Awakening: Struggles toward l’ecriture feminine, The
FRANCESCO PONTUALE York University, Toronto
FRENCH FEMINIST THEORIST HELENE CIXOUS first introduced the concept of ecriture feminine-translated into English both as “feminine writing” and “women’s writing”-in her influential essay “The Laugh of the Medusa” (“Le rire de la meduse”), originally published in 1975.’ According to Cixous, ecriture feminine breaks the linear logic of male discourse and reclaims the feminine that Western tradition has suppressed. In a marginal note to her essay, Cixous argues that in France only Jean Genet, Marguerite Duras, and Colette can be regarded as “feminine writers,” and, although she maintains that “the Anglo-Saxon countries have shown resources of distinctly greater consequence” (p. 311), she does not mention the work of any American author as an example of “feminine writing.”2
I will argue that Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, published as long ago as 1899, can be read as an early American version of ecriture feminine. Its dominant motifs of the female body, bisexuality and motherhood, and its images of the sea and flight, anticipate some of the same concerns as Cixous’s “The Laugh of the Medusa.” Its narrative reenacts on the level of language and writing what can be construed as the feminist struggle of the protagonist, Edna Pontellier, on the level of story and theme. At moments, the structure and language of The Awakening subvert linear discourse and “phallogocentric” closure. Just as Edna struggles to articulate a feminine self, so the narrative struggles to articulate a feminine language.3
According to Cixous the female body and female sexuality have been negated and repressed by centuries of male power. For her, a recuperation of the female body is, in fact, the main source of ecriture feminine. She argues that the relationship between feminine writing and the female body lies in the heterogeneity and multiplicity of female sexuality. A woman’s body is endowed with a greater number of erogenous zones than man’s: lips, breasts, vagina, clitoris; her entire body is a sexual organ, whereas male sexuality tends to be much more monolithic, focused primarily upon the penis. For Cixous, the female libido is diverse: what strikes me is the infinite richness of [women’s] individual constitutions: you can’t talk about a female sexuality, uniform, homogenous, classifiable into codes. … Woman’s imaginary is inexhaustible . . . [woman’s body has a] thousand and one thresholds of ardor. (pp. 309, 315)
It is from the multiplicity of the female body and sexuality that ecriture Jeminine comes, according to Cixous. As female sexuality is plural in its capacity for multiple and heterogeneous pleasures, so feminine writing transcends univocality, linearity, and the fixity which comprise “phallic” discourse. Cixous writes: “Why so few [feminine] texts? Because so few women have as yet won back their body. Women must write through their bodies” (p. 315).
Perhaps there are more “feminine” texts, more texts written through the body than Cixous admits of. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening is a case in point. In it, the protagonist, Edna Pontellier, struggles to reclaim her body, acquaint herself with a whole variety of sensations, and live out a sensual relation to the world. During her short trip to Cheniere Camin.ada with Robert Lebrun, Edna experiences the presence, the vitality, and the sensuality of her body. All of her senses come alive:
She took off her shoes and stockings and stretched herself in the very centre of the high white bed. How luxurious it felt to rest thus in a strange, quaint bed, with its sweet country odor of laurel lingering about the sheets and matress! She stretched her strong limbs that ached a little. She ran her fingers through her loosened hair for a while. She looked at her round arms as she held them straight tip and rubbed them one after the other, observing closely, as if it were something she saw for the first time, the fine, firm quality and texture of her flesh. She clasped her hands easily above her head, and it was thus she fell asleep.4
This can be read as the eroticization of what Cixous calls the “minusculeimmense” areas of a woman’s body (p. 315). Edna’s hair, fingers, limbs and skin are sensitized to touch, smell, sight, which mingle together in a bodily triumph that leads Edna to an awakening and the discovery of her sexual and sensual self, a self that has been utterly removed from her relationship with her husband, Leonce. Edna’s attempt to escape from her confinement in the role of an asexual woman demands that she pay a high price. Finally, she is unable to reconcile social and sexual liberation and she walks into the sea and allows herself to drown.
The high price that Edna pays for her fleeting sexual and social liberation was shared by the novel itself when, in 1899, it met with a hostile reception. Edna’s adultery, the explicit references to her sexuality and the emphasis on her physical desires provoked a conservative backlash that may have led to its being banned from the libraries of St. Louis, the city where Kate Chopin lived at that time.5 Barbara Ewell, quoting from a review which appeared in a New Orleans newspaper, writes:
From New Orleans to Los Angeles, critics expressed dismay that Chopin not only acknowledged the unseemly fact of feminine sexuality, but also never sounded ga single note of censure of [Edna’s] totally unjustifiable conduct.”fi
Unlike other American novels published in the same period, The Awakening makes references to sexual pleasure and to the sexual life of a woman.7 This is especially daring given its social and historical context: the American South among the Creoles of New Orleans at the end of the last century.8 According to Anne Goodwyn Jones, Southern society has celebrated womanhood since the inception of the South as a region, but women, especially those of the upper classes, were expected to conform to strict feminine gender codes and were confined to the social straitjacket of “the lady”-“a marble statue, beautiful and silent, eternally inspiring and eternally still”9; a woman completely lacking in sexual desires and drives, with her body, as Cixous would put it, “immured, well-preserved. . . frigidified” (p. 310). Edna’s struggle to assert an erotic, sexualized subjectivity against the oppressive social and sexual mores of her age and society is paralleled by the text’s struggle against conservative notions of reputability for publication and readership.
Edna’s sexuality also points to another feature of Cixous’s “New Woman”: her bisexuality. Cixous’s concept of bisexuality differs from Freud’s, which, with its myth of “a ‘total’ being,” neutralizes and annuls the differences between the two sexes (p. 314). Writes Cixous: “the classic conception of bisexuality . . . would do away with the difference experienced as an operation incurring loss, as the mark of dreaded sectility” (p. 314). Cixous’s “other bisexuality”is, on the contrary, the apotheosis of differences; it “stirs them up, pursues them, increases their number” (p. 314). Cixous defines bisexuality as “each one’s location in self (ripgrage en soi) of the presence . . . of both sexes, nonexclusion either of the difference or of one sex, and from this `self permission,’ multiplication of the effects of the inscription of desire, over all parts of my body and the other body” (p. 314). Following Jacques Derrida, Cixous wants to “deconstruct” the oppositional structure of male/female and displace the two terms so that neither of them has a privileged status. She wants to produce a new concept of subjectivity based on the “nonexclusion either of the difference or of one sex.” Her new subject is multiple, open to multiple drives and desires and not frightened by the “presences of both sexes” within itself. For this reason Cixous is convinced that ecriture feminine can be produced either by women or by those men “who aren’t afraid of femininity,” such as Jean Genet (p. 315).
In her essay on The Awakening, Cristina Giorcelli argues for Edna’s “androgynous characteristics.” Giorcelli’s reading of Edna’s “quasi-divine wholeness” conforms to Freud’s notion of a unified, homogenous bisexuality, a harmonious merging of male and female traits: “Through her androgyny Edna succeeds in achieving the wholeness of a composite unity.”” I read Edna’s sexuality as more complex and contradictory, open to differences in a way that is reminiscent of Cixous’s “other bisexuality” rather than of Freud’s bisexuality. Edna is at once the parasoled Southern lady, beneath “her pink-lined shelter” (p. 4), and a “masculinized” woman: “splendid and robust” (p. 84), with eyebrows dark and “thick” (p. 5) and strong appetites, equal to those of men: “Edna bit a piece from the brown loaf, tearing it with her strong, white teeth” (p. 38). Edna is attracted to Robert Lebrun and Alcee Arobin, but she also appears to be sensually and sexually moved by Adele Ratignolle:
Madame Ratignolle laid her hand over that of Mrs. Pontellier, which was near. Seeing that the hand was not withdrawn, she clasped it firmly and warmly. She even stroked it a little fondly with the other hand, murmuring in an undertone, “Pauvre cherie.” The action was at first a little confusing to Edna, but she soon lent herself readily to the Creole’s gentle caress. (p. 18)
Edna’s developing awareness of her body and sexuality makes her capable of responding to “beauty” that is not confined to men or masculinity and to women or femininity. Despite her dominant heterosexuality, Edna is capable of opening herself up to both sexes, to multiple drives and desires. She is not afraid of bisexuality.
Just as the character of Edna makes room for bisexuality, so does the narrative of The Awakening. One can easily imagine a narrator who would condemn Edna’s attraction to Adele Ratignolle. The narrator of The Awakening, however, is sympathetic to Edna. For example, the exchange between Adele and Edna is described in terms of endearment, without any moralizing, disgust, or fear. Adele’s caress is “gentle,” her clasp “warm.”
The word “stroked” has erotic connotations which relate to one of the fantasies Edna has while listening to the music of Mademoiselle Reisz, the one in which she imagines a “demure lady stroking a cat” (p. 27). Elaine Showalter suggests that this fantasy “hints at the self-contained, almost masturbatory quality of her [Edna’s] sexuality.”I
In “The Laugh of the Medusa,” Cixous writes about motherhood:
In women there is always more or less of the mother who makes everything all right, who nourishes, and who stands up against separation; a force that will not be cut off but will knock the wind out of the codes. (p. 313)
Cixous’s reappropriation of motherhood constitutes a remarkable turning point in the history of feminism, which, since Simone de Beavoir, has associated motherhood with oppressiveness. Cixous’s emphasis on the maternal and gestation drives provides women with what Domna C. Stanton calls a “gynocentric space,” an alternative to male space and a point of departure for the recuperation of the feminine.’2 More than seventy years earlier, however, The Awakening works out a complex relation between women and motherhood, which is both a source of women’s social limitations and a fertile ground which nurtures the feminine in women’s psyches.
Motherhood is a central issue for Edna, who struggles against the social conventions of an age that regards it as the primary role through which a woman defines herself. Edna struggles with two different attitudes towards motherhood. She is sometimes convinced that to be a mother is something “for which Fate had not fitted her” (p. 20). However, she does not reject her role of mother; what she rejects is the self-effacement of women like Adele Ratignolle and other mother-women of Grande Isle. The new identity for which Edna is searching is an identity which transcends a feminine role confined to motherhood only. As Edna herself says, “I would give up money, I would give up my life for my children, but I wouldn’t give up myself” (p. 48). In fact, she is capable of great affection towards her children: “Edna took [her son] in her arms, and seating herself in the rocker, began to coddle and caress him, calling him all manner of tender names, soothing him to sleep” (p. 40).
Motherhood, in the form of gestation and maternity, can also be seen as informing the narrative structure of The Awakening. Peggy Skaggs has noticed that its narrative is “related to the basic, natural rhythm of the human gestation cycle” and the action of the novel progresses with Adele’s pregnancy over a nine-month period and terminates immediately after the birth of Adele’s baby. is Furthermore, Emily Toth, taking a similar position, points out that “The Awaken,ingis virtually the only American novel of its era to describe a pregnant woman” and to treat that woman as beautiful (p. 331). Adele Ratignolle’s “condition” adds to her charm: “Madame Ratignolle looked more beautiful than ever at home, in a neglige which left her arms almost wholly bare and exposed the rich melting curves of her white throat” (p. 55). The description focuses on parts of the body that do not show her pregnancy, but the fact that Madame Ratignolle is described as “beautiful” and sensual breaks with the traditional pattern of a literature that, until The Awakening, did not dare to describe the physical appearance of a pregnant woman.
The correspondences between The Awakening and “The Laugh of the Medusa” exist not only on the thematic level but also on the level of imagery. The web of images that Cixous relates to the feminine in her essay and the images that recur in The Awakeningare quite similar-both include allusions to the sea, references to birds, and, more generally, to flight. The importance of these images in Edna’s life and in The Awakening demonstrates an attempt on the part of the character and the narrative to open up to the feminine as it is embodied by these images.
At several points in “The Laugh of the Medusa,” Cixous associates the sea with woman: “we [women] are ourselves sea, sand coral, seaweed, beaches, tides, swimmers, children, waves” (p. 317). She frequently plays on the similar sounds of the French words for mother (mere) and sea (mer) to reinforce the relation between the two. For Cixous, water is the feminine element par excellence, related to the amniotic fluid, to pregnancy and to motherhood: “I too, overflow . . .1, too, have felt so full of luminous torrents that I could burst …. What’s the meaning of these waves, these floods, these outbursts?” (p. 309). Cixous relates this fluidity to feminine sexuality and consequently to ecriture feminine, a language characterized by to use a Derridean expression, the “freeplay of the signifier,” which defies the fixity and the linearity of male discourse. The relation of fluidity, sea, and woman finds expression also in the allusion to the “Medusa” in the title of Cixous’s essay, the symbol of the New Woman. The Medusa is a mythological figure characterized by the writhing, always moving snake on her head, but it is also a real jellyfish that lives in the sea.
From the outset of The Awakening the sea is associated with Edna. It initially frightens her when she is learning how to swim at Grande Isle. But one August night, when the guests of the resort decide to have a communal dive, this fear turns into a reckless attraction that overcomes her and draws her further and further into it:
A feeling of exultation overtook her, as if some power of significant import had been given her soul. She grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before. (p.28)
Edna desires to merge with the sea; she wants to be a part of it: “As she swam she seemed to be reaching out for the unlimited in which to lose herself (p. 29). This experience is also the prelude to a “new” Edna, the woman who, soon after her swimming expedition, will challenge her husband’s authority and question the limitations of her role as wife and mother. It is as this new woman that she finds the confidence and strength to rebel against her husband when he orders her to come into the cottage: “`Leonce, go to bed,’ she said. ‘I mean to stay out here. I don’t want to go in, and I don’t intend to. Don’t speak to me like that again; I shall not answer you”‘ (p. 32).
The novel’s interest in the sea at the level of narrative must be differentiated from Edna’s interest in the sea. The Awakening is continually evoking the sea throughout its pages. It is the backdrop of the first section of the novel, set on Grande Isle, and it returns in its last pages when Edna commits suicide. The descriptions of the sea are rich and multiple throughout: “The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitudes; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation” (p. 15). The sea is sensualized through its “voice,” but also by its “odor” and “touch” (pp. 15, 113). The fact that it is repeatedly evoked suggests that the narrative of
The Awakening “merges” itself with the sea as much as Edna does as a character.14
Chopin’s identification of Edna with birds as well as allusions to birds and flying constitutes another link between the protagonist, the narrative and femininity as theorized by Cixous. Maintaining that “Women take after birds,” Cixous writes:
Flying is woman’s gesture-flying in language and making [language] fly. We have all learned the art of flying and its numerous techniques; for centuries we’ve been able to possess anything only by flying; we’ve lived in flight, stealing away, finding, when desired, narrow passageways, hidden crossovers. It’s no accident that v0/er has a double meaning…. (p. 316)
Here, Cixous relates the feminine not only to flying and movement but, implicitly, to the disruptiveness of ecriture feminine. The French verb voler means both “to steal’ and “to fly” and feminine writing usurps and subverts “male” language. As Domna C. Stanton points out: “l’ecriture feminine must first steal (voler) male discourse in order to explode and fly (voler) beyond it” (p. 171). For Cixous, the metaphor of flying describes the revolutionary potential of women and of feminine writing.
In The Awakening, Edna flees from a society that relegates women to the domestic role. She leaves her husband’s house in order to have a place of her own, and her attempt to gain freedom and independence is related to images of birds and metaphors of flight. Edna’s new place is referred to as the “pigeon house” (p. 84), and she herself is associated with a bird trying to take flight. Talking with Alcee Arobin, Edna reports Mademoiselle Reisz’s reaction to her moving out:
when I left [Mademoiselle Reisz] today, she put her arms around me and felt my shoulder blades, to see if my wings were strong, she said. “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings.” (p. 82)
Edna does not understand Mademoiselle Reisz’s simile. “I only half comprehend her,” she says,just as she does not completely understand her own wish to move out (p. 83). Despite her desire for emancipation, the strong patriarchal order of nineteenth-century Southern American society prevents Edna from seeing the political implications of her decision or from understanding where her need for freedom comes from. Although Edna is ahead of her time, although she has the need and the desire to break free from the social restrictions that confine her, she cannot yet “fly away” like Cixous’s woman and still live.
The birds described in The Awakening do not have the same potential as the birds and flight mentioned in “The Laugh of the Medusa.” The first bird we see in The Awakening is a caged parrot (p. 3); the last has a broken wing (p. 114). In each case the birds are captive and it is impossible for them to fly away. The only really free bird exists in the realm of the imaginary, in Edna’s fantasies:
When she heard [the music] there came before her imagination the figure of a man standing beside a desolate rock on the seashore. He was naked. His attitude was one of hopeless resignation as he looked toward a distant bird winging its flight away from him. (pp. 2G27)
If this bird represents Edna’s desire for sexual and social liberation, as the presence of the naked male figure suggests, the bird is also a representation of what the narrative aspires to do: break away from traditional writing and take flight from “phallogocentric” discourse.
As I have tried to point out, The Awakening anticipates aspects of l’icriture feminine on the level of themes: the female body, bisexuality, and motherhood, and on the level of images: the sea and birds. The Awakening also anticipates ecriture feminine on the level of narrative. This is especially apparent at the end when Edna’s struggle for liberation is incorporated into the novel’s language in the form of open-ended meanings that explode “phallogocentric” closure.
After Derrida, Cixous argues that the “entire history of writing” is “logocentric,” i.e., it has construed the word (logos, in Greek) as ontologically full, and this logocentrism is part and parcel of a system that privileges the “phallus” as the main source of power and meaning. Logocentrism overlaps with phallocentrism, a system that privileges the phallus as the main source of power and meaning in our culture. Cixous writes:
Nearly the entire history of writing is confounded with the history of reason of which it is at once the effect, the support, and one of the privileged alibis. It has been one with the phallocentric tradition. (My emphasis, p. 311)
Against this (male) “phallogocentric” tradition, a tradition informed by rationality (“reason” is another meaning of logos), linearity, classificatory impulses and fixity, Cixous juxtaposes a feminine writing that is poetical, musical and rhythmic; that mimics movement; that evokes feelings, emotions existential states; that privileges open-ended meanings and openended texts.
The Awakening calls for this kind of writing in its final pages:
The water of the Gulf stretched out before [Edna], gleaming with the million lights of the sun. The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in the abysses of solitude. All along the white beach, up and down, there was no living thing in sight. A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water. (p. 113)
Here, the narrative returns on itself, repeats itself with a description of the sea that recalls almost the same words and images it uses in chapter VI. Its movement backward and forward imitates the ebb and flow of the sea. Its repetition of the participles-“ceasing,” “whispering,” “clamoring,” “murmuring,” “inviting” and “reeling,” “fluttering,” “circling”-also suggests movement and fluidity, not unlike the fluidity that is symbolized in the writhing snakes of Cixous’s Medusa. The Awakening overtly connects the sea and the snakes in the final chapter when Edna is irrevocably drawn into the sea, whose “foamy wavelets curled up to her white feet, and coiled like serpents about her ankles” (p. 113).
Cixous regards sound also as a primary element of ecriture feminine. She writes in “The Laugh of the Medusa”: “In women’s speech, as in their writing, that element which never stops resonating . . . is the song: first music from the first voice of love which is alive in every woman” (p. 312). The voice is related to the female body and bodily drives with which, according to Cixous, women have a privileged relationship. Both on the level of story and in terms of ecriture feminine the concatenation of voices that are tangled in Edna’s consciousness in the last paragraph of The Awakening signifies a primal return to a feminine consciousness that is characterized by overlapping sound, memory, and emotion:
Edna heard her father’s voice and her sister’s. She heard the barking of an old dog that was chained to the sycamore tree. The spurs of the cavalry officer clanged as he walked across the porch. There was the hum of bees, and the musky odour of pinks filled the air. (p.114)
The emphasis on movement, sounds, scent and emotional states that characterize ecriture feminine works against the closure of a phallogocentric language and narrative. The interminable critical debate over Edna’s suicide is further evidence of ecriture feminine and of the open-endedness of the narrative.,5 Finally, does the narrative of The Awakening leave us with a suicide or a rebirth, a defeat or a victory?
In Cixous’s essay, the laugh of the Medusa bespeaks a confidence in the ability of feminine language to reject male power and phallogocentrism that comes from almost a century of feminist activism. For historical reasons, such a confidence is limited in both Edna and the narrative of The Awakening. Nevertheless, in her rejection of patriarchy and her quest for independence, Edna comes close to appropriating this laugh:
I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose. If he were to say, “Here, Robert, take her hand and be happy; she is yours,” I should laugh at you both. (My emphasis, pp. 106-107)
Despite the fact that in its last pages The Awakening uses some of the features of ecriture feminine, it does not employ its stylistic extremes-the disruption of punctuation, the running of one sentence into another, the obscuring of the syntax altogether. Edna’s laugh at patriarchal power is stifled and the narrative’s laugh at patriarchal language is only tentative. This inability of the narrative to enter into the stylistic extremes expressed by Cixous is not surprising. As I have tried to indicate above, Chopin’s writing is circumscribed by the historical period in which she wrote. It would be fallacious to assume that she intended a feminine writing or even aspired to reject the patriarchal writing practice which Cixous refuses. However, from a contemporary point of view, a reading in the light of Cixous’s theory of ecriture feminine not only opens up Chopin’s text to a chorus of voices and an array of meanings only partially developed by scholars. It also points to an early tendency to explore feminine and feminist issues like those having to do with the female body, bisexuality, motherhood and issues of language and subjectivity that only in more recent times have been fully theorized.
*I would like to thank Virginia Rock and Paul Headrick for their suggestions during my wliting of this essay. I would like to say a special thank-you to my dear friend and companion, Kym Bird, with whom I had many passionate discussions of the feminist issues addressed in my essay.
1 Helne Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa” (1975), trans. Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen, in Critical 7heory Since 1965, ed. Hazard Adams and Leroy Searle (Tallahassee: Florida State University Press, 1986), pp. 309-320.
2As a matter of fact, Cixous gives veiy few examples of “feminine writers” in her essay, convinced that, on the one hand, “the number of women writers . . . has always been ridiculously small” and, on the other hand, that “with a few rare exceptions there has not yet been any writing that inscribes femininity” (p.311). Besides Genet, Duras and Colette, Cixous mentions Heinrich Von Kleist and E.T.A Hoffmann only very briefly in “The Laugh of the Medusa.”
sI take my definition of narrative from Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan, who describes it as events, their verbal representation and the act of telling or writing, in his Nairrative lion: Contemporary Poeticrs (London: Methuen, 1983), p. 3.
‘Kate Chopin, The Awakening: An Authoritative ‘Text, Contexts, Criticism, ed. Margaret Culley (New York: W.W. Norton, 1976), p. 37.
5 This has been a common belief held until very recently and due in part to Daniel S. Rankin’s first biography of Kate Chopin (Kate Chopin and Her Creole Stories [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1932]), where it is stated that 7he Awakening was taken from circulation by order of the librarian of the St. Louis Mercantile Library” (qtd. in Emily Toth, Kate Chopin: %he Life of the Author of “7he Awakening” [New York: William Morrow, 1990], p. 367). Emily Toth, however, argues that this is in fact a “legend” and that Rankin “offered no source and no proof for his claim.”
6Barbara C. Ewell, Kale Chopin (New York: Ungar, 1986), p. 156. 7See Per Seyersted’s essay “Kate Chopin and the American Realists” (1969), in Culley ), pp. 180-186, where 7he Aakening is discussed together with works by Stephen Crane, Hamlin Garland, Frank Norris, and Theodore Dreiser that are much less explicit in their treatment of these topics.
aThe freedom of expression” and the “absence of prudery” among the Creoles mentioned in The Awakening (p.11) should not mislead us with respect to the unliberated role of Creole women at the end of the nineteenth century. As Barbara Ewell remarks, “indecorous speech” in mixed groups in fact provided protective “outlets” for the assumed “unshakable reality of chastity” of Creole women (pp. 14&147). In other words, the role of Creole women was not much different from that of their Southern sisters. Mary L. Shamer, in her 1892 portrait of the “Creole Women,” refers to their conservative leanings. (“Creole Women,” in Culley, pp. 119-121). Further evidence of the Creoles’ conservatism is the rigid division along racial lines that regulated their society. “Mulattoes,” “quadroons,” “octoroons” and “griffes” briefly appear in 7he Awakening but their marginal presence in the novel is symptomatic of “a caste system,” as Lynda S. Boren writes, “that labelled its members according to the percentage of negro blood that flowed through their veins” (“Introduction,” in Kate Chopin Recon,si(lere(l: Beyond the Bayou, ed. Lynda S. Boren and Sara de Saussure Davis [Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992], p. 6).
‘Anne Goodwyn Jones, 7omorrow Is Another Day: 7’he Woman Writer in the South, 1859-1936 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981), p. 4.
I0″Edna’s Wisdom: A Tiansitional and Numinous Merging,” in Nero Esays on Chopin’s “7he Awakening” ed. Wendy Martin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 122-123.
“Tradition and the Female Talent: 7`he Awakeningas a Solitay Book,” in Martin, p. 44. It”Difference on Trial: A Critique of the Maternal Metaphor in Cixous, Irigaray, and Klisteva,” in The Poetics of Gentler, ed. Nancy K. Miller (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), p. 165. The emphasis put on motherhood by Cixous (and other French theoreticians, such as Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray) has been criticized by some feminists: Ann Rosalind Jones, for instance, has noted that this praise of the maternal echoes “the coercive glorification of motherhood that has plagued women for centuries” (“Writing the Body: Toward an Understanding of ll,riure feminine” , in Feminist Criticism and Social Change: Sex, (,Inss and Itice in Literature and Culture, ed. Judith Newton and Deborah Rosenfelt [New York: Methuen, 1985], p. 93).
i”Kate Chopin (New York: Twayne, 1985), p. 89.
14The presence of the sea in The Awakening has provoked many comments and observations. Lewis Leary, for example, has argued that the sea in 7’he Awakening shows Walt Whitman’s influence, especially the influence of “Song of Myself” and “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” (“Kate Chopin and Walt Whitman” , in Culley, pp. 195-199). Donald A. Ringe relates the use of the sea in 7he Awakening to romantic imagery (“Romantic Imagery” , in Culley, pp. 201-206). The value of these interpretations should not be underestimated, but the relation between the sea in 7he Awakeningand the sea as Cixous construes it casts new light on the novel and its attempt to foreground femininity. Furthermore, Ringe’s interpretation of 7’he Awakening as “a powerful romantic novel” (p. 206) does not contradict a reading that sees it as anticipating features of ecriture fe;ninine. Barbara Godard, for instance, has pointed out the relationship betweeu some elements of ecriture feminine and Romanticism in her discussion of the work of Quebecoise wliter lovette Marchessault: “In attempting to name this silent experience [“menstruation, childbirth, and lovemaking, especially between two women”], women writers inject new themes into literature through the venerable theolies of Romanticism which emphasize the importance of strong emotional experience as a source to be translated into words and become literature” (“Introduction: Flying Away with Language,” in Lesbian ?hqptych, by lovette Marchessault [Toronto: Women’s Press, 1985], p. 20).
“5See Suzanne Wolkenfeld’s article on the countless critical interpretations of Edna’s suicide (“Edna’s Suicide: The Problem of the One and the Many,” in Culley, pp. 218-224) and Joyce Dyer’s “Understanding Edna’s Suicide,” in her 7he Arakening: A Novel of Beginnings (New York: Twayne, 1993), pp. 100-117. It is worthwhile remembering that the literary genre of %he Awakening resists strict definition as well. Donald A. Ringe, for example, defines 7he Awakening as “a powerful romantic novel” (p. 206); Sandia M. Gilbert sees it as a “realistic” work with elements of romance and the fairy tale (“The Second Coming of Aphrodite: Rate Chopin’s Fantasy of Desire” [ 1983], in Kate Chopin, ed. Harold Bloom [New York: Chelsea House, 19871, p. 91); Cristina Giorcelli argues that “‘he Awakening escapes . . . allegiance to one or another literary mode (realism, naturalism, symbolism)” (p. 110).
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