Rocking the Boat


Throughout history individuals have been plagued with decisions in which they must choose to act in their best interest or act as a martyr, dedicating their lives to the best interests of others. While these choices may seem irrational, selfish, and poorly contemplated from the outside, on the inside there are simply no other options. Paradoxically, the protagonists in both Kate Chopin?s The Awakening and Charles Frazier?s Cold Mountain sacrifice what is precious to them to preserve their emotional and spiritual survival.
Chopin?s Edna Pontillier forfeits a comfortable role and style of life in order to maintain her emotional integrity and independence. Set in the late Victorian Era, characterized by a rigid repression of women?s independence, Edna Pontillier finds herself in the center of a male-dominated society, and tries desperately to break through the expected mold of a woman at that time. She finds it particularly difficult to conform to the expected role of Victorian motherhood. Leonce, Edna?s husband, is rather upset by this fact, and often tells Edna that she must become a better mother, more involved in her children?s lives, similarly to their friend Adele, who idolizes her children and worships her husband. "In short, Mrs. Pontillier was not a mother-woman. This mother-woman seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious broad. They were woman who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels." (Chopin, 8) Furthermore proving her independence and self-reliance, many parallelisms are drawn between Edna and the language spoken by Mrs. Lebrun?s parrot. It is "language which nobody understood." (Chopin 1) Edna?s constant struggle with dissatisfaction with the social constraints of womanhood led her to a raging internal conflict. Regarded as a possession in her marriage with Leonce, Edna seeks freedom, and searches to pursue it in relationships with other men. One of these men, Alcee Arobin, allows Edna to maintain her liberty, although he is used to having the upper hand in his previous relationships with women. Edna?s short-lived romance with Alcee is the only relationship she has experienced that is not structured by possession. The other man, Robert Lebrun, is the man who holds Edna?s heart. Though Robert is Edna?s only true love, he cannot declare or act on his feelings, for he cannot cease thinking of her as anything other than the possession of another man. Edna is often pulled between her attention to her children and husband, and her own survival. She once told Adele that she would sacrifice my life for my children, but she would not sacrifice myself for them. Later on Chopin describes her emotions. "She had said over and over to herself: ?To-day it is Arobin, to-morrow it will be someone else. It makes no difference to me, it doesn?t matter about Léonce Pontellier?but had meant long ago when she said to Adéle Ratignolle that she would give up the unessential, but she would never sacrifice herself for her children." (Chopin 123). Although it seems in the end of the novel that Edna commits suicide because her relationship with Robert crumbled, it is because she realizes how narrow the chances are of ever achieving recognition as an independent individual. In the end, Edna?s freedom takes place in death. The social conventions demanded of her were not worthy of taking away her individual existence.
Likewise both Inman and Ada Monroe, in Frazier?s book, will relinquish the roles that are expected of them to achieve their ideals. Set in the Civil War Era, society, in the days of Inman and Ada Monroe, many stereotypes and societal standards were pressured upon people. As a woman, Ada Monroe is envisioned as a prim and proper Southern woman. Even Inman states that he envisions how she should look. "Ada would step out the door onto the porch without knowing he was coming, just going about her doings. She would be dressed in her fine clothes. She would see him and know him in every feature. She would run to him, lifting her skirts above her ankle boots as she came down the steps. She would rush across the yard and through the gate in a flurry of petticoats?" (Frazier