Wednesday, February 23, 2005

D.H. Lawrence/Kate Chopin Essay (Part 1)

Recently, I completed yet another essay for my Modern Novel class. The books under discussion for the most recent essay were D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers and Kate Chopin's The Awakening. Both novels were revolutionary in the ways they depicted the effects of various social dynamics on the lives of their characters. Sons and Lovers focuses primarily on the dynamics within the Morel family and how that influences the characters in the relationships they pursue and the people who they become. The Awakening focuses on the dynamics of gender relations in a similar manner. The essay I had to write had to address three questions in three different sections. I will post the sections as I get to each of them. Here is the first:

The essay that follows responds to the topic of analyzing The Awakening using the framework of family dynamics that is used throughout Sons and Lovers. Go for brevity over detail with the objective being to merely show competence in using the model of one novel to extract meaning from another.

One of the most prevalent intra-family dynamics in D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers is the seemingly innate trait of many of Lawrence's characters to resist one or both parents on an existential level. Lawrence's characters try their best to distance themselves from the unpleasant aspects of their parents by seeking out opposite qualities in their other relationships. Paul seeks out Clara because, unlike Miriam, Clara does not demand the same spiritual ownership of Paul that Paul's mother exerts. Miriam, on the other hand, seeks out Paul in part because he has a spiritual, artistic side Miriam sees as lacking in her own father, who "...did not carry any mystical ideals cherished in his heart..." (Lawrence 142). Moreover, all the Morel children, with the later exception of Paul, grow up with an aversion to alcohol as a reaction to their hatred of their alcoholic father. Yet this dynamic is not solely seen in Lawrence’s novel. Each of these examples from Sons and Lovers is a sort of a rebellion—a yearning to be free from the influence of the parent through an outward channel. Hence, it is no surprise that Kate Chopin also uses the dynamic of family—and of Edna's relationship with her father in particular—in The Awakening to help explain the derivation of Edna's desire to be her own person that she is ultimately willing to sacrifice her life to feel free.

One of the earliest pictures we have of Edna's childhood occurs as Edna is looking out over the sea and recalls "...a summer day in Kentucky, of a meadow that seemed as big as the ocean to the very little girl walking through the grass, which was higher than her waist. She threw out her arms as if swimming when she walked, beating the tall grass as one strikes out at the water" (Chopin 29-30). Considering that Edna strongly identifies the sea as a place for "...the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation" (Chopin 25), there is a strong hint that Edna considers that scene to be the only one presented in the novel from her childhood where she is outside of the influences of her male relations and able to be in a place of complete "solitude" and "inward contemplation." Standing alone as that memory does in its relationship to the freedom of the sea, it may have been the last time Edna had that sense of feeling of being able " control the working of her body and her soul" (Chopin 47) as she later identifies swimming in the ocean (which Chopin parallels in the meadow memory) to be. After this point, Edna's life fell into the predetermined female pattern of crushes, courtship, marriage, and childbearing. Yet when she does begin to attempt to cast off her predetermined role and become her own person, it can be read as Edna trying to free herself from her father's influence in the same manner detailed above as in Lawrence's novel.

The most telling hint that this may be the relationship that Edna most strongly resists is actually revealed in the thought of her husband, Léonce, who realizes, "The Colonel was perhaps unaware that he had coerced his own wife into the grave" (Chopin 119) when the subject of Léonce's leniency toward his wife comes up. However, that leniency on the part of Léonce is perhaps exactly the reason Kate is with her husband; he will not coerce her. Instead, he evinces "uniform devotion" (Chopin 14). In fact, the one time he tries to coerce her, she easily rebuffs him without any further argument on his part (Chopin 53). She will not let Léonce treat her as her mother was treated. In this way, Edna tries to rebel and escape her father and the fate of her mother, like many of Lawrence's characters try to escape their parents' fates.

By the time Edna's father visits, Edna is attempting to convince herself that neither he nor anyone else will coerce her "into the grave" as the Colonel did to his wife. Edna goes about this by "...serving him and ministering to his wants" not because she has to, but because "[i]t amused her to do so" (Chopin 115). Similarly, throughout the visit, Edna finds herself for the first time able to enjoy her father's company because she now sees herself as choosing to spend time with him and to take his side in an argument with her husband on the subject of horse-racing, in which Léonce once again proves himself the opposite of the reckless gambler the Colonel is implied to be:

Mr. Pontellier himself had no particular leaning toward horse racing, and was even rather inclined to discourage it as a pastime, especially when he considered the fate of that bluegrass farm in Kentucky (Chopin 116).
Again, the scene shows Edna's attraction to her husband as perhaps being the opposite of her father.

Ultimately, Edna convinces herself of her autonomy and free will by telling herself that this is what she is choosing to do, but fails to realize that she is still in the position of doing exactly what her father wishes her to do within her role as a female and as a daughter. She may not be as free as she thinks, but it does not dawn on her until much later, when she realizes the trap her biology has laid for her. As pointed out by Adéle Ratignolle, Edna must always "[t]hink of the children...[r]emember them" (Chopin 182). Beginning with the influence of her father, Edna had been removed from that moment in the meadow of individuality and solitude and shoehorned into the role first of daughter, and later of a wife. While she may have at first believed that by escaping her father she could escape her role, she ultimately realizes that, because of the trap her body has laid, she can never escape the role of mother; she can never be fully free. Thus, it is no surprise when Edna ultimately chooses to attempt to return to that last independent moment in her memory by going to the one place she associates with it, the sea. Also, because her desire to escape her father and thus the fate of her own mother as one of being dominated and "coerced...into the grave," it is no wonder she chooses to take the one, final course of action that guarantees such will not be the case: she drowns herself.

To read the second essay, click here.


At January 3, 2006 at 7:16 AM, Blogger John E said...

Hi there, I'm just browsing looking for a dream within a dream. Although this post isn't exactly what I wanted it was interesting and enjoyable.

At October 11, 2006 at 9:07 AM, Blogger v_c_v_e said...


My name is Andrea.

I'm a year 3 student of English Literature.

Recently, I am reading "The awakening", so I would like to have a discussion about it with you.

Could I have this chance?

Please send me an email:


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