Women’s Struggles in a Patriarchal Society – Edward, Grade 10

Women’s Struggles in a Patriarchal Society – Edward, Grade 10

Women’s Struggles in a Patriarchal Society

As Shirley Chisholm once said, “Tremendous amounts of talent are being lost to our society just because that talent wears a skirt.” No matter how powerful this quote is, many people in our society still choose to neglect women’s capabilities, which are the same as, if not better than, their male counterparts. In the novella, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, the story depicts the struggles women face to achieve sexual and personal emancipation in a patriarchal society. Set in the nineteenth century, the story follows Edna, a woman who tries to find out her place and position in this society, trying to deal with all the regulations and rules she must follow. As the story progresses, she tries to find her ways of living in this society and tries to find room to satisfy her desires and needs. Trying to find out who she is, she still struggles to find happiness in her life. Throughout the story, she has many awakenings, starting from her motherhood awakening to her artistic awakening to finally her sexual awakening. The story concludes with Edna’s suicide as she cannot tolerate these circumstances. Kate Chopin aims to convey the message that women’s journey of awakening in general, and Edna’s in particular, are primarily instigated by their resistance against the stereotypical maternal and marital roles, their desire for romance and quality time, their lack of financial independence, and finally their desire for freedom of action. 

After thousands of years of being stereotyped as only mothers and wives, women have started to resist stereotypical maternal and marital roles, a resistance that has finally led to their awakening. Edna represents women as a whole and the circumstances they are put through. Getting accused of failing to take care of kids is a stiff accusation, especially for women who put their heart and soul into taking care of their kids. The narrator expresses Mr. Pontellier’s thoughts and actions that show opposition to Edna’s actions when “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 10). Mr. Pontellier’s action clearly portrays that not only her wife but also women are stereotyped to be caregivers of their children. Moreover, Edna is also criticized for failing to meet her husband’s so-called expectations. She later cries, “Turning, she thrust her face, steaming and wet, into the bend of her arm, and she went on crying there, not caring any longer to dry her face, her eyes, her arms. She could not have told why she was crying. Such experiences as the foregoing were not uncommon in her married life” (Chopin 10). This can be an instance that explains why women have an awakening as they cannot deal with these statements of dissatisfaction. In another section of the story, the narrator explains how Mr. Pontellier thinks about how his wife acts and believes “In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman” (Chopin 12).  Another instance can also be shown when Mr. Pontellier is thinking about how women must behave, thinking of “women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels” (Chopin 12). Mr. Pontiller’s views of women also clearly demonstrate how Edna and women as a whole need to meet or exceed expectations that many men assume women need to meet. Many women have been stereotyped in this way. In this current society, many working mothers are less seen as businesswomen and are more seen as housewives, which causes people to view them as less intelligent than the rest even though they can have the same capabilities as men. In Edna’s case, she should have the right to do what she desires to do. Everyone must have the right to do anything and they should be given their own time to have their own pursuits. These reasons demonstrate the unjust ways that Edna and women are being mistreated and stereotyped as a housewife and why this justifies their awakening. 

Living a life that is devoid of any romance and quality time spent with one’s lover, and yet being expected to remain faithful, is another cause of women’s awakening. This can cause many problems as men spend less quality time with their partners and show less romance or love towards them. During the introduction of the story, Mr. Pontellier’s actions are described as he is about to leave: “Then he got up, saying he had half a mind to go over to Klein’s hotel and play a game of billiards” (Chopin 7). Incidents like these exemplify what men are doing. While they have the time to watch and take care of their children, they choose to satisfy their own desires. These incidents can cause the romantic feelings that people have for each other to severely decrease and affect their relationship with each other. On another occasion, when Mr. Pontellier leaves for a business trip as  “He was returning to the city to his business, and they would not see him again at the Island till the coming Saturday ” (Chopin 11) and says, ““I am going to New York on business very soon” (Chopin 72). These events can cause absences of quality time and romance, which makes the family more separated than close. These absences can also cause behavioral changes to people as they lack the support of their loved ones to help them. The lack of romance and quality time can cause women, such as Edna to have their awakening.

Women’s lack of financial independence has been another factor in their quest for change and awakening. Financial independence can make men seem more prideful and accomplished than their partner even though their partner has the same potential as them. Because of these experiences, women have embarked on their quest for awakening, which is their occupational awakening or their artistic awakening in Edna’s case. In one section of the story, Edna receives money from her husband which she gladly takes, “Mr. Pontellier gave his wife half of the money which he had brought away from Klein’s hotel the evening before. She liked money as well as most women, and, accepted it with no little satisfaction” (Chopin 11). As Edna receives the money, she later gets praised on how lucky she has a husband like Mr. Pontellier by Ms. Ratignolle, to which Edna responds, “Mrs. Pontellier was forced to admit that she knew of none better” (Chopin 12). In Edna’s position, she feels that she is not the luckiest person and that she cannot thrive on her own like many women. Because of these occurrences, women are forced to look down on themselves as freeloaders. Additionally, Edna comes to realize this when she visits Mademoiselle Reisz and has a conversation with her, saying, “The house, the money that provides for it, are not mine. Isn’t that enough reason?”” (Chopin 84). This gives clear evidence of the awakening, as not just Edna, but women as a whole realize that they cannot become freeloaders, but instead find their own ways to live and earn cash. A turning point arrives later in the story when Edna starts making money from the races and sketches she has drawn, saying, “I won a large sum this winter on the races, and I am beginning to sell my sketches” (Chopin 84). Because of her profits from these occupations, she can afford a small house and  “live in the tiny house for little or nothing, with one servant” (Chopin 85). These small incidents allow women, like Edna, to gain financial independence and not rely on others. Even so, the lack of occupations provided for Edna could not allow her to buy vast houses that her husband could. The provided examples justify these financial struggles that cause awakenings for women and depict the lack of occupation and financial independence that are provided for women.

As women have not had the right to freedom of action, they have seen the need for an awakening. Because of such injustices, women have had a desire for freedom of action. These restricted rules can cause men to think that they have the overall power and assume that women will not have the ability to overpower them. In one of her conversations with Robert, when Robert mentions that he should not be dreaming about her being his wife as she is married, Edna replies, “I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose” (Chopin 113). This clearly depicts that not just Edna, but women as a whole realize this situation and that they have the right to do things they prefer and choose not to meet men’s expectations. They should not be controlled like slaves to obey their husbands’ every willful command. Additionally, Edna reflects deeply on her conversation with Madame Ratignolle where she disapproves of her ideology when she mentions 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” (Chopin 52). This incident portrays that even if Edna and the women sacrifice their money or lives, they will not sacrifice their identity as a woman. They will boldly present themselves as strong, independent, and having their own voice, like their male counterparts. Such instances of lack of freedom of action justify the struggles women face in pursuit of their desire for freedom of action. 

Kate Chopin’s story clearly depicts the struggles that women face and the awakening that they have in order to cope and overcome these obstacles. People often tell these principles to women, assuming that they must follow them, but these principles can cause complications and can cause people to believe that a woman will turn “rogue” if they do not follow these principles. Women often will not listen, not because they believe they should not follow it, but as a way to say that these restrictions take away their own will and rights, which cause these awakenings. Ultimately, these instances are the reasons why women have struggles that will cause them to have these awakenings about stereotypical maternal and marital roles, their desire for romance and quality time, their lack of financial independence, and finally their desire for freedom of action.