The Awakening

Clothing as restriction in Kate Chopin’s ‘The Awakening’, with comparison to clothing in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’  12th Grade

Following its publication in 1899, Kate Chopin’s novel ‘The Awakening’ endured strong criticism due to its controversial portrayal of a female protagonist who openly expels the norms of maternity and monogamy. Diedre Stuffer notes how the protagonist, Edna Pontellier, “struggles to strip down to her true, essential identity.”[1] I argue that the notion of Edna ‘struggling to strip’ is more than a metaphorical insight to the novel, as Chopin’s use of removing clothing parallels Edna’s shedding of social restriction. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 novel ‘The Great Gatsby’, extravagant clothing conversely functions as a symbol for wealth and prosperity, rather than adopting the gendered connotations adhered to by Chopin. Yet in both texts, the characters’ attire embroiders a purposeful insight into the respective social backdrop.

Firstly, Kate Chopin’s ‘The Awakening’ exposes perception of women as material objects for display and purchase, as if the women were no more than the clothing they wear. Early on in the novel, Mr Pontellier views her as “a valuable piece of property which has suffered some damage”; he is attentive of the ability to suffer “damage” physically but with no intent of an emotional “damage”. In this way, Edna...

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