Awakening vs. Greenleaf


A strong critique by existentialist writers of modern society is the way in which humans live unexamined, meaningless lives with no true concept of what it is to be an unique individuals. In Kate Chopin?s novel The Awakening and in Flannery O?Connor?s short story "Greenleaf" the characters Edna and Mrs. May, respectively, begin almost as common, stock characters living unfulfilled lives. They eventually converge, however, upon an elevated life and death filled with new meaning through their struggle with their role as individuals surrounded by other important beings.
Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1948) believed that humankind follows a certain evolution of mind and body. This process involves a beginning (komogenese), a development (biogenese), and then a peak (noogenese) in which humans reach an Omega Point of higher being. Though his ideas were actually applied on a much broader scale of humanity over a large timespan, the theory can be applied to the individual?s process of human development. Single humans begin as common clones of one another. From this commonality many examine their lives and develop the things within them that make them uniquely them. This development of the self only can be ended at death when the individual converges upon an Omega Point in which he has an elevated understanding of and meaning for life. The characters Edna from The Awakening and Mrs. May from "Greenleaf" encounter a similar human development in which an individual is formed with an understanding of life. The means by which they achieve this differ greatly.
As the novel The Awakening opens, the reader sees Edna Pontellier as one who might seem to be a happy married woman living a secure, fulfilled life. It is quickly revealed, though, that she is deeply oppressed by a male dominated society, evident through her marriage to Leonce. Edna lives a controlled life in which there is no outlet for her to develop herself as the individual who she is. Her marriage to Leonce was more an act of rebellion from her parents than an act of love for Leonce. She cares for him and is fond of him, but had no real love for him. Edna?s inability to awaken the person inside her is also shown through her role as a "mother-woman". She loves and cares for her children a great deal, but does not fit into the Creole mother-society in which other women baby and over protect their children. Edna is criticized a great deal for this by Leonce and other women on the island. Edna has also been given the gift of great artistic talent. She enjoys painting and sketching scenes and people. This talent is suppressed from reaching its potential by her role as a mother and wife. The reader can safely assume that her life has been empty and meaningless up to this point.
Mrs. May, in O?Connor?s "Greenleaf," is also initially presented living an empty, meaningless, dead life. She is distinguished from Edna Pontellier, however, in the fact that she is oppressed not by others, but by a selfish, closed-minded evil that is found within herself. She allows her farm and property, her uncaring sons, and her ingrown elitism to rule her life and prevent her from being the loving, fulfilled, happy, fully human being all people have the potential to be.
The stray bull loose on her property engulfs all of Mrs. May?s time and energy. The ruined plants and potentially ruined herd are all that she holds as important. As a result of this, she despises and tries to control Mr. Greenleaf. Her placement of her property above human beings around her is evident through her ordering Mr. Greenleaf to shoot and kill the bull owned by his sons.
The carelessness of Mrs. May?s sons towards the welfare of the farm tears Mrs. May apart inside. She feels that she has slaved herself for the entirety of her life to provide for her sons and that they are being ungrateful by planning to life lives separate from the farm. Though she shows a form of love for her sons through her hard work, she is ultimately selfish in trying to enslave them to a life exactly the same as hers.
The way in which Mrs. May treats the Greenleafs shows a degree of elitism or snobbery in her. She does not