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“A bird with a broken wing”: Disability and Normality in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening

Year: 2023

Presenter Name: Maren Archibald

Kate Chopin's "The Awakening" depicts Edna Pontellier, a married woman attempting to cast off the disciplinary shackles of the nineteenth century through a personal rebirth. As theorized by the French philosopher Michel Foucault, discipline is more than controlling behavior; it is about optimization of the body. The three pillars of discipline - hierarchical observation, normalizing judgement, and examination - contribute to the view of the body as "a site of normalization." Lennard J. Davis, a renowned disability studies specialist, theorizes that in any novel can be found "a kind of surveying of the terrain of the body, an attention to difference." In The Awakening, Chopin often describes Edna's bodily experiences, from exhaustion to passion to boredom, creating a view of Edna as a disabled body. Disability metaphors, as Davis states, are used to "represent limitations on normal morals." The language surrounding Edna's awakening is marked by disability metaphors that function to polarize her from the moral norm. In addition, the observation Edna is subject to characterizes her struggle as one against control and examination, not just expectation. Applying Foucault's three pillars of discipline and Davis' reflections on normality and disability, I argue that Edna's position outside the norm is exaggerated by the disability-coded language used to describe her body and behavior, and that it is not the societal expectations themselves against which Edna rebels, but rather the suffocating rules of discipline and normality that surround them. Audience takeaways will include an increased awareness of the subtle presence of disability metaphors in early feminist literature and an understanding of how disability perpetuates standards of normality.
University / Institution: Utah State University
Type: Oral
Format: In Person
SESSION B (10:45AM-12:15PM)
Area of Research: Humanities
Faculty Mentor: Jared Colton
Location: Sill Center Conference Room (10:45am)