5 July 2012 Kate Chopin- Naturalist or Feminist? The Awakening, an existential novel about solitude is distinguished from most of such fiction by its female protagonist, Edna Pontellier. As Harold Bloom puts in, “She is an engaging personality, neither very talented nor intellectually curious, and disinterested in Creole or any other domestic habits… here is the awakening of an ordinary woman to love the sensuous world, and her own spirituality” (1)…
This aspect of Edna’s awakening is important for the status of Chopin as a writer, for she portrays her heroine above but not of culture which Edna desperately tried to grasp. Whatever feminist beliefs Kate Chopin held, she makes it clear that Edna is largely unaware of- and certainly unconcerned with- the reasons for her actions and that her awakening is a realization of her sensual nature, not of her equality or freedom as an individual. Some critics tend to associate Chopin’s novel to the feminist tract; however, Chopin’s motives tend to be of a Naturalist rather than Feminist, for much of Chopin’s portrait of Edna depends upon the Lousiana Creole setting she chose and the naturalistic literary convention of her day. Chopin concentrated to a greater degree on the life of sensation and careless enjoyment that the Creoles lived. Creole society occupied the southern half of Lousiana. The descendants of French and Spanish colonists of the eighteenth century, the Creoles were bound by Catholicism, strong family ties, and a common language. The cultural patterns of the Creole society have been romanticized by local colorists like Chopin in their works. Through her characterization of Edna, she wanted to scrutinize the Creole society and its reputation for an easygoing attitude. For this purpose, Chopin has not placed her heroine in a rigidly moralistic environment. She eloquently translates Edna’s feelings, her emotions and experiences when she enters the ‘sensuous’ Creole environment. Chopin reproduced this little world through her naturalistic techniques with no intention to shock or make a point, rather for her these were the conditions of civility. This attitude of the novelist clarify Edna’s position as an outsider, whose behavior is not shocking or inexplicable, for her position allows Chopin to deal with the clash of two cultures. Edna’s awakening is a product of the clash of cultures that she experiences. It is important to note that Edna initially finds it difficult to participate in the easy intimacy of the Creoles. She describes herself as “self-contained”, and remains largely so until the end of the novel, in the sense that she incorporates no doctrine or set of principles outside herself. However, she does become a fully sexual being. Therefore, her awakening is more or less a sexual one rather than an approach towards an independent self. Her approach is rather physical in terms of her leaving her husband’s house and entering her own independent house named as “pigeon house”. Here, it is important to note that Chopin carefully translates Edna’s new-found independence in the imagery of “pigeon house”. As the name suggests the house gives an impression of a trapped existence, which can never free itself from the bounds of sensual nature of the Creole society. That is to say, though Edna tries to form a new identity she is still entrapped in the male dominated society guided by her own unconscious longing for Robert Leburn. Edna’s actions are partly the result of her will, in allowing herself expose to Robert’s charms, and mainly the result of her position in the Creole society. Her sexual awakening begins with the flirtations of Robert, but it is apparent ...
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