Kate Chopin was an integral part of the evolution of feminism, providing early 20th century readers with feminist literature that is still highly respected and studied today. Although it is easy to approach her work, and all such work, work with textual evidence supporting a claim of the author's approach and opinions, an often overlooked part of reading an opus is what used to be called "reading between the lines"--or, more academically, reading what is not said to understand better the author's intent. Chopin's work shows a metatextual approach to help the reader conceptualize the message in her fiction. Although she addresses many aspects of women's oppression, her attack on patriarchal control over when and how women spoke at fin-de-siecle 19th century is clear and present. Her novel, The Awakening, clearly shows this attack on men's domination (and silencing) of women's voices in several layers of the content.
[...] As if to guide the reader straight into the idea of communication as power, Chopin opens with a parrot that no one understands. However, the bird continues to chatter endlessly and meaninglessly (Chopin, 3). Nothing is made of this in the novel, as if to say that language is lacking for oppressed groups; this lack can render an entire society powerless because they will have no way to communicate the problem (Penfield, 133). This serves as notice that metatextual evidence will be forthcoming throughout. [...]
[...] Edna breaks the tyranny of these oppressions, but must sacrifice what she is to accomplish it. She shatters the language oppression cycle and must use male speech. However, she uses it against itself, to call attention to the oppressive nature of men's language, as if someone has shot an arrow at her, and she picks it up, and shoots the same arrow back. The best example of this is when she speaks with Robert about ownership of herself. She first calls Robert foolish for thinking she was her husband's property to give away at all. [...]
[...] This is a very belittling way to say it, and the doctor continues the diminishment of Edna's status by asking if she has been associating with women who might have a bad influence on her, suggesting that she can't think for herself (Chopin, 73). They speak as if they are the sole controlling influence of Edna's behavior and very existence. Edna, on the other hand, does not participate in frank talk very often; however, when she does it creates discomfort in the male characters. [...]
[...] In further support of the idea of silent subtext, Chopin, being silenced herself after critics denounced and even banned The Awakening, used an unspeakable subject to make her point about language--female desire and sexuality. Even though it ruined her career, her advance toward such a taboo subject caused her to lose her next publication contract for a collection of stories entitled, ironically, A Vocation and a Voice (Cutter, 87). It was thought in Chopin's day that women had no sexual urges of any kind except where they would produce a child. [...]
[...] Again, through silence, Chopin made her point. Works Cited Top of Form Beer, Janet, and Elizabeth Nolan, eds. A Routledge Literary Sourcebook on Kate Chopin's the Awakening. New York: Routledge Brightwell, Gerri. "Charting the Nebula: Gender, Language and Power in Kate Chopin's 'The Awakening.'." Women and Language 18.2 (1995): 37+. Chopin, Kate. The Awakening, and Other Stories. Ed. Pamela Knights. Oxford: Oxford University Press Cutter, Martha [...]
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