Sunday, November 4, 2007
Kate Chopin (Katherine O'Flaherty)(1850-1904) was born in St. Louis, Missouri on February 8, 1850. She is considered the forerunner of feminist literature of the 19th century. Her "Awakening" is perhaps one of the best books ever written on women's inner emancipation and liberation.
Edna Pontellier, the fictional heroine in the book, awakens first sexually but then altogether as a woman and a human being and throws off the chains of the society. Fatally, since her husband and the society were unable to accept that, her liberation was also her death. At the end, she strips herself of all clothes and gives in to the waves of the ocean.
Could she have survived in that society? Was the society going to allow her walk freely and without bending to their rules and conventions? She was treated as valuable property by her husband... Yet, when she fell in love with someone else, her lover also treated her as her 'husband's' property and left her... Heartbroken, she had nowhere to go. That is why, her liberation was also her death. She was either to die in freedom and naked, or live in chains and covered with heavy robes...
While today the reality is much different, women still are in many chains, some self-imposed and some imposed by the male-dominated world. While they can put down the self-imposed ones and walk into the world, free and strong, the other chains are harder to put down... Prejudice and artificial barriers are closing many gates for women's entrance. Those who dare to be different and independent are disliked and condemned and are considered 'weird.' Strong women, women outside the box who challenge the norms and principles of the society, more often than not earn enemies and widespread badmouthing. Even women themselves are treacherous to one another and rarely support one another.
Competition and envy among themselves are some of the self-imposed chains...
Edna Pontellier had other 'co-heroines'. Madame Bovary (by Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)) and Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy's, 1828-1910)) come to mind. The difference is that the latter were created by males, who while sympathetic, were not altogether free of criticism of their protagonists.
Women of the 19th century are gone forever. But they forged the path for those who came after them, in the 20th century and today... While we have come a long way since then, the path is still full of broken debris and treacherous dark holes...
(This painting of a Lady in Blue was painted by a great English painter, Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788)).