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 intrade 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.