The Awakening by Kate Chopin illustrates Edna Pontellier’s “awakening” journey, going against social convention and doing whatever she enjoys. I will discuss how Kate Chopin raises different questions and my thoughts on the book in this response.
Edna’s journey of ‘awakening’ is Edna achieving freedom from social conventions from her friends, husband, and even children. I perceive Edna’s awakening journey as her trying to find true happiness and freedom. Chopin displays this by using the ocean to symbolize her freedom. “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. She grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before”(p. xxx). Not only is the ocean an escape for Edna, but it also has a long history of historical importance to women’s empowerment. The moon and ocean are connected with women’s menstrual cycle, and many women goddesses, such as Aphrodite, Amphitrite, and Sirens. She even gets naked before she enters the water. This suggests that she is getting reborn. It also symbolizes she is undressing from social convention and responsibility.
The role of being a mother is something Kate Chopin questions through Edna’s journey. I think her children are the biggest obstacle for her to be free. Throughout the story, Madame Ratigonolle often influences her on the ideal role of a mother and Edna often questions herself. “Think of the children, Edna. Oh, think of the children! Remember them!” (P.131) “The children appeared before her like little antagonists who had overcome her; who had overpowered and sought to drag her into soul’s slavery for the rest of her days. But she knew a way to elude them.” (P.127) It suggests that Edna isn’t connected to her children like the stereotypical mother would be. Some people just aren’t supposed to have kids, and Edna is one of them.
In the beginning, I was not too fond of Edna and thought she is a horrible wife and mother. I felt that she did not know how to appreciate how blessed her life was, considering that she is a middle-class, white woman. After I learned more about Edna, I thought she is a brave woman and a badass woman for going against social convention and doing whatever she pleased, especially when women did not have any authority. The process of her achieving freedom from society and letting go of the stereotypical role of a wife and even a mother was very inspiring to me. For example, should we go against social convention and do whatever we please? How would society become if we all follow Edna?
Another character that I am strongly attached to when reading is Robert. I think Robert is selfless and a true gentleman. Even if he is in love with Edna and knows that she would leave Leonce for him, he still goes to Mexico and leaves Edna in the end, knowing that it is the right thing to do. I can imagine the pain he is going through for him not staying with the love of his life and having to follow social conventions. This also shows that Robert is a victim of society. He fails to “awake” like Edna and chooses to follow what society thinks is correct.
I found the story fascinating; however, I think the story’s ending was unnecessary and forced. Edna is presented as a strong woman and mother who does not care or give up despite society’s telling. The reason that she was so upset was that Robert had left her that night. She gives up her children, her husband, her friends and Robert, and this made me think that killing herself was selfish and inhumane. This is because she gave up her role as a mother, and the children would have to grow up without a mother and a dad that is often absent. Robert would have to live on feeling guilty, thinking that he is the cause of Edna’s death. Though I do understand why Kate Chopin would do this, as killing herself shows the amount of suffering that Edna has to bear, and she would instead give up her life than continue the suffering/following social conventions. Or killing herself is the final way of achieving absolute freedom and cutting every attachment and responsibility.