The controlling function of culture as an important theme in Kate Chopin`s novel “The Awakening”
In his essay “Culture”, Steven Greenblatt makes the assertion that culture functions “as a pervasive technology of control, a set of limits within which social behaviour must be contained” (Greenblatt 225). This controlling function of culture is a central issue in Kate Chopin`s novel “The Awakening”. In the following essay I will prove that cultural boundaries and social conventions play a very important role in “The Awakening”. By means of two specific examples from the text, I will show that Greenblatt`s thesis corresponds to the function of culture at the time in which the novel takes place.
Abandoning the Reception Day
According to “An Etiquette/Advice Book Sampler” the Reception Days are among the most important duties of a wife at the time of the turn to the twentieth century. At this particular day, the wife has to be prepared for callers and visitors permanently. Furthermore, it is regarded as very rude to be out when guests call (Culley 123). Despite this tradition, Edna goes out on Reception Day without having a proper excuse, but “simply [because she] felt like going out” (Culley 49). As Leonce learns this from his wife he becomes very angry with her. He informs Edna that they have to keep to certain social conventions “if [they] ever expect to get on and keep up with the procession” (the same page). By abandoning the Reception Day, Edna dishonors Leonce because her duty as a middle-class wife is to show her husband`s wealth and status to her visitors (Martin 19). However, Leonce mainly worries about the financial consequence of Edna`s behaviour as he tells her not to ignore Mrs. Belthrop because “Belthrop could buy and sell [them] ten times over” (Culley 49). Consequently, the Reception Day has not only an entertaining function, but especially an economic one as the invited guests are important for Mr. Pontellier`s business. Since Edna doesn`t conform to this custom, she causes her husband`s business success to be threatened. In the long term, Edna`s behaviour will lead to the reduction of the Pontelliers` economic and social status. Thus, Greenblatt is right with his thesis that culture is “a repertoire of models to which individuals must conform” (Greenblatt 225).