In literature, the naturalism movement grew as an offshoot of realism, which focused on the real over and above the incredible. However, naturalism was regarded as a more pessimistic movement that stressed the helplessness of man over nature, and it’s surrounded. To its adherents, the man was a slave to his instincts, so his actions were affected mainly by them. In the book “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin, a number of issues will be identified that demonstrate the naturalist movement.
Naturalism in “The Awakening”
The author of this novel was more of a naturalist than of a realist, and she was very bold in writing this book because, during her time, it was unthinkable for a woman to be sexually expressive or even for her to leave her family to pursue her passions as depicted in the novel. In fact, the reactions against this book were so strong that they caused the author to be ostracized from her society. It was only after a couple of decades that everyone remembered the writing and saw the beauty inherent in it.
In the novel, the protagonist is well aware that society disregards her and her kind. To the male species, she is nothing more than a piece of property that can be handed down from one man to the next. Even after leaving her husband for Robert, Edna soon realizes that his perceptions of her are just the same as her husband.
This kind of helplessness that she possesses against her environment or her society is quite typical of naturalist literature. In naturalism, man is controlled by forces beyond him, and this is exactly what is being suggested in “The Awakening”. Even her efforts to question this way of life bear no fruit as the novel ends with no firm resolution of the matter.
As is clear from the analysis essay on naturalism, in the book, she wonders why no one seems to enjoy any rights except for children. Hence, she needs to be left alone in the process of resolving this matter (Chopin, 171). To some extent, Edna can be viewed as the tragic heroine in a naturalist novel.
She goes through so much, and when she cannot take it anymore, this lady ends her life. Suicidal ends are among typical characteristics of naturalism because they were aimed at striking a chord with readers who needed to identify with the helplessness of the characters in pieces.
In the novel, it is common to find that the protagonist is always struggling with issues of solitude, longing, and passion, which are all characteristic features of naturalism. This is especially visible when Edna listens to music, which controls her and takes over her mind. She is overwhelmed by these feelings and realizes that it is almost impossible to stop the tears from coming out of her. At some point, she nearly chokes as a result of these sentiments. (Chopin, 72).
The wave of naturalism was synonymous with a focus on personal feelings, as seen in many other parts of the book (Pitzer, 45). What is sad is that the author cannot feel any sense of hope or hopelessness after hearing the music; the only thing it does for her is it causes her to realize that she can feel and respond to something other than her pain or her feelings in life.
The entire book is indeed a demonstration of how humans tend to be slaves to their sentiments. Edna is a person who seems to lack strong will power. She is not bold enough to alter all the challenges she has gone through, and even when it appears as though she is fighting these values, the story later reveals that her acts were fruitless.
In terms of society’s expectations for women, the novel propagates yet another naturalist agenda. Here, readers are introduced to two very distinct women: Adele and Edna. One would be tempted to think that the state of affairs in that Victorian society was so biased against the women that only the rebellious ones would survive.
However, as one soon finds out, this was clearly not the best path to follow for those concerned. This society did not favor free expression amongst women, and neither did it tolerate sexual freedom. Edna chose to go about this in an abrasive and confrontational manner, a decision that costs her life.
On the other hand, Adele chooses to go about this differently. She has done this by remaining chaste to her husband while still expressing her sexuality freely. In other words, finding peace is only made possible when females embrace faithfulness rather than resisting it. Furthermore, it is possible to communicate and express oneself openly, just as Adele did when she played by the rules.
This sharp contrast, therefore, illustrates that females were not free to do as they pleased but could get some degree of freedom if they played by the rules. Fleissner (238) explains that it is sometimes possible to break away from convention when one took on the stand that Adele did. However, this only proves that society is restrictive and that one can never really enjoy their free will.
Once again, this propagates typical naturalist ideals. In fact, it can be argued that the ‘awakening’ discussion in this book occurs when the protagonist realizes that she must be careful about what she says. The awakening is not in finding what needs to be said but in finding the things that must be kept under a lid (Fleissner 239). Thus, realism in “The Awakening” is not evident.
Edna does not find her voice, as is the case in particular romantic literature. Instead, she finds out what she cannot utter. The best depiction of this occurs when she fails to find the right words to explain to the doctor why she had to leave her children.
In this sense, she cannot say certain things to him as convention dictates. Overly, this society is one in which the self must be negated and forgotten to gain an identity as a mother. Adele was able to tap into the happiness and freedom of expression that her kind can enjoy only when she canceled out her wishes and needs. Thus, the book has an evident theme of feminism.
This author was responsible for portraying naturalism in “The Awakening” because this movement tended to focus more on the moral vice. The author appears to tolerate moral vice even at a time when her society could not fathom it. She stresses individual needs and also talks about sexual freedom or freedom to communicate, especially as a woman. She brings out the frustration of not having control over one’s environment.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. NY: Bantam classic, 1981
Pitzer, Michael. Two approaches to the concept of naturalism. Carbondale: University of Southern Illionois, 1966
The Rhythm Method: Unmothering the Race in Chopin, Grimke, and Stein” by Jennifer Fleissner, in Women, Compulsion, Modernity, excerpt on Chopin, 233-244