Although written and filmed a century apart, Kate Chopin's novel, "The Awakening," and the movie "Thelma and Louis" possess the same core theme of feminism at odds with the norms of society.
Chopin's character Edna, has had the social upbringing of any proper female of her day. Chopin describes her as "an American woman, with a small infusion of French which seemed to have been lost in dilution" (Chopin 9). Her marriage is social and filled with household schedules and social agendas. Edna's place is carved neatly and tightly. Her children were a responsibility that did not consume her for she "was not a mother-woman" (Chopin 19). She had never grown those protective wings that idolizing mothers grow and revere. Edna's husband, Leonce, reproaches her for her "inattention, her habitual neglect of the children" (Chopin 12). It was not as if Edna was a "bad" mother, she was simply not doting nor did the children dote upon her. However, reproaches such as this were rooted in Edna's indifference to Leonce. As Chopin writes, "He thought it very discouraging that his wife, who was the sole object of his existence, evinced so little interest in things which concerned him, and valued so little his conversation" (Chopin 11). In the scene where Edna is sobbing uncontrollably after Leonce scolds her, Chopin says, "Such experiences as the foregoing were not uncommon in her married life" (Chopin 14).
When Edna was painting Madame Ratignalle, Robert rested his head against Edna's arm, and although she gently repulsed him, it unsettled her just a little. A light was "beginning to dawn dimly within her...the light which showing the way, forbids it...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" (Chopin 33). As Chopin writes, beginnings of things can be disturbing, "How few of us ever emerge from such beginning? How many souls perish in its tumult" (Chopin 34)! Edna had a split second glance into another world, a world that responded to her as her-self, human and creative. When Madame Ratignolle, whom Edna admired greatly for her Madonna persona, attempted to ease Edna's melancholy by laying her hand on hers and stoking it fondly, Edna soon "lent herself readily to the Creole's gentle caress" (Chopin 43). Edna reflected that all of her women friends throughout her life had been reserved and "self-contained...She never realized that the reserve of her own character had much, perhaps everything to do with this" (Chopin 44). Edna realizes the intimacy she has missed in her life, the sisterhood, the genuine female spirit of the nurturer. She was "overtaken by what she supposed to be the climax of her fate...a great tragedian began to haunt her imagination and stir her senses...the infatuation lent it an aspect of genuineness...The hopelessness of it colored it with the lofty tones of great passion" (Chopin 44). Edna began to see her marriage as an accident. She was fond of her husband and she was fond of her children "in an uneven, impulsive way" sometimes gathering them "passionately to her heart" and sometimes she would "forget them" (Chopin 47). She confides some of these feelings to Madame Ratignolle and eventually Edna puts her head down on the woman's shoulder. She feels flushed and intoxicated by the sound of her own voice and the "unaccustomed taste of candor...It muddled her like wine, or like a first breath of freedom" (Chopin 48).
Edna becomes awakened to her own soul, her self. Edna falls into this cushion of maternal spirit like a child from an orphanage who has never had the touch of genuine compassion and empathy. She has found a safe place to reveal herself, a self she never knew was there. All the tears she had shed until now had had no meaning, however, now she knew what had been missing, she knew for what she had sobbed so often and so long. She was not the person her husband and others wanted her to be, she was not the Madonna who reveled in the existence of her children, not the wife who enjoyed and appreciated the afternoon visits from social acquaintances. She had changed and when her husband demanded that she come in one night rather than stay in the hammock, she refused stubbornly, and although she normally would have obeyed him, "she could not realize why or how she should have yielded, feeling as she then did" (Chopin 80).
Edna had become infatuated as a child, "the past was nothing to her; offered no lesson which she was willing to heed...the future a mystery she never attempted to penetrate," only the present was significant, was hers, "to torture her as it was doing then with the biting conviction that she had lost that which she had held, that she had been denied that which her impassioned, newly awakened being demanded" (Chopin 116).
Edna had confided to Madame Ratignolle that should would never sacrifice herself for anyone, not even her children, "I would give up the unessential...give my money...I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself" (Chopin 122). What Edna meant by that statement was that she would not live as someone she was not - not sacrifice her true being for someone else's idea of herself - not deny herself the option of making her own choices. She wanted to give way to the feelings of human passion and freedom of will. Edna wanted to "try to determine what character of a woman I am...By all the codes which I am acquainted with, I am a devilishly wicked specimen of the sex" (Chopin 216).
Edna had found herself between worlds, she didn't belong to the past nor did she truly belong to the present much less the future. As Mademoiselle Reisz said, "To be an artist includes much; one must possess many gifts - absolute gifts - which have not been acquired by one's own effort. And, moreover, to succeed, the artist must possess the courageous soul...The soul that dares and defies" (Chopin 165).
In the movie, "Thelma and Louise," Thelma is similar to Edna in that she has found herself in a stifled marriage, void of passion and compassion. Thelma is awakened to her senses and human spirit by another woman, just as Edna had been. Louise is Thelma's Madame Ratignolle. Neither Edna nor Thelma would have dared venture into the world of self-discovery without the awakening from the female spirit, a kindred spirit, a woman of maturity and empathy. Louise and Madame Ratignolle are the initiators of the awakening, initiators of opening the door to the possibilities of the soul. Both Edna and Thelma are naive and immature to any other world but their own, within the confines of their marriage and social life. Louise and Madame Ratignolle are from another world, another culture and both Thelma and Edna are too impressionable not to be infatuated. They know no other way to cope than to totally escape from the past and leap into what they see as a colorful forbidden world of possibilities.
What Thelma and Edna had lacked was genuine human contact, one soul touching another, one soul recognizing the other. It took the feminine spirit of Louise and Madame Ratignolle to awaken within them this spirit of self. However, like the kundilini spirit of the yogis, if awakened without guidance and preparedness, can cause great turmoil and confusion. Thelma and Edna both reach a point of no return. Neither can go back to the life they had led before the spirit touched them. For Thelma, it was getting in the car with Louise after Louise had…