Throughout history individuals have been plagued with decisions in which they must choose to act in their best interest or act as a martyr, dedicating their lives to the best interests of others. While these choices may seem irrational, selfish, and poorly contemplated from the outside, on the inside there are simply no other options. Paradoxically, the protagonists in both Kate Chopins The Awakening and Charles Fraziers Cold Mountain sacrifice what is precious to them to preserve their emotional and spiritual survival.
Chopins Edna Pontillier forfeits a comfortable role and style of life in order to maintain her emotional integrity and independence. Set in the late Victorian Era, characterized by a rigid repression of womens independence, Edna Pontillier finds herself in the center of a male-dominated society, and tries desperately to break through the expected mold of a woman at that time. She finds it particularly difficult to conform to the expected role of Victorian motherhood. Leonce, Ednas husband, is rather upset by this fact, and often tells Edna that she must become a better mother, more involved in her childrens lives, similarly to their friend Adele, who idolizes her children and worships her husband. “In short, Mrs. Pontillier was not a mother-woman. This mother-woman seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious broad. They were woman who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.” (Chopin, 8) Furthermore proving her independence and self-reliance, many parallelisms are drawn between Edna and the language spoken by Mrs. Lebruns parrot. It is “language which nobody understood.” (Chopin 1) Ednas constant struggle with dissatisfaction with the social constraints of womanhood led her to a raging internal conflict. Regarded as a possession in her marriage with Leonce, Edna seeks freedom, and searches to pursue it in relationships with other men. One of these men, Alcee Arobin, allows Edna to maintain her liberty, although he is used to having the upper hand in his previous relationships with women. Ednas short-lived romance with Alcee is the only relationship she has experienced that is not structured by possession. The other man, Robert Lebrun, is the man who holds Ednas heart. Though Robert is Ednas only true love, he cannot declare or act on his feelings, for he cannot cease thinking of her as anything other than the possession of another man. Edna is often pulled between her attention to her children and husband, and her own survival. She once told Adele that she would sacrifice my life for my children, but she would not sacrifice myself for them. Later on Chopin describes her emotions. “She had said over and over to herself: To-day it is Arobin, to-morrow it will be someone else. It makes no difference to me, it doesnt matter about Leonce Pontellierbut had meant long ago when she said to Adele Ratignolle that she would give up the unessential, but she would never sacrifice herself for her children.” (Chopin 123). Although it seems in the end of the novel that Edna commits suicide because her relationship with Robert crumbled, it is because she realizes how narrow the chances are of ever achieving recognition as an independent individual. In the end, Ednas freedom takes place in death. The social conventions demanded of her were not worthy of taking away her individual existence.
Likewise both Inman and Ada Monroe, in Fraziers book, will relinquish the roles that are expected of them to achieve their ideals. Set in the Civil War Era, society, in the days of Inman and Ada Monroe, many stereotypes and societal standards were pressured upon people. As a woman, Ada Monroe is envisioned as a prim and proper Southern woman. Even Inman states that he envisions how she should look. “Ada would step out the door onto the porch without knowing he was coming, just going about her doings. She would be dressed in her fine clothes. She would see him and know him in every feature. She would run to him, lifting her skirts above her ankle boots as she came down the steps. She would rush across the yard and through the gate in a flurry of petticoats” (Frazier 394) Adas father, Monroe, was described as a wealthy man from Charleston, stricken with a chronic disease which could only be ailed by that which a peaceful farm in Cold Mountain could offer. With the money Monroe possessed, it was unnecessary to do the farm work himself, and therefore hired help to do it for him. With his passing, the farm became Adas. She has the option to return to Charleston or stay at the farm. “The thought of returning to Charleston as some desperate predatory spinster was appalling to her If she returned to Charleston under those humiliating conditions, she could expect little sympathy and much withering commentary, for in the eyes of many she had foolishly squandered the fleeting few years of courtship when young ladies were elevated to the apex of their culture, and men knelt in deference while all of society stood at attention to watch their progress toward marriage as if the primary moral force of the universe were focused in that direction.” (Frazier 64) Therefore, she had to learn to run her late fathers property. For several months, she did not care to do so. Finally, her neighbor Mrs. Swanger sent over Ruby, not to be a worker, but rather a co-border, for Ada. Ruby begins to teach Ada how to run a farm and Ada begins to gain independence, and can depend on herself to live. Finally after several months, Ada and Ruby have began running an ideal farm. At this point, Inman returns from his journey. The transformation Ada has made is clearly seen. Ruby says to Ada, “You dont need him Inman.” (Frazier 410) To this, Ada replies, “I know I dont need him. But I think I want him.” (Frazier 410) Ada had overcome the typical expectations of women in the day to run her own life, gain her own independence, and feel good about herself. Simultaneously, Inman is travelling his own journey of self-discovery. As an injured veteran of the war, Inman decides to travel from the hospital, home to where his love awaits. Inman, early on, mentions a complex that he possesses. He mentions, “he would like to love the world as it was, but he felt a great deal of accomplishment for the occasions when he did, since the other was so easy. Hate took no effort other than to look around. It was a weakness, he acknowledged, to be of such a mind that all around him had to lie fair for him to call it satisfactory.” (Frazier 90) As his journey begins he encounters several imperfections that rumble his peaceful existence. The blind mean who sells peanuts outside of the hospital explains to Inman that he is glad that he was never able to see, for if he could have ever had the ability to see, he would long for it day and night. Inman finds this impossible to comprehend, and cannot imagine being thankful and content that he never had his sight. Inman starts to realize here, that everybody has his or her own view of the ideal world. Upon Inmans journey he is presented with several characters that cause him to evaluate himself and his actions. The most poignant character was Vessy, the preacher who committed sins. Veasy was going to murder his mistress Sarah, because she was pregnant, but Inman put a stop to the whole situation. Afterwards, “He wished not to be smirched with the mess of other people. A part of him wanted to hide in the woods far from any road. Be like an owl, move only at dark. Or a ghost. Another part yearned to wear the big pistol openly on his hip and to travel by day under a black flag, respecting all who let him be, fighting all who would seek to fight him, letting rage be his guide against anything that ran counter to his will.” (Frazier 123) After this conflict, Inman realizes his ideal world exists only in the presence of Ada, and he must return to her without anymore further delay. Inman realizes that by dealing with only his problems rather than everyone elses, he can achieve his perfect world, where he can peacefully exist. As Ada Monroe and Inman come together, their worlds are complete, perhaps not in the eyes of others, but in themselves.
As depicted by Edna Pontillier in The Awakening and Inman and Ada Monroe in Cold Mountain one must sometimes abandon the paths created for him or her by society, and create a self-chosen path to suit ones own interests. While the path may be lonely and terrifying, full of oppressors and opponents, it results in the arrival at a place, both physically and mentally, peaceful to he who worked to get there. While Chopins Edna Pontillier battled through life, only to find that her survival could be maintained only in her place of death, Fraziers Inman and Ada Monroe found that battling through unconventional lifestyles, despite the publics opinion, was the only way to ensure life the way they wanted to live. Throughout these two novels, the protagonists have devoted everything they had to their emotional well being; they devoted their lives to accepting their own lives on their own terms, to accepting themselves.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. United States of America: Penguin Books, 1976.
Frazier, Charles. Cold Mountain. New York: Random