Tuesday, January 17, 2006

confronting ideas from a worldly literature class

This morning’s literature class discussion of The Awakening (Kate Chopin) lured me out of my shell and into the deeper waters of a semi-intelligent discussion.

A multifaceted story, The Awakening focuses primarily on the ‘sexual awakening’ of Edna, who is married. Chopin makes it obvious that Edna’s marriage is stagnant, and although her husband is good by society’s definition (i.e. he supports her and makes enough money), Edna is dissatisfied and unfulfilled.

Edna ‘awakens’ when she kisses another man, who is not her husband, describing it as “It was the first kiss of her life to which her nature had really responded.” Edna hopes to find fulfillment in extramarital affairs.

Our class discussion involved two main ideas. First, whether Edna’s husband had fulfilled his duties and acted as a husband ought, and second, Edna’s ‘awakening’ in the story and how her suicide plays into that.

Most of the class agreed that Edna’s husband treated Edna like a piece of property as opposed to a wife, but a couple males in the room thought that Edna’s husband was really a good husband. This struck me as interesting because it made me wonder if some men think that all they need to do in a marriage is provide. I completely disagree with this, because I believe husband should be loving providers, not just providers.

The second and more disturbing part of the discussion regarded Edna. The gist of her story is: Edna is dissatisfied, she seeks fulfillment in her various sexual affairs, and when fails to fulfill her, Edna commits suicide by drowning herself in the sea.

Some people in my class said that Edna had no choice, she was forced to seek fulfillment else, ostensibly because her husband did not provide it. Others said that today divorce would have solved that problem, but back then, Edna was ‘trapped’.

My professor even went so far as to say that Edna’s suicide achieved fulfillment (her final defiance and freedom from her marriage), and he said he would be very disappointed if that wasn’t the way the author had meant it.

When I examine Edna’s actions, and her fatal demise, I would tend toward the conclusion that Chopin has punished her heroine (or antiheroine) for her actions.

First, to confront what my classmates said. They claimed that Edna had no choice, yet we know that all human beings have choices. She was not trapped in an abusive marriage, but rather a stagnant one.

I would conclude that Edna felt dissatisfied with her life, and decided to take matters into her own hands and seek fulfillment through immoral affairs. I agree, her life wasn’t all roses, but it wasn’t so horrible that she had no choice but to follow an immoral life.

The divorce dilemma is just another result of a society steeped in wayward morals, in that they think divorce is an acceptable escape to any problem.

The idea I would like to highlight here, is the idea that humans of victims of their environment. It shapes you, it forces you to do things. My classmates believe that Edna is a victim of circumstance—her husband is a loser. They believe that these circumstances permit a divorce.

My professor’s conclusion seems that of a hopeful literary admirer. He hopes to justify Edna in her immoral actions, and justify a selfish suicide. Really, he hopes that it is not Edna’s fault after all. Edna doesn’t deserve the bad things that have happened to her, or the despondency that has ‘forced’ her to commit suicide.

Here I see the idea that man is really good, and doesn’t deserve to have bad things happen to him. Certainly, man does not deserve to be punished.

Literature is a gray area, and is interpreted hundreds of different ways. However, in light of how the story is written, the time period the author wrote this story (1899), and Chopin’s religious leanings, I think it is a logical conclusion that Edna is being punished for her actions.

Edna has sought happiness along a path that God has not sanctioned. Therefore, it is logical that Chopin would have decided that Edna’s pursuit of this evil would cause her great unhappiness. Disobeying God’s law causes unhappiness. Edna’s suicide is simply thought put into action. By the time she has committed all this evil, rejected all that was good, pure, and simple in her life, forsaken her family, her soul is rotten. She cannot abide herself, and suicide seems a relief from this living hell.

1 comment:

Lindsey said...

And yet, if she did not know Jesus as her savior, she went from a bad situation on earth to a much, much worse one in hell. It's so sad to hear about suicides. I think there would be far more of them if people realized the truth: that life is meaningless without Jesus. It's sobering, isn't it? Good post.