The quite at rest concerning the present
The treatment of motherhood within The Awakening is portrayed through Chopin’s juxtaposition of Edna, a failed ‘mother-woman’, with Adele Ratignolle, “the embodiment of every womanly grace and charm” (Chopin 7). The first instance of Edna and Adele’s juxtaposition comes when the women are sewing children’s clothes together. “Madame Ratignolle was very fond of Mrs. Pontellier, and often she took her sewing and went over to sit with her in the afternoons… She had brought the pattern of the drawers for Mrs. Pontellier to cut out- a marvel of construction, fashioned to enclose a baby’s body…They were designed for winter wear” (Chopin 7). Here, Chopin gives the depiction of an ideal ‘mother-woman’, who spends her free time making clothes for her children and whose immaculate beauty is compared to “the bygone heroine of romance and the fair lady of our dreams”(Chopin 7). This depiction is closely followed by that of Edna who, when hearing of this “impervious garment” was not entirely pleased to construct it. “Mrs. Pontellier’s mind was quite at rest concerning the present material needs of her children, and she could not see the use of anticipating and making winter garments the subject of her summer mediations” (Chopin 7). Clearly, Adele is quite content with spending her holiday making her children’s clothes rather than pursuing any of her own interests. However, Edna clearly, is not as “she did not want to appear unamiable and uninterested, so she had brought forth newspapers… and cut a pattern of the garment” (Chopin 7). The juxtaposition between both women becomes even more apparent when Edna attempts to draw Adele. Although Edna “sometimes dabbled in an unprofessional way”(Chopin 11), she had “a natural aptitude” for art and “had long wished to try herself on Madame Ratignolle” (Chopin 11). Yet, “the picture completed bore no resemblance to Madame Ratignolle”(Chopin 11) and “after surveying the sketch critically Mrs. Pontellier drew a broad smudge of paint across its surface, and crumpled the paper between her hands” (Chopin 12). By attempting to imitate Adele in the form of a drawing, Edna is trying to ascertain if she could achieve the ‘mother-woman’ notion that she is expected to conform to. However, because Edna has failed to emulate Adele, she comes to the realization that she will never be able to imitate Adele who represents the ’embodiment’ of the ‘mother-woman’. In Edna’s eyes motherhood was “a responsibility which she had blindly assumed and for which Fate had not fitted her” (Chopin 18). It is during the Pontellier family holiday that Edna’s unwillingness to participate in the ‘mother-woman’ notion becomes apparent. Chopin writes, “it would have been a difficult matter for Mr. Pontellier to define to his own satisfaction or any one else’s wherein his wife failed in her duty toward their children” (Chopin 7). It is clear that Leonce did not agree with how Edna was raising his children particularly with how “if one of the Pontellier boys took a tumble whilst at play, he was not apt to rush crying to his mother’s arms for comfort; he would more likely pick himself up, wipe the water out of his eyes and sand out of his mouth, and go on playing”. The ‘mother-woman’ notion was imposed on all women once they had become mothers. It was unbecoming for a woman to encourage their children to self-soothe because that was supposed to be her job, which explains why Leonce believed “his wife had failed in her duty towards her children.” As Francesco Pontuale states in “The Awakening: Struggles Toward L’ecriture Feminine”, “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” (Pontuale 124).