Kate Chopin, a Rebellious Idealistic Feminist – Illustrated Through Frida Kahlo’s Art

Kate Chopin expressed through her character of Edna is a thought providing story. Her free spirit reminds me of Artist Frida Kahlo, strong-willed, ahead of her time, deep, tormented and a catalyst for change.

The following Essay written by Justin R. is illustrated with art of Frida Kahlo.

Meet Edna the anti hero of Kate Chopin’s controversial character

Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening (and widely condemned at the time) is a central work of feminist literature, which created controversy in the late 19th century, particularly towards Edna Pontellier’s dissidence of traditional gender binary roles.

Edna displays non-conventional matronly characteristics, disengaged from normative motherly behavior, described as, “not a mother-woman” (8), recognizing “her relations as an individual to the world within and about her” (13). The article Mother and Child: Realism, Maternity, and Catholicism in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening by Jarlath Killeen expresses that The Awakening is “read mainly as a novel of female emancipation, charting Edna Pontellier’s movement from being a white slave of patriarchal family to individual personhood” (1).

The sociological treatment of women in The Awakening closely resembles the literary movement of naturalism, particularly how Edna, Madame Ratignolle, and Mademoiselle Reisz embrace their respective feminine identities. Chopin objectively describes Edna’s psychological complexities, amid a patriarchal society governed by arbitrary gender roles, through third-person stylistic narrative discourse enriched with motifs that are interwoven into the current of Edna’s psyche.

Frida Kahlo, The Little Deer
Frida Kahlo, The Little Deer
Famous for her masculine unibrow, Frida Kahlo - Self-Portrait with thorns and hummingbird
Famous for her masculine unibrow, Frida Kahlo – Self-Portrait with thorns and hummingbird

Edna is a free-spirited women struggling against traditional binary gender roles, exhibiting masculine characteristics and eccentric mannerisms that did not fit the mold of upper-class 19th century southern society. Her physique is described as androgynous, being “rather handsome than beautiful” (3) and having “strong, shapely, hands” (2). The first sentence of The Awakening presents an exotic “green and yellow parrot” (1), repeatedly shrieking in French “Go away! Go Away! For heaven’s sake!” (1), which sets the picture of how Robert Pontellier neglectfully approaches Edna’s moodiness and aloof behavior. Léonce Pontellier regards the parrot with an “expression and exclamation of disgust” (1), because it seems to represent how he views exotic and eccentric creatures interrupting the conventions of his household.

Me and My Parrot, 1941 by Frida Kahlo
Me and My Parrot, 1941 by Frida Kahlo

The article The Bird that Came out of the Cage by Zolia Clark articulates the correlation between the caged birds and Robert and Edna’s marriage in the following passage, “The novel opens with the image of a caged parrot and a mocking bird making lots of noise; notice, however, that the birds are separate and do not communicate. This is an image of isolation, confinement, and lack of communication” (337).

The following quote from the narrative expresses Edna’s symbolic connection to birds, occurring right before her suicide, “A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water” (115). Edna sought to escape the stifling duties of motherhood and marriage at all costs, preferring to seek liberation by death, opposed to living with the crippling despondency and “incoherency of her own thoughts” (111); that entailed a passionless life bound as a servant to maternal duties.A number of famous 19th century philosophers overtly expressed misogynistic views against woman, which may have influenced Kate Chopin to implement birds as a motif to exhibit the pressures of male oppressiveness.

Friedrich Nietzsche produced a sexist statement in his work Beyond Good and Evil; the following quote from the text ties into the crucial motif of birds in The Awakening, “Woman has hitherto been treated by men like birds, which losing their way have come down among them from an elevation; as something delicate, fragile, wild, strange, sweet, and animating- but also which must be cooped up to prevent it from flying away” (237).

Frida Kahlo's Monkeys, Dogs & Birds
Frida Kahlo’s Monkeys, Dogs & Birds

Like a colorful bird of paradise, Edna longed to break free from the arbitrary rules pressed upon women in society and reside in an unstifling environment, where her artistic temperament could flourish. Her suicide can be interpreted as an act of revolt against Léonce and Robert for rejecting her complex independent identity.

Edna’s perception of the external environment is filtered through her tumultuous internal world, which is expressed through natural figurative symbols, like the ocean and the weather.

The Broken Column (1944) Frida Kahlo
The Broken Column (1944) Frida Kahlo

A myriad of passages from The Awakening describe the visage of the ocean, which serves as a foreshadowing motif to depict Edna’s growing despair, that inevitably results in her eventual drowning; as a means of liberating herself from loneliness and conformity. The following quote from the text describes Edna’s unconscious state before committing suicide, “the voice of the sea, is seductive, never ceasing, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander into the abysses of solitude” (115).

In terms of Jungian Psychology, Edna’s dominant cognitive function is governed by introverted intuition, which is a unique psychological function that subjectively drinks in symbols, meaning, and data through the unconscious to create a distinctive conception of reality.

Celebrity Types, a prominent website in the Jungian Psychology community, published an article that contains excerpts from The Psychological Types by the Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung, which articulates the nature of dominate introverted intuition, “Intuition, in the introverted attitude, is directed upon the inner object, a term we might justly apply to the elements of the unconscious. For the relation of inner objects to consciousness is entirely analogous to that of outer objects, although there is a psychological and not a physical reality” (Jung, par. 1).

Edna exemplifies the brooding, self-probing temperament of an introverted intuitive in the proceeding phrases from the novel, when she feels, “an impression of half-awakened senses of something unattainable” (32) and that she “were making the acquaintance of a new condition in herself that colored and changed their environment” (40).

Like a tidal current pushed by the gravitational force of the moon, Edna’s psyche is warped by undiagnosed bi-polar depression. Edna manifests symptoms of bi-polar depression when the weather changes and she is thrusted into to a trance of gloominess, “when the weather was dark and cloudy Edna could not work. She needed the sun to mellow and temper mood to the sticking point” (73).

The tragedy in The Awakening is that Léonce views his wife as “a valuable piece of property” (2), opposed to a vulnerable human being who is suffering from a mental illness; which articulates 19th century society’s treatment of erratic women, in relation to their marital duties.

Robert is the catalyst for Edna’s sensual enlightenment and the whirlwind of intense emotions that were released during her awakening, which freed her from feelings of neglect and indifference, pressed on her by Léonce Pontellier. Like a wild-fire, Edna’s soul became engulfed in passion and hopeless idealism, leaving a greater void and disharmony in her existence after Robert cut off their romantic connection, by departing to Mexico. Edna’s “outspoken revolt of the ways of nature” (111) shows that she felt confined by the traditional domestic duties of motherhood, and that her short-lived awakening became constrained by her arbitrary role in society as a mother.

Frida Kahlo - Las dos Fridas - 1939
Frida Kahlo – Las dos Fridas – 1939

Doctor Mandelet’s sociobiological views on gender roles articulates the naturalistic philosophy embedded in the novel, specifically when he states to Edna before the event of her suicide, that “youth is given up to allusions. It seems to be a provision of Nature; a decoy to secure mothers for the race. And Nature takes no account of moral consequences, of arbitrary conditions which we create and which we feel obligated to maintain at any cost” (111).

The doctor’s cynical philosophy embodies the torture Edna felt towards her role as a mother and a wife, although Edna is not a martyr for the early feminist movement; as she selfishly neglected her children and presumably inflicted hardship on them by preferring death over having a nurturing relationship and a presence in their lives.

Works Cited
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. New York: Dover, 1993. Print.
Clark, Zoila. “The Bird That Came Out Of The Cage: A Foucauldian Feminist Approach To Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.” Journal For Cultural Research 12.4 (2008): 335-347. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.
Jung, Carl. “Jung’s Portrait of the INFJ / INTJ Types.” CelebrityTypes. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.
Killeen, Jarlath. “Mother And Child: Realism, Maternity, And Catholicism In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.” Religion & The Arts 7.4 (2003): 413-438. Academic Search Complete. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. “Our Virtues.” Beyond Good and Evil. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 237. The Project Gutenberg. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.

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