Posted by Michael Fong
March 6, 2009
Kate Chopin, The Awakening
"'The trouble is,' sighed the Doctor, grasping her meaning intuitively, 'that youth is given up to illusions. It seems to be a provision of Nature; a decoy to secure mothers for the race. And Nature takes no account of moral consequences, of arbitrary conditions which we create, and which we feel obliged to maintain at any cost.'" (Kate Chopin, The Awakening)
After witnessing Madame Ratignolle give birth, Edna feels uneasy, and goes out into the open air. She engages in a conversation with Doctor Mandelot, in which she expresses implicitly of her desire to be alone and free from the bonds of her husband and children. The doctor, being an astute observer, realizes the implications behind Edna's words and utters this response, in which he addresses the desire of sex as a decoy set by Nature in order to ensure that humans do not die out. He then goes on to invite Edna to go to speak with him as soon as possible.
When taking Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" into consideration, it comes as a moderate surprise to me that the doctor in The Awakening appears as the only person who seems to have the capability to understand Edna. When I got to the part where the doctor is introduced, I almost half-expected that Edna would be locked up eventually in the story as a woman with the "female disease". He is the only life buoy, so to speak, that Edna could grab and hold on to. "Yes, I will blame you if you don't come and see me soon. We will talk of things you never have dreamt of talking about before." Oh if only Edna had gone to the doctor and confided him with her troubles, she may not have met her end as she did in the novel. If Edna is in the process of awakening during the novel, then the doctor is the "awakened" and the "enlightened" one.
However, in regards to the doctor's argument, I beg to differ. Can we blame who we are on Nature? We as humans pride ourselves to being different from animals in that we have a higher level of independence and individuality. It is therefore reasonable and logical to say that we owe responsibility to our own actions. Animals can act according to their instincts for that is what Nature made them to be, but as we are different from animals, the same consideration for them do not apply to us. Yes, desires and passions play a big role in the course of our lives and I am not saying that it is not a factor to a great many of our decisions, but I am saying that this should not be merely related as the main cause, or the main reason to what we do. Doctor Mandelot here seems to be saying that it is not the fault of youth, but rather, the illusions that Nature set up that is to blame. One can also make the relation to Twain's Letters from the Earth, where the yielding of mankind to sexual or personal desires is being addressed as well.