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The Masculine Sea and the Impossibility of Awakening in Chopin’s The Awakening

Keywords: Kristeva , sea , patriarchy , identity , cultural formation.

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Kate Chopin has a firm place in American women’s writing. A persistent theme in her works is said to be women’s emotional liberation. The Awakening (1899) as a feminist novel is no exception. In the novel, Edna’s inner voice and desire for escape from a male-dominated society awaken in her. Edna’s suicide has been interpreted as her victory over the society however, this study argues that the idea of female defeat has been ignored to a great extent the main reason for which is the ignorance or a misreading of sea imagery. The sea of the novel that dissolves Edna is a signifier of male society and language signifying Edna’s failure to find a place within the male dialogue of the society. Extra-marital relationships with Alcee or Robert are not promising, for the climax of such relationships is no more than the old requirement of becoming the good wife and mother that the society prescribes to women. By her ultimate suicidal choice, Edna determines to find a voice and be seen but is totally perished instead to prove that women cannot speak. This study intends to argue and conclude that Chopin had this Kristevaesque belief that the male socio-cultural formation does not let women experience freedom. A new interpretation of the sea as a patriarchal element is offered which makes Edna’s drowning a total defeat rather than victory as suggested by many critics.


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