The Theme of Selfishness: The Awakening Essay
Many individuals disagree with the role selfishness plays in society. Selfishness is defined as being concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, and welfare, regardless of others. In the novel The Awakening by Kate Chopin, the main character, Edna, experiences a realization of the unsatisfactory life she has been living. This awakening leads Edna to reject her marriage, family, and other relationships she has acquired. Some people believe Edna’s selfish actions should be excused because of the Creole society expectations she is presumed to meet.
However, the role of selfishness plays a large part in The Awakening through Edna’s personal choices regarding relationships with her friends and family. Edna develops several close relationships, two of which being men by the names of Robert and Alcee. In chapter thirty-six, Edna begins to manipulate the man she loves, Robert, only to hear him admit he loves her. Robert, being in love with a married woman and not wanting to disrespect her marriage responds, “…You would have me bare a wound for the pleasure of looking at it, without the intention or power of healing it” (114).
By Edna’s manipulation and selfish desires, Robert realizes that Edna shows no concern for his feelings. Edna cares too much about her personal needs without taking into consideration Robert’s position in their situation and the struggle it brings. Around the same time, Edna has an affair with Alcee giving him false hope that they both share a strong affection. As Alcee continues to show his love, Edna grows upset and announces, “I don’t want to do anything but just be quiet. You go away and amuse yourself. Don’t stay” (110).
This quote is in response to Alcee’s request to spend quality time with Edna. Evidently, Edna uses Alcee only for physical relations, knowing that Alcee’s investment in the relationship is clearly more. Edna’s motivations were based on her own wishes to satisfy physical needs, revealing her selfish side. Edna’s fondness towards her husband, Leonce, begins to dwindle as she progresses through her awakening, resulting in selfish behavior. In chapter eleven, Leonce arrives home from the beach and discovers Edna outside alone.
He tries to care for Edna and convince her to come inside but she responds, ““I mean to stay out here. I don’t wish to go in, and I don’t intend to. Don’t speak to me like that again; I shall not answer you”” (34). Edna expresses rudeness that is unnecessary in the circumstances that were present. Her husband shows apprehension towards her well-being and odd behavior but Edna responds in the sake of herself rather that expressing care for her husband’s emotions or concerns. Also, in chapter thirty-two, Edna chooses to move out of her house, so she writes to Leonce of her verdict, “when Mr.
Pontellier learn[s] of his wife’s intention to abandon her home and take up her residence elsewhere he immediately [writes] her a letter of unqualified disapproval and remonstrance” (100). Edna is only acting upon her own judgment without discussing it with her husband in fact, she is only notifying him of her decision. She does not take the time to personally discuss with Leonce each other’s feeling about the idea. Edna does not display compassion for her husband’s opinions, emotions, or concerns.
These actions resulting from Edna’s awakening are very selfish towards Leonce. People may argue that a justified reason for Edna’s selfishness is due to the Creole society’s expectations of a wife and her duties. The narrator describes the ideal wife in chapter four, “They [are] women who idolize their children, worship their husbands, and esteem it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels” (8). Edna was brought up in Creole society, therefore, it is clear to her the consequences and expectations that follow marriage.
Even with this knowledge, she makes the commitment to her husband and to her future. In chapter sixteen, Edna’s selfish attribute is prevalent when she opens up about her opinion of motherhood. ““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””(51). Edna is aware of the responsibilities that accompany marriage yet she has no intention of fulfilling them. Edna refuses to lose herself in her children’s lives whilst knowing that is the prospect of a mother in her society.
There is no excuse for Edna’s selfish actions. Some people excuse Edna’s selfish actions because of the unreasonable force and pressure Creole society presents. Although, it is proven that selfishness plays an important role in The Awakening through Edna’s actions towards her family and friends. Creole society’s pressures have no influence on Edna’s selfish actions regarding Robert, Alcee, Leonce, and in her opinions towards mothering. Not only Creole society but any society would benefit if the people within it could recognize the selfishness they bring to relationships.