During us ever emerge from such a beginning!

During the novella, Edna begins to move away from her responsibilities as a wife and mother in search of her own individuality. “Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her” (Chopin 13). Unfortunately, these realizations were difficult for Edna to comprehend and they brought with them troubling emotions; “but the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing.

 How few of us ever emerge from such a beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult!” (Chopin 13). It is clear that Edna is struggling in the dark with her emotions and feelings of entrapment as a mother and a wife. Although “a certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her.

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.. It served but to bewilder her” (Chopin 13). It appears that Edna, trapped in her socially constructed prison of marriage and motherhood, is desperate to escape and become her ‘true self’. However, she struggles with this decision and worries that no matter what she does, if she stays within this prison or escapes, that she will not find this light she so desperately seeks.  It is easier to contrast the treatment of motherhood in Beloved and The Awakening, although there are several points of comparison between both novels.

While Morrison depicted motherhood through the slave mother experience with Sethe, Chopin’s depiction focuses on the inadequacies Edna feels as a mother and a wife because of the stifling societal expectations that were placed on her. Sethe would rather kill her own child than let them experience slavery, in her own way she believes she is protecting the child. Whereas Edna finds herself leaving her children because she is unable to ‘efface’ herself in order to become the perfect ‘mother-woman’.  However, the treatment of motherhood in both Beloved and The Awakening share similarities that Morrison and Chopin used in their depiction of motherhood within their novels. Both Beloved and The Awakening are told from a female perspective of the maternal experience. As stated earlier, this was wholly unfounded in the literary world and marked a revolutionary approach to the literary treatment of motherhood.

“Up until now, the maternal experience has been depicted in fiction “as a metaphor, not as narrated experience” told from the mother’s perspective” (Daly qtd. in Gallant Eckard 1).  Similarly, both characters of Edna and Sethe grew up without their biological mother to care for them. The absence of a maternal figure in their own lives dramatically affected their experiences with their children. Sethe’s fixation on breast milk comes from her experiences as a child; “Nan had to nurse whitebabies and me too because Ma’am was in the rice.

The little whitebabies got it first and I got what was left. Or none. There was no nursing milk to call my own” (Morrison 236). Sethe’s overwhelming need to get to her children once she escaped Sweet Home was to feed her baby girl, because “nobody was going to nurse her like me” (Morrison 19).

Just as Sethe places great importance on giving her children the milk she never got as a child, Edna having barely experienced a maternal figure “often wondered at one propensity which sometimes had inwardly disturbed her without causing any outward show or manifestation on her part” (Chopin 17). Edna’s inability to connect on an emotional level with her sons stems from not learning how to nurture children from a maternal figure.  Furthermore, Morrison and Chopin chose to juxtapose their main maternal characters against another female character within their novels. This juxtaposition serves a dual purpose in each novel. In Beloved, Morrison’s juxtaposition between Sethe and Baby Suggs depicts the treatment of motherhood from a slave mother experience, while also demonstrating two opposing methods of mothering within the institution of slavery. Sethe, fighting against the impossibility of a mother/child relationship within slavery through committing filicide, and Baby Suggs, who couldn’t bring herself to memorize her children’s facial features because she knew they would be taken from her. Likewise, Chopin’s juxtaposition in The Awakening, between Edna and Adele firstly depicts Edna as a non ‘mother-woman’ compared to Adele who is the epitome of a ‘mother-woman’, showing the treatment of motherhood from a subjugated female perspective.

 Secondly, Chopin’s juxtaposition of Edna and Adele depicts Edna’s realization that because she could not emulate Adele in her drawing, she cannot imitate her as a ‘mother-woman’. Thus, she is unable to conform to the societal roles enforced upon her and cannot become a ‘mother-woman’, once again analyzing the treatment of motherhood through the eyes of a subjugated woman.  


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