being adored, and Alcee for pure lust. In reality she probably cares very little for these men, but was far more interested in what they could provide for her. Her relationships after each awakening prove her to be weak and shallow. Her actions, both great and small, demonstrate her shallow, selfish nature. Her major decisions result in her disassociation from her children and her manipulation of various lovers. Edna’s minor actions also demonstrate her truly vile nature. Her venture to the horse track gives the reader a prime example of Edna’s disregard for others. She needs to gamble at the horse track to rebel against the values of her family and her society. To further rebel against her husband and her father she refuses to go to her sister’s wedding, disregarding her own sister’s feelings. This action demonstrates a blatant disregard for the feelings of others. Mrs. Pontellier’s final act of childish selfishness relates directly to her own demise. By swimming out into the water she attempts to escape responsibility. She can not face life and her freedom so she responds with her typical behavior and runs away in fear. Edna demonstrates little more than a rebellious attitude coupled with cowardice and a selfish nature. The actions that arose from her “awakenings” came from her selfish desire for happiness, disregarding the affects to all those around her. This lack of concern for others makes Edna Pontellier a shallow and weak
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