Alienation in Victorian Society
by Shivam Ray
The Victorian period is often defined and pictured by its antique images of flowers, corsets, standard 18 inch waists and rosy-cheek children. However, Kate Chopin shatters this image in her Novel “The Awakening” published in 1899. The authors child hood experiences of tragedies in her family and a true story of a lady from New Orleans and her scandals greatly influence the matter of this novel. In reality, Victorian period was characterized by rigid repression of women’s independence and were considered to be property of men and their children. Though there was theoretical “freedom” in Victorian society and culture, its existence was for the sole purpose of portraying civilization and was considered healthy only to the point where no one seriously acted upon it. Women were supposed to sacrifice all their individuality and conform to the identity outlined by social convention. In her novel, Kate Chopin uses the character of Edna Pontellier to highlight the values of Victorian culture and to reveal the surrounding society’s assumptions and moral values. Her novel, though at first discarded by the public as “unhealthy”, it is now her most famous work and a keystone of feminist writing.
Kate Choppin constantly uses the structure of love and marriage in Victorian era to reflect upon the dimensions of the society and its values. In the Victorian society, the mother-woman “idolize” their children, “worship” their husbands, and regard it as a “holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow winds as ministering “angels.” Husbands of the time treated their wives like their property and valued their physical appearance and the entertainment they could provide. Woman were allowed to play music or dance, but for the sole purpose of providing entertainment at social gatherings, any other purpose would be considered “wicked.” This is exactly the kind of turmoil Edna Pontellier faces throughout the novel, she feels that marriage enslaves her to an identity for which she is not suited. She thinks of her marriage to Leone as a form of imprisonment. But Leonce love is the kind of love a man might have to his dearest possessions. A respectful Victorian woman’s life would go through the stages of romantic courtship, enslaving marriage, a prolonged motherhood and devout widowhood if one would survive longer then her husband. Choppin carefully use the characters of lady in black and Adele to portray this. However, Edna does not believe in a life molded by such a societies moral values. Thus, she looks for an outside source of love and turns to Robert. But, his love to his infested by the notion of owning the woman who loves him and keepin’ “it” protected as any other valuable property.