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The patriarchal society and gender inequality have played a big part in the world’s culture since dating back to the 1800s. Men and women both played different roles. The roles of men most likely included earning for the household and to live a controlling lifestyle whereas, women were not allowed to work outside of the house. They were confined into sitting at home and doing “housewife” duties which included cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the kids. Women did not get the respect that they deserved and they were just considered property. If a women tried to stand up for herself, she would be put into her place by the men. Most of the culture was male dominated and women played an insufficient role in the daily lives of men. Patriarchy is “a system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is reckoned through the male line” (Oxford Dictionary). So, to what extent is it truly possible for women to break away from the 19th-century patriarchal society? In the novel, The Awakening by Kate Chopin and the play, A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, the patriarchal society is heavily emphasized throughout both the works.
Both works are similar but there are also distinct differences in both works which sets them apart. Kate Chopin and Henrik Ibsen are different authors with different views and opinions yet the novel, The Awakening, and the play, A Doll’s House are similar. They both were written in a time where male dominance was a tremendous part of society and women were nothing. These works were written during the Victorian Era where the women led a more secluded lifestyle at home while the men were out whenever and wherever they wanted to be, and had all kinds of freedom (“Gender Roles of Victorian Era for Men and Women”). Men did not have to answer to anyone, but the same courtesy did not apply to women. If women tried to do whatever they wanted to do, they would be frowned upon on. Women during this Era were shy and insecure in comparison to the men. Women were not allowed to be outspoken and were not entitled to have an opinion about anything. The overall perfect women would be “pure and clean” (“Gender Roles of Victorian Era for Men and Women”). During the Victorian Era, it was allowed for men to have sex with other women but the same did not apply to a woman. It was looked down on women if they had sex with other men and were considered prostitutes (“Gender Roles of Victorian Era for Men and Women”). Women were also not allowed to be unmarried because they required the protection of men because they were weak. The roles of women have drastically changed from the 1900s.
Women now have the freedom to do whatever they want and do not have to answer to anyone except themselves. The women in today’s era do not have any restrictions placed on them unlike the women of The Awakening and A Doll’s House. The protagonist in The Awakening, Edna and the protagonist in A Doll’s House, Nora are similar in ways that they are both part of the patriarchal society but they are also different. The biggest similarity between them is that they both feel as if they are both trapped and are waiting to be free and to be saved. The biggest difference between both the characters is that Edna in The Awakening, lives in the present and keeps to herself, “Even as a child she had lived her own small life all within herself. At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life-that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions” (Chopin, 13). In this quote, Edna is living a life that she likes to keep to herself. Nora in A Doll’s House, lives in a make-believe world, one that she has made up of her own, “I don’t believe that any longer. I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being just as you are-or, at all events, that I must try and become one” (Ibsen, Act III, 68). In The Awakening, Edna Pontellier’s rules and expectations are solely based on the fact that she is a female. The Victorian Era deemed it fit for Edna to only be a housewife but Edna has other dreams of her own. She dreamt of being artistic and being in control of her financial and sexual freedom, but that is not the case. At one point in the novel, Edna finally speaks up claiming that she is not her husband’s property and defends herself saying she can give herself to someone when she wants, and during this, Robert does not understand what she is saying, “You have been a very, very foolish boy, wasting your time dreaming of impossible things when you speak of Mr. Pontellier setting me free! I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose. If he were to say, ‘Here, Robert, take her and be happy; she is yours,’ I should laugh at you both” (Chopin, 108).
Another moment Edna speaks up for herself and mentions the feminist movement bluntly is, “Has she,” asked the Doctor, with a smile, “has she been associating of late with a circle of pseudo-intellectual women–super-spiritual superior beings? My wife has been telling me about them. That’s the trouble,” broke in Mr. Pontellier, “she hasn’t been associating with any one. She has abandoned her Tuesdays at home, has thrown over all her acquaintances, and goes tramping about by herself, moping in the street-cars, getting in after dark. I tell you she’s peculiar. I don’t like it; I feel a little worried over it” (Chopin, 66). In A Doll’s House, Nora throughout the whole play, is trying to escape the male dominance of her husband, Torvald. Nora’s husband is constantly dehumanizing her and making her feel like her existence is for nothing, “Torvald: Is my little squirrel bustling about?” (Ibsen, Act I, 2), by calling Nora a squirrel, her husband shows no respect for her or her feelings. Torvald also presumes that all men are perfect and women have flaws, “Torvald: That is like a woman! But seriously, Nora, you know what I think about that. No debt, no borrowing. There can be no freedom or beauty about a home life that depends on borrowing and debt. We two have kept bravely on the straight road so far, and we will go on the same way for the short time longer that there need be any struggle” (Ibsen, Act I, 2). Torvald is stereotyping all women by saying that all women are the same and they all spend money and men do not. Women in the 1900s had many responsibilities and Nora fulfilled them with no questions asked, “Nora: Tell me, is it really true that you did not love your husband? Why did you marry him? Mrs. Linde: My mother was alive then, and was bedridden and helpless, and I had to provide for my two younger brothers; so I did not think I was justified in refusing his offer.” (Ibsen, Act I, 8). Women back in the day made many sacrifices for their families and Nora also had to make one to get married in order to support her family. Another distinct similarity between Edna and Nora is that they both have a realization about their marriage.
Edna realized in the beginning of the novel whereas Nora realized at the end of the play. Edna realized she was not happy and content with her life just from taking care of her husband, and the house and kids. She realized she wanted to do more in life than just be a simple housewife, “An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish” (Chopin 6). In this, Edna feels as if she is trapped in her marriage with nowhere to go and it is emotionally and physically hurting her. At the end of the play, A Doll’s House, Nora comes to the realization that her marriage is not working out and she feels the need to leave it because of the power that her husband holds over her in the marriage and she also feels like their marriage has never been a real marriage, “Nora: But you neither think nor talk like the man I could bind myself to. As soon as your fear was over-and it was not fear for what threatened me but for what might happen to you-when the whole thing was past, as far as you were concerned it was exactly as if nothing at all happened. Exactly, as before, I was your little skylark, your doll, which you would in future treat with doubly gentle care, because it was so brittle and fragile. [Getting up.] Torvald-it was then it dawned upon me that for eight years I had been living here with a strange man, and had borne the three children-. Oh, I can’t bear to think of it! I could tear myself into little bits!” (Ibsen, Act III, 70). After, not caring or fearing her husband, Nora, finally spoke up not caring what her husband would say or do. The protagonists, Nora and Edna, have come a long way with taking major risks in their life. While Edna was at Grand Isle, she risks learning how to swim in the ocean and she risked her relationship with Robert by spending time alone with him, hoping she would not get caught. And, the risk that Nora is in is a different kind of risk.
Nora’s husband does not see her as an actual person, he sees her as a thing and has no respect for her and whenever referring to her, he uses animal names to call her and not her actual name which dehumanizes her. Nor Edna or Nora have a maternal bone in their bodies. Nora treats her children like they are things not people. That is the same way that Torvald treats Nora, he does not see her for who she really is. While the two of them are similar in countless ways, there are also some ways they are different. The primary difference between Edna and Nora is that Edna needs her husband’s forgiveness whereas Nora does not need it. She can live without her husband. Both of them felt trapped by the patriarchal society which stopped them from being themselves. Nora has taken the ultimate risk which was to leave her husband and decide to spend her life alone with no man, and Edna is scared to do that. She is conformed in the societal way of things and instead of leaving her husband, she leaves herself. She chooses death over her life. In both of the works, there are numerous meanings of death, and it is ironic that Edna chooses to die in the ocean. The ocean sparked her awakening and it also sparked her death. Just like all the women of the 19th century, Edna and Nora were also denied basic rights by their own families and were forced to settle down and become housewives and their husbands’ servants.
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