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Underneath It All

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March 18, 2009

Underneath it All

Yakini Kemp and Kate Chopin use similar motifs to depict their characters. Covering of the body and art are pieces used to reflect the characters of each piece. Both women deceive their husbands in a fashion by using a “cover up”. Covering in both stories ranges from a piece of cloth to the crown of hair on ones head. In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, the protagonist, Edna Pontellier goes through stages of shedding her body covering. In the beginning of the novel Edna is fully clothed. As the novel progresses she slowly alters her attire. In one instance Mrs. Pontellier went from wearing glamorous “reception gowns” on Tuesdays, her “reception day”, to wearing an “ordinary house dress”. This showed the beginning of her distancing herself from society. On another occasion the actor noticed that she had “transformed” and reminded him of a “sleek animal waking up”. At the end of the novel the shedding of her clothing shows Edna shedding the societal views in her life and her attachment to the world. “She stood naked in the open air for the first time”. To Edna the release of her clothing was an awakening, she felt like a “new born”. When Edna commits suicide she is finally naked, she has shed everything she has in her quest for selfhood. Women in Edna’s community was very cautious of their complexion “twined gauze veil about her head, dogskin gloves, with gauntlets that protected the wrists and a dressed in pure white dresses with fluffiness of ruffles” (Chopin- 22). Just the mere thought that Edna would go through the novel disrobing would bring disgrace to the Creole community. Faida of His/ Her Story goes through a state where she sheds her clothes also. At the art fair she slowly takes her clothes off, “I felt slightly exposed, my personal life, my deceptive life was about to be revealed. Being exposed appealed to me.” (Kemp 21). From the tone set by Kemp it showed Faida’s yearning to be exposed for she said “But I wasn’t exposed enough” (Kemp 22). “When Faida cut her Locks off it played as a double ententre. The first was her locks of her hair were being cut. The second was her cutting off the locks that bonded her by her community, her husband and society all together. Faida and Edna both had passions for the arts. Art was very repetitive in each piece of literature. It becomes a symbol of freedom. Faida was an artist who also fell for an artist. The reoccurrence of her art being compared to that of Her’s and “the artist” (Him), was a turning point. The need for Faida to stay with “The Artist” because he saved her life was the only reason she stayed with him. Although she was stable at this point she still felt the need to stay with “the artist”. Edna was an artist herself; this was an attempt of individuality. She too was drawn to anything art like. One of her weakness was for Madame-moiselle Reiz piano playing. She too could not distance herself from a form of art that distanced her from the world. Edna realizes that she is still trapped, shackled to society and its expectations. The shackles are not the men in her life but her two sons. Her final dejection does not result from her fear that she will forever remain a dependent but from her thoughts of those who depend upon her. Thus, she says to herself, “To-day it is Arobin; to-morrow it will be some one else. It makes no difference to me; it doesn't matter about Léonce Pontellier—but Raoul and Etienne!”(Chopin-35). Edna has freed herself from Léonce, her husband. Her children, on the other hand, make her feel “overpowered.” She imagines that by virtue of their very weakness, their vulnerability, their reliance upon her for their own reputation and social happiness, they seek “to drag her into the soul's slavery for the rest of her days” (Chopin-54). Edna's suicide affirms the claim she made to Adèle that for the sake of her children she would “sacrifice her life but not herself” (Chopin-57). To return to her miserable marriage with Léonce for the sake of her children would be to betray the essence of her being. By killing herself, she avoids self-betrayal while still preserving her children's reputation. From the beginning of the novel Edna new she was unfit to be a “mother-woman”. Faida on the other hand deceives her husband by not telling him that she had had her tubes tied. She “covered” the fact that she could not have children. Before Faida met “The Artist” she had her tubes tied. The result in her not telling her husband led him to mess around with other women, for offspring’s are what he wanted most. Kemp and Chopin’s protagonists, Faida and Edna Pontellier, both try their best to veer off on what was/is expected of them in their roles as women, but to seek their on individuality. The motifs of body covering, arts and deceptiveness sums each woman up.

Works Cited

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. New York: Herbert S. Stone and Co., 1899.
Kemp, Yankina. "HIS/ HER STORY." Catalyst (Fall 1986): 20-23.…...

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