Historical Context in The Awakening

Historical Context Examples in The Awakening:

Chapter V 1

"intimacy and camaraderie...."   (Chapter V)

Edna cannot find interest in sewing clothes for children; she would much rather draw or speak with Robert. Consider that Victorian society viewed femininity and motherhood as synonymous. Women were expected to naturally want to have children and to cater to their children’s needs entirely above their own. Edna’s desire for self-expression and her search for her own identity becomes a theme throughout the novel. Society disapproves of such pursuits for women, and Edna’s disinterest in this “motherly” pastime indicates her deviation from the perceived “norm.”

"In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her. ..."   (Chapter VI)

At the time of publication, women were still considered property in Louisiana. Edna’s developing understanding of herself as a human being is groundbreaking because she is considered and treated like an object. This awakening of her individuality was extremely controversial because at the time of this novel’s publication, women’s rights were just beginning to creep into greater awareness. This makes Edna’s burgeoning consciousness all the more contentious.

"daily treadmill of the life..."   (Chapter XI)

These lines emphasize how unjust, sexist conventions were enforced and perpetuated in everyday Victorian life. The expectation for women to be submissive and obedient in the home was so strictly enforced by both the legal and social spheres that it became commonplace. It became so habitual to simply submit to their husband’s wishes that women often unthinkingly did as they were told. This is the “treadmill of the life” that Edna describes. The norm seems so unquestionable that to resist it is often not even considered.

"“She's got some sort of notion in her head concerning the eternal rights of women; and you understand—we meet in the morning at the breakfast table.”..."   (Chapter XXII)

While readers will have picked up on the feminist themes running throughout this novel, this is the first time that women’s rights are explicitly mentioned. Edna’s frustrations have been linked to her status as wife and mother, but now we see them linked to her position as a woman in the late-19th century.

"He took the whole matter very seriously..."   (Chapter XXIII)

Edna’s father takes her artistry “very seriously,” and remains convinced that it is one of her most “successful achievement[s].” This contrasts Mr. Pontellier who sees Edna’s drawing as a hobby. Consider that during this time, painting and drawing were seen as more masculine activities. Edna is able to shed her role as mother and wife around her father, and to concentrate on pursuits of self-expression that are deemed less feminine.

"Put your foot down good and hard; the only way to manage a wife. ..."   (Chapter XXIV)

Edna’s father, the Colonel, asserts traditional ideas about gender roles. He talks about Edna, and wives in general, as if they are inanimate property. This type of thinking is the exact ideology that Chopin was pushing back against with this book.

"There was a dull pang of regret because it was not the kiss of love which had inflamed her, because it was not love which had held this cup of life to her lips...."   (Chapter XXVIII)

Edna’s realization that her awakening was not caused by her love for Robert is surprising. The reader has watched Edna question her circumstances and grow within them before and after Robert was involved in the narrative. It seems rather obvious that Edna’s awakening comes from within her. However, her surprise that love was not the cause of this change demonstrates Edna’s personal constraints: since she has lived within a society that objectifies her, it is hard for her to believe that her identity is not dependent on a man.