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Edith Wharton And Kate Chopin

The main characters depicted in both Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome and Kate
Chopin’s The Awakening undergo a personal struggle in their attempt to deal with
the universal emotion of love. Ethan Frome and Edna Pontellier each are married,
but in love with another person. During the time in which the stories take place
it is socially unacceptable for them to divorce or have an affair; and both
characters are aware of the views of society. Ethan and Edna are in situations
that do not please them, and have an inner need or desire to be with someone
else. Ethan Frome falls in love with his young servant, who is also his wife’s
cousin. Edna Pontellier is infatuated with a man she met while vacationing,
Robert Lebrun. Because of marriage they are unable to openly pursue the objects
of their affection. The desire of their hearts leads them both to secretly
maintain relationships outside their marriage, and ultimately causes their
demise. Of the two, Edna is more accepting of her amorous feelings and leaves
her husband, moving out of his house. Although she was fond of her husband in
the beginning of their marriage, she felt “unaccountable satisfaction that
no trace of passion or excessive and fictitious warmth colored her
affection.” She also shows little regard for her children, for “she
would sometimes gather them passionately to her heart; she would sometimes
forget them.” She does not feel any sense of duty or responsibility to her
family, and is not even faithful to her love for Robert Lebrun because she has a
sexual relationship with Alcee Arobin. Edna also shuns the society that looks
upon her actions disapprovingly, refusing to entertain callers. Edna immerses
herself in dreaming of Robert; “the thought of him was like an
obsession…his existence dominated her thought.” Her closest companion,
Mademoiselle Reisz, encourages and assists her in her affair with Lebrun. The
pianist strengthens Edna’s feelings of love towards Robert by telling Edna of
his love for her, increasing her resolve and determination to be with him.

Eventually, when Robert refuses a relationship with her and leaves, Edna is so
distraught that she commits suicide by drowning herself at the very place that
Robert taught her to swim. Ethan Frome is afflicted with the same type of
feelings as Edna, but he is in a different situation, mainly financial. Frome
contemplates running away and starting a new life with his lover, Mattie Silver,
but lacks the monetary funds necessary to purchase train tickets. He also feels
a sense of responsibility to his wife, and doesn’t want to leave her destitute.

His wife would not be able to manage their farm by herself; and even though
Frome feels no love for his wife, he realizes that she “could never carry
such a burden alone.” Ethan’s infatuation with Mattie is very strong, and
he feels jealousy when he sees her with Denis Eady. He too becomes obsessed with
his extra-marital relationship, “All his life was lived in the sight and
sound of Mattie Silver.” Ethan has no help in his quest to win the heart of
Mattie; he cannot even get an advance payment from the sawmill owner to finance
an escape with her. He refuses to lie in order to get the money that would
enable him to get away, because he would then be deceiving the people or the
society that pitied him and his situation with his wife. When Mattie is finally
forced to leave by Frome’s wife Zeena, Mattie and Ethan are so disheartened that
they attempt to commit suicide by sledding themselves into a tree. Because of
her financial independence and absence of regard for her husband, Edna was more
successful in her affair. Ethan’s lack of money and his sense of responsibility
to care for his wife hindered him. Each was cursed with manipulative spouses,
but only Edna stood up for herself and disobeyed her husband. Ethan was forced
against his will to send Mattie away by his sick wife. Although their romantic
affairs were secretive, Ethan and Edna each had a relationship with their lover
that was visible to their husband or wife. Both were committed to heeding the
voice of their heart, but Edna’s heart had a multiple personality. Obsession and
infatuation plagued both Ethan and Edna, who felt the power of love so strongly
that they were unwilling to live without it.