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The Ending of The Awakening In your journal: Why does Edna kill herself? She’s decided that no one controls her thoughts or actions, that she’s not going.

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Presentation on theme: "The Ending of The Awakening In your journal: Why does Edna kill herself? She’s decided that no one controls her thoughts or actions, that she’s not going."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Ending of The Awakening In your journal: Why does Edna kill herself? She’s decided that no one controls her thoughts or actions, that she’s not going to Europe with Léonce, and she and Robert have declared their love for each other…So why does she decide to do it? pp , , 184,

2 A Naturalist Reading Determinism: The belief that all apparent acts of human will are actually the result of causes that determine them. Writers who viewed the world through the lens of what we call naturalism saw human beings as if they were “animals” in the “natural world.” These human “animals” were not possessors of free will, but instead were determined by environmental forces and internal drives and stresses.

3 Naturalism-- writer’s response to revolutions in modern science. Interpretations of Darwin’s ideas (Origin of Species, 1859) are dominant influence on naturalism. (“naturalism” associated with “natural selection.”) Shaping environmental forces are typically natural, biological, or socioeconomic. The naturalist writer typically avoids praising or condemning human beings for their actions, because such actions are beyond their control, the result of animal-like drives (responses to fear, hunger, sexual attraction). Highlighted insignificance of humans compared to natural forces “Underlying forces” indifferent to humans

4 A man said to the universe “Sir, I exist!” The universe replied, “That is no concern of mine.” ~ Stephen Crane

5 The Awakening as Naturalist Fiction by Donald Pizer, Southern Literary Journal, At Grand Isle, an apparently ideal matrix for Edna's act of redefinition of her identity, her natural and social worlds also send clear messages, ignored by her at this time, that she will find her efforts to establish a fully independent and self- expressive life circumscribed and eventually thwarted by the conditions in which she must live. Edna's friend and confidant, Addle Ratignolle, is clearly a foil to Edna in that she glories in the role of "mother-woman" (10). Despite Edna's rejection of this role, the irrefutable similarity between the two figures is that they are both women and mothers--that though Edna may reject (to briefly adopt the proper critical jargon) the socially-constructed role of a mother's total absorption in her children, she has not escaped the biologically essentialist act of giving birth to children and thus finding within herself the protective emotions of a mother (Pizer 5).

6 The Awakening as Naturalist Fiction by Donald Pizer, Southern Literary Journal, Central…is Darwin's belief in the evolution of what he called the "social instincts"-- the capacity of human beings for sympathy and love. These, Darwin held, arise initially in lower animals because they play a positive evolutionary function in the ability of specific groups to survive within a species. In human beings, these instincts are still present and are now also reinforced by conscious social and moral sanctions. In his Descent of Man, Darwin discusses "social instincts" at length, and on several occasions includes the "maternal instinct" among them, as in his comment that "a young and timid mother urged by the maternal instinct will, without a moment's hesitation, run the greatest danger for her own infant" (1:168). He sums up, with particular pertinence for Edna, that "it is far from strange that an instinct so strong and so greatly admired, as maternal love, should, if disobeyed, lead to the deepest misery" (1:175). Here, as elsewhere, Darwin makes a distinction between the biological origin of a human characteristic ("an instinct so strong") and its reinforcement ("so greatly admired") by society. It is this distinction which engages Chopin in her depiction of Edna. Although Edna can dismiss the Victorian idealization of the "mother-woman," she is unable to counter the instinctive hold that her children have upon her (Pizer).

7 The Awakening as Naturalist Fiction by Donald Pizer, Southern Literary Journal, What is clear…is that Chopin depicts Edna as capable of rejecting the model of the social norm of motherhood provided by Adèle yet as incapable of resisting emotions of obligation toward her children. This contrast strongly suggests that Chopin is indeed echoing Darwin's distinction (Pizer).

8 The Awakening as Naturalist Fiction by Donald Pizer, Southern Literary Journal, In the New Orleans portion of The Awakening, Edna attempts, with increasing breadth and intensity, to make operative in her life the rebirth she had experienced at Grand Isle. In doing so, she unconsciously adopts many of the means for achievement of female emancipation advocated by the New Woman movement of the 1890s (Smith-Rosenberg, Tichi). In general, her effort involves freeing herself from the restrictions imposed on women by the conventions of a middle-class marriage while simultaneously discovering vehicles for the creation of her economic, sexual, and spiritual self-sufficiency. From initially rejecting the social obligations of her class and sex and forming a congenial social circle of her own, she moves toward independence by developing her talent as an artist, by denying her husband his "conjugal rights" and moving into a separate dwelling, and, climactically, by taking a lover (Pizer).

9 The Awakening as Naturalist Fiction by Donald Pizer, Southern Literary Journal, In the end, Edna fails in this effort at self-determination of body and soul because she is unable to overcome the biological and social limitations which were present within herself and her world at Grand Isle and which now, as she seeks to test their limits, express their full intractability. Her children have been conveniently away for much of the period of her new life in New Orleans, but she is unable to dismiss them from her thoughts. When she visits them for a week in February, "how glad she was to see [them]. She wept for very pleasure when she felt their little arms clasping her.... She looked into their faces with hungry eyes that could not be satisfied with looking" (93). The unyielding hold of Edna's children upon her is dramatically rendered at the climax of the novel (Pizer).

10 The Awakening as Naturalist Fiction by Donald Pizer, Southern Literary Journal, Despite her claim to Robert that "nothing else in the world [other than their love] is of any consequence," her children, through her act of bearing them and then loving them, are of great consequence to her and constitute an insurmountable obstacle in her effort to live a free and independent existence. She tells Dr. Mandelet, "`I want to be let alone. Nobody has any right--except children, perhaps--and even then, it seems to me--or it did seem- -.' She felt that her speech was voicing the incoherency of her thoughts, and stopped abruptly" (109). Mandelet, "grasping her meaning intuitively," expresses openly the concept that Nature is a powerful determinant force in the lives of women. Youthful love, he claims, "seems to be a provision of Nature, a decoy to secure mothers for the race" (110), an observation which gathers together Adele's, Edna's, and his own responses to Adele's childbearing and Edna's situation into a belief that the "ways of Nature," as played out in courtship, marriage, and motherhood, are indeed to subordinate the human will to the reproductive needs of the species.

11 The Awakening as Naturalist Fiction by Donald Pizer, Southern Literary Journal, As feminist critics have often noted, women’s biological role as mothers can serve in a male-dominated society not only as a means of overt glorification of the role but also, more covertly, as a means of maintaining male power and dominance (Pizer).


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