The Awakening by Kate Chopin was a very interesting story that shocked me, especially towards the end. While reading this story, I was raised with many questions regarding motherhood and being a “good wife” and what that truly means. Like many novels we have read this year, I didn’t get clear answers to the many questions I had. However, by the end of the novel, I had raised many more. The two themes that stood out to me were the similarities between Edna and Nora from A Doll’s House, society’s expectations for the roles of a woman, mother, and wife concerning these women, and the symbolism of the sea in the story.
Edna is a woman who feels pressured by societal expectations and is stuck in a loveless marriage . However, throughout the novel, she slowly begins turning her thoughts into action and aligning her inner self with her outer self. This reminded me a lot of Nora from A Doll’s House. We see that at the beginning of both of these works of literature, these women feel conformed to the “roles “they must follow and towards the end, they both gain strength and go away from what society wants and do what they want. Both of these women were in relationships where they were not paid attention to like people. Even though Mr. Ponteiller was not like Torvald, the way the women felt was very similar. The feeling of being stuck. There were a lot of criticisms of how these women could abandon their children and leave. Both of these women expressed how they would not give themselves away, but that does mean they didn’t care about their families. They were both stuck in situations where all they did was care about the needs of their families and everyone around besides themselves. They both focused on the needs and requirements of their husbands, not even knowing themselves as individuals. They didn’t take the time to understand themselves as people and grow; they both had their breaking points where they rebelled and left. This shows the contrast between these two women and women at that time who felt the same way and kept silent.
The sea was a representation that was referred to several times in this novel to represent the awakening process of Edna as a woman who strived to be free and escape the life she was living. Free of being the perfect wife and the perfect mother.Free from the dominance of her husband and being confined to segregated roles. Free from all the oppression she was dealing with within herself. Free from her husband, her children and the pressure of societal norms. The sea was something Edna always observed in the novel. In the novel, we see her observing how others can swim and she cannot, representing the freedom and independence she longed for at the story’s beginning. However the end of the story, we see developments and a change when Edna approaches the sea from her perspective. Edna gains significant confidence in herself when she eventually learns to swim: “A feeling of exultation overtakes her as if some power of significant import had been given her soul. She grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out….”
This passage shows that Edna was able to fight back her fears and go swimming, going deeper and deeper, leaving all the world’s responsibilities, issues and judgment behind her as the ocean taking her away forever.
Overall I had a lot of mixed emotions about this story and how I truly felt about the different characters; I don’t think it’s right for anyone to be unloyal to each other, in the case where Edna just cheated on her husband. However, the awakening of Edna and her feelings towards her life mirrored many women in the nineteenth century, as well as women today who are trapped by cultural conventions.