Awakening Eyes Awakening Eyes With few exceptions, our male dominated society has traditionally feared, repressed, and stymied the growth of women. As exemplified in history, man has always enjoyed a superior position. According to Genesis in the Old Testament, the fact that man was created first has led to the perception that man should rule. However, since woman was created from man’s rib, there is a strong argument that woman was meant to work along side with man as an equal partner. As James Weldon Johnson’s poem, “Behold de Rib,” clearly illustrates, if God had intended for woman to be dominated, then she would have been created from a bone in the foot, but “he took de bone out of his side/ So dat places de woman beside us” (qtd.
in Wall 378). Still, men have continued to make women submissive to them while usurping their identities in the process: “[s]elf-determination is a mark of adulthood for American males; for American females of the nineteenth and part of the twentieth century, self-determination was neither expected nor encouraged” (Leder 104). However, not all women were intimidated by the stereotypical expectations imposed by the social norms of their era. Defying their traditional roles, Kate Chopin and Zora Neale Hurston wrote The Awakening and Their Eyes Were Watching God, respectively; in each work a woman reaches independence and freedom by overcoming male dominance in her relationships. Chopin’s protagonist, Edna, and Hurston’s feminist, Janie, discover that through their “radical attempt to be free .. the struggle for freedom is not linear but dialectic; the price of change is doubleness, and out of contradiction emerges a new self” – a self that is determined, dominant, and, most importantly, free (qtd.
in Dyer 116). The first indications of emancipation are evidenced by Edna and Janie’s first marriages. Edna weds Leonce Pontellier, a Creole, to retaliate against her father and sister. In defiance, Edna marries, not for love, but to punish her family for their disapproval. Edna’s first marriage is her initial attempt towards self-determination. Janie, on the other hand, in her initial attempt towards self-determination, rejects the idea of marriage, but is forced into a loveless union to Logan Killicks because of her grandmother’s persistence.
Janie had always believed in marrying for love, not security – a virtue her grandmother adamantly preached. Ironically, these oppressive marriages make these women stronger. Initially, these women are looked upon as possessions, and, thus, their identities are degraded. Leonce treats Edna as a belonging and looks upon her “as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage” (Chopin 7). Janie is regarded in the same way by Logan, who “refuses to accept essential parts of her heritage, personality, and experience” (Kubitschek 23). Because their husbands limit their avenues of opportunity to pursue any individual growth, they become more determined to rebel against the status quo.
Edna and Janie are expected to play the roles of a typical woman of their times: keeping home, cooking meals, and raising a family. The concept that either woman could be capable of supporting herself was alien to this period. Edna demonstrates determination in learning to swim after Leonce orders her to cease in her endeavors. Ignoring his admonition, she swims “for the first time alone, boldly and with overconfidence .. she grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out where no woman had swum before (Chopin 47).
By completing a seemingly trivial feat, Edna’s inner self is awakened, and she realizes that life is more then staying at home following her husband’s orders. After this triumph, “she brings new power with her [. . .] she issues orders and speaks more honestly than she ever has before” (Dyer 57). Edna finally finds the faith in herself that her husband does not see. By excelling in learning to swim, she proves that anything is possible.
Janie learns the same lesson by refusing to do extra labor on the farm. She resists Logan’s attempt to add to her chores. When he calls her spoiled she responds, “Ah’m just as stiff as you is stout. If you can stand not to chop and tote wood Ah reckon you can stand no to git no dinner” (Hurston 25). Janie stands up for herself and is starting to find her voice.
Realizing that the oppression caused by her femininity is unfair, she strives to find an environment where she can be free to explore and be an equal. These first experiences of male domination act as their guiding light towards liberation. Both characters do not break away from these marriages until they realize that the love and support they expected the union to provide does not exist for them. Edna and Janie thought that “[h]usbands and wives always loved each other, and that was what marriage meant” (Hurston 20). They thought their marriages would offer them love when it only stripped them of their identities.
On the brink of losing their dreams and desires, Edna and Janie discover “that marriage did not make love” (Hurston 24). Although it is not necessarily love that they are seeking, they know that if they do not escape these relationships now, they will lose their freedom forever. Both authors use imagery and symbolism to convey the status of their heroine’s progress towards independence. Edna is symbolized as a caged bird who repeats at the beginning of the novel “Get out! Get out! Damn it!,” a clue that she needs to escape from the cage in which marriage and society’s view of women has imprisoned her (Chopin 5). She needs to learn how to establish her own identity and define her own life.
Likewise, Janie needs to open up to the world around her. The pear tree represents Janie’s desire to be free: “Oh to be a pear tree – any tree in bloom” (Hurston 11). Although the imagery is sexual, it shows her desire to fully bloom and to become independent. The fact that “the vision of Logan Killicks was desecrating the pear tree” implies that Janie knew her marriage to Logan would prevent her from fulfilling her dreams (Wall 385). These colorful descriptions of the bird and “bees fertilizing the blossoms of a pear tree” awaken both womens’ consciousness of their dreams and desires (Wall 384).
In a further attempt to attain freedom, Edna and Janie involve themselves in new relationships. They have chosen life over despair. Hoping to start the process of redefining themselves, Edna begins an affair with Alcee Arobin and Janie marries Joe Starks. With these relationships, they both seek a new outlook on life and come closer to becoming independent. Edna escapes with Arobin, by conducting a meaningless, loveless affair meant only for excitement.
Seeking to be autonomous, she is drawn into Arobin “as the effrontery in his eyes repelled the old, vanishing self in her, yet drew all her awakening sensuousness” (Chopin 127). Here, it is evident that the affair is based on passion, not love. Edna knows “Arobin was absolutely nothing to her” except an adventure and possibly a beginning to her freedom (Chopin 129). With Arobin, she can project a new vision of herself. He allows her the autocracy to get out of the house and have her own social life, a simple pleasure denied by Leonce. He encourages her actions at the race track where she “is often flamboyant, reckless, and excessive [. .
.] from the time the horses take the field, it is implied that Edna behaves more like a man than a woman” (Dyer 50). The crowd is attentive to her as though she were a male authority. Leonce would have been embarrassed to witness such a scene, but Arobin looks on in admiration. Edna at last has the freedom of making her own money. Although there is no need for her to work, Edna demonstrates a desire to support herself. By acquiring money, she attains more power over her life (qtd.
in Dyer 51). Despite the fact that her race track winnings are very sufficient, she turns to her artistic ability to make additional income. Dyer explains how “Edna commences her artistic life as a ‘dabbler’ but soon begins to think of painting as her ‘work’ – a very unconventional notion for a nineteenth century woman to adopt” (85). Leonce had restricted her from pursuing an artistic career while Arobin models for her, offering her more independence. Mademoiselle, a friend, tells Edna that to survive as an artist, she must be courageous and have a “brave soul. The soul that dares and defies” (Chopin 106).
Edna strives to succeed, but Leonce puts her down. He does not see a need for her to “retreat from domestic activity” and go to a private place to do her work (Dyer 87). This statement is very hypocritical because “Leonce fails to recognize the irony of having, and needing, his own private retreat from domestic activity and demands while scolding his wife for needing hers” (Dyer 87). By having restrictions over her desires, his actions make Edna work harder to become self-reliant. While dramatically encouraged by Arobin, Edna remains timid because of the denial of freedom experienced in her marriage to Leonce, which restrains her from comfortably seeking her liberation. Similarly, Janie attempts to become more independent in her second marriage to Joe, but she finds that this relationship affords her less freedom than anticipated.
Joe only “offers Janie an escape from her loveless marriage” (Wall 385). He represents her aspirations for a future that will allow her to move away and change her life. Seeking adventure, she leaves Logan to explore a new world with Joe. Although “he did not represent sun-up and pollen and blooming trees, but he spoke for far horizon. He spoke for change and chance,” which Janie hoped would lead to self-sufficiency (Hurston 28).
Talking of exotic places and living a life Janie only thought imaginable, Joe urges her to join his hand as they walk together. Janie is moving on, not only emotionally, but also physically; she walks in a new direction. What Janie thinks is releasing her from traditional domestic life, in reality, causes her to digress towards the female role model she sought to escape. Joe “forcibly installs her as Queen of the Porch and cuts her off from any real contact with their community. She becomes his showpiece, his property” (Christian 58).
Again she becomes restricted by male dominance, but this time it makes her stronger and gives her the capability to renew her emergence. Although it takes time, “Janie recognizes tha …