Kate Chopin’s classic novel The Awakening caused an uproar when it was published in 1899. Edna Pontellier, the main character, shocked readers with her disdain for the traditional family life, preferring the pursuit of artistic endeavors and extramarital affairs. Today’s readers call it daring, even brave. You’ll find it on many a course syllabus, lauded by feminists and their fellow travelers. Isn’t it just so empowering to betray your husband, abandon your children and dramatically drown yourself?
We like to imagine things were rosier in the golden past, but people have always sought ways to justify their selfishness. Edna is merely one in a long line of Cains, eager to shirk her responsibilities in favor of self-indulgence, even if it means the destruction of those whom she should love and protect (Genesis 4:9). Isn’t this exactly what David did when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband killed (2 Samuel 11:1-21)? Cain had a fraternal obligation to Abel, David a duty to his subjects, Edna to be faithful to her husband and care for her children.
He reproached his wife with her inattention, her habitual neglect of the children. If it was not a mother’s place to look after children, whose on earth was it?“The Awakening”
I know, I know: how dare I side with Mr. Pontellier and suggest a mother take care of her children? How backwards! How oppressive! How could I possibly expect Edna to submit to her husband (Ephesians 5:21-25)? I must be a pre-programmed Stepford wife, a misogynist in masquerade, a traitor to my sex. Why else would I believe that as individuals we have a calling greater than to serve ourselves, an obligation to others, a purpose that extends beyond the vapidity of self-exploration?
In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her. This may seem like a ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon the soul of a young woman of twenty-eight—perhaps more wisdom than the Holy Ghost is usually pleased to vouchsafe to any woman.“The Awakening”
No, Mrs. Pontellier, there is no wisdom in severing ties with your children or husband. It takes no great courage to indulge one’s desires, no effort to renounce responsibility. Egotism should never be confused with enlightenment. Anyone can be a hedonist. How much more difficult to be a wife and mother?
Our society hates motherhood because it encompasses a self-sacrificial love for the family, it denies the ego, it prioritizes rightly. It is the method by which God has chosen to subdue the earth, the plan for the destruction of the serpent, the means for a woman’s sanctification (Genesis 1:28, Genesis 3:15, 1 Timothy 2:15). Our culture wants nothing more than to destroy women through its propaganda, whispering lies as seductive as siren songs. For as soon as you divorce yourself from your familial ties, you become an easy target for manipulation. Into the water, comes the call, find yourself in the destruction of the depths.
Instead of following Edna Pontellier’s example, let’s look to scripture for our understanding of who a woman should be − a wife of noble character, a profitable trader, a speaker of wisdom and caregiver to the poor, strong, diligent, and worth more than rubies. Proverbs 31 is far more empowering for women than the world could ever pretend to be:
10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.