Article Summary: Tradition and The Female Talent: Elaine Showalter’s Essay “the Awakening as a Solitary Book”

Article Summary: Elaine Showalter’s essay "Tradition and the Female Talent: The Awakening as a Solitary Book"

by Hyper Jake.

           Elaine Showalter’s essay Tradition and the Female Talent: The Awakening as a Solitary Book, which I read in The Awakening: A Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical and Historical Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Five Contemporary Critical Perspectives edited by Nancy Miller, focuses on the solitude of Kate Chopin, and her character Edna Pontellier, the protagonist of her novel The Awakening.

                  Showalter considers the two women:  Adele and Mademoiselle Reisz, as individuals who have influenced Edna’s life in their own way. Adele is the motherly figure, who represents the sentimental side of women, and shares Edna her values of love, family, and marriage. On the other hand, Mademoiselle Reisz represents the sexual side of women as she motivates Edna to become more detached from society’s expectations. She encourages her to seize the day “carpe diem”, and become free-spirited, artistic, and passionate.  Showalter argues that even though Edna is influenced by their sets of beliefs, she still struggles to find her own ways, escape the “rituals of femininity”.

And then, Showalter contrasts the Edna’s attitude toward her lovers: Mr. Pontellier, Arobin, and Robert. She says that Edna shows more of her sexual passions with Arobin, more of intimate love with Robert, and more of her responsibility with Mr. Pontellier. Showalter argues that despite having these roles, Edna is still alone because she doesn’t feel like she fully belongs to a circle in this Venn diagram spectrum. Showalter says that Edna is alone even when she was with Mr. Pontellier. Sure, she is safe from pain within her marriage, but it’s her way of securing herself from the pains that other men could inflict at her –solitude in a relationship. She also discusses how Edna’s connection with other women eventually transfers to sense of self, and then to relationships with men. Somehow, being dependent with men makes her independent in a way that her experiences with them help her define herself. Showalter says that Edna is alone because nature traps her life that way. She can’t escape society’s traditions. Showalter gives an example from The Awakening: the assertiveness that Edna shows during the party doesn’t take away the fact that she was still a housewife.

                  Showalter gives a general overview of American women’s lifestyles in different generations: in the 1870’s-women are excluded from creative activities; 1880’s- they felt more free to write confidently; 1890’s- feminists say that women’s sexual apathy is not considered “feminine” –that women could show their strengths in literature by giving themselves away as men invest themselves on their craft. By showing us these different attitudes, we’re able to sense and contrast Kate Chopin’s personality.  Showalter tells us that Edna Pontellier’s character reflects Kate Chopin in terms of their desire to become independent figures. She tells that Kate Chopin struggles to get out of the conventions of what a woman should be while Edna seeks for the “deeper undercurrents of life” that makes up an independent life.

Showalter describes the imagery of Edna’s drowning scene, talks about her final thoughts, and explains to us the “feminine” symbolisms of those imageries: the images of the bees and the flowers. Then, she analyzes the question: “Can Edna, and Kate Chopin, then escape from confining traditions only in death?” (219) I love the passage the passage that she quoted from Margaret Fuller’s journal. I thought that connected well with the meaning associated with the symbols of gender and femininity.

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