How is/isn’t The Awakening typical of a Victorian Novel?
The Awakening was published in 1899 by Kate Chopin at the height of her popularity. Kate Chopin grew up surrounded constantly by intelligent, strong and independent women; so her childhood was lacking a male role model. As a result of the atmosphere in which she was raised in, rarely being witness to the tradition of male domination and female submission which defined many 19th century marriages, throughout her novel, The Awakening, the themes of female freedom and sexual awareness are very much present. These controversial topics would have been subject matters which were socially unacceptable during the Victorian Era. By the way in which Kate Chopin presented them in showing support and a sympathetic view toward the actions and emotions of the sexually aware and independent female protagonist, Edna Pontellier, the novel would have received a negative and shocked reaction from its readers.
The Awakening is typical of a Victorian Novel in the way that in the Victorian Era a woman of the late 1800s had very few opportunities for individual expression and independence. Women were expected to care for their families and perform her domestic duties around the house; resulting in them being prevented from seeking the satisfaction of their own wants and needs. Women had no choices and most lived in a state a little better than slavery and they had to obey men, because in most cases, men held all the resources and women had no independent means of subsistence. Women were considered the property of her husband and this general idea of male domination can be clearly ascertained throughout the novel. For instance the readers are first introduced to Leonce Pontellier who is observed in the novel as ‘…looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage’. This quote is our first encounter with Edna Pontellier and it alone shows how men viewed their wives as a possession in which they owned and could order around; their own personal slaves. According to Mr Pontellier, his wife has no independence, no personal self-fulfilment, and she must only live for him. The idea of women being treated like objects and the men controlling them is displayed through the line ‘I can’t permit you to stay out there all night. You must come in the house instantly’. This again is Mr Pontellier ordering his wife around as if she were nothing but his mere slave; thus conforming to the typical Victorian marriage where the man was seen to be in charge. The father of Edna Pontellier is seen in the novel to be reinforcing this view through the conversation held with Mr Pontellier where the Colonel states how ‘Authority, coercion are what is needed. Put your foot down good and hard; the only way to manage a wife. Take my word for it.’ This insinuates that the Colonel himself had treated his own wife like so; displaying how this is a tradition which is followed meticulously by the larger part of society in the Victorian Era. It also reveals the general knowledge of how men thought the way in which to control their wives well was with a great deal of authority, and to ‘put your foot down good and hard’ making known your demands and how you wish them to be done; again reinforcing the idea of male domination.