The Awakening written by Kate Chopin is a fascinating novel which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I thought that it carried deep and emotional subjects. In The Awakening Edna a mother of two is founded in a loveless marriage. She escapes her reality in finding a romantic interest towards Robert. Robert takes off, and she is alone rediscovering herself. Throughout the novel we see her having multiple different “awakenings” from sexual to emotional. I will be analyzing Edna’s final decision, and if this was the right choice for her.
Symbolisme is a huge factor in the novel. It helps define Edna awakening and emotional suffering. One of the two most notable symbols in the novel is the sea. To Edna, the sea (or the idea of the sea) represents freedom. It is her getaway. The sea is there in the beginning of the novel before her awakening. Often represented as “…seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamouring, murmuring…”(p.15). It is this seductive, secretive sea that ended Edna’s struggle. The sea often foreshadows what was yet to happen; “The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.”(p.15) It is as if the narrator themselves saw the sea as an escape from society, like a soft and grand bed to sleep on after a hard day’s work. Throughout the novel, we see Edna’s strong connection with the sea improve. We notice this with Edna’s experience learning how to swim. Edna randomly feels empowered to swim, though she struggled with it for most of summer. “A feeling of exultation overtook her, as if some power of significant import had been given her to control the working of her body and her soul” (p.32). This was the first time where Edna feels like she is in control and she gets so excited and entranced with her new power, she doesn’t realize how far she has swam. Getting scared, she swims back. In the later chapter of the novel (where Edna finally decides to end her own life) she isn’t scared. She is calm, thinking of the summer and her childhood. She no longer cares for what society thinks of her and this is what makes her not go back to the shore. She has gone too far, where she can’t go back. Even if Edna decided to live her mundane life, she simply wouldn’t. She now knows what it is like to be free and to feel awake where she’d rather die than live her life. This gives Edna power for this is the only thing that she can control in her life.
Throughout the novel, we, readers, often question Edna’s relationship with her children. For the first part of the novel, she is seen as distant and far from her children. She doesn’t really care where they are nor what they are doing. “If one of the little Pontellier boys took a tumble whilst at play, he was not apt to rush crying to his mother’s arms for comfort; he would more likely pick himself up, wipe the water out of his eyes and sand out of his mouth, and go on playing” (pp.8-9). When she gets more involved with her personal awakening, we start to see her have more appreciation for her children, but only when they are with her. “How glad she was to see the children! She wept for very pleasure when she felt their little arms clasping her, their heard ruby cheeks pressed against her own glowing cheeks”(p.111). We never see her think about her children alone until the end of the novel deciding her own death. So is Edna a good mother? When being compared to one of her foil, Mme. Adele, it is easy to consider that Edna wasn’t a very loving mother. However, Edna is a caring mother for what she can do in her situation. It isn’t her fault that she is stuck in this society where her only value is to give birth. She didn’t ask to be here, to marry nor to have children. She still loves her children but only because they are her offspring. She doesn’t love them for who they are, simply because she doesn’t know who they are and they are too young to have a defining personality. She is busy holding up womanly values (which she doesn’t believe in) to be a mother for her children, such as staying home on Tuesdays. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to live life to societal conventions. She’d rather die and give her soul to the sea then create a scandal for her children in suicidal aftermath which would forever ruin their reputation and opportunities. So she does 7have consideration for her children.
Was it the right decision for Edna to end her own life? Personally, I will never conclude that killing oneself is the best option when dealing with difficult times. However, in this context, a literary source; in understanding Edna’s consternations, character and situation, I believe that she made the best decision for herself. She is freeing herself and saving her children from a life of scandal. I also believe that Edna didn’t think she belonged in this world where her roles were very limited. When being compared to her two foils, she simply doesn’t fit in. She isn’t the motherly type nor the independent woman type. The decisions she made in her past has left her now feeling helpless, unable to escape an unloving marriage without causing scandal for her children. Societal pressures obviously lay very heavy on her. I believe that Edna also feels that even if she did come to love someone else, she would still not want to oblige to the “ideal” marriage they would likely want.
While reading the story of Edna and her ends, I feel a sense of wanting to cry but not having enough tears to do so. To think about how many women often felt trapped in a society that controlled every aspect of their lives. This idea and concept of women is still present in today’s society, from beauty standards to sexual harassment and child marriages. A lot of women around the world constantly feel pressured and harassed to fit the role of “the perfect woman.” I, personally, sometimes don’t even know whether my own opinions are my own, or if they have been formed through thousands of years of social conditioning to undermine women. I hope that one day all women will feel valued in the society that they live in.