I’ve reflected and thought a lot about The Awakening while reading it in anticipation of this personal response. Like many of the other characters in the novel, I fell in love with her. There was an attractiveness to her described physicality, her contradictions and her journey. Her journey is the exploration of the nature of women, and the Nature in women. I had a fantastic realization, an awakening, from her mystic mannerisms, and honesty towards the irreplicable experiences of being a woman.
The nature of women was the expected element of The Awakening, and it was executed very thoughtfully by presenting multiple perspectives on the complexity of women. The discussion of a women’s nature begins at the start of Chapter 7 where we are told Edna doesn’t gossip which is “a characteristic hitherto contrary to her nature” (pg. 15). Enda also is “not a mother-women” (pg. 9), she doesn’t care for her children as Madame Ratignolle does. Leonce even needs to call out “her habitual neglect of the children” (pg. 6). Her friends and family see her absence of conventional qualities instead of seeing value in her differences. There’s a black-and-white view of her situation from the people around her, which gets rid of the complexity of her character. She may not be a mother-women, but she still “wept of very pleasure when she felt their little arms clasping her” (pg. 111) when she visited them. Her motherly qualities are not completely devoted but they are not absent either. There is a middle ground, a grey to her, which I found very admirable. Women have so much depth, being confined into one definite box is not realistic, and Chopin demonstrated that complexity in Edna so well.
One aspect of our complexity, that I’ve started to find more and more important as I grow up, is Nature in women. While reviewing my notes I found the following point bulleted down, “The Isle being described as a paradise; ‘oranges + lemons trees’ pg. 16.” I realized that a description of a paradise, is completely subjective and that I personally saw this place as a paradise. The extract my notes referred to was Edna’s and Madame Ratignolle’s walk to the beach,
There were acres of yellow camomile reaching out on either hand. Further away still, vegetable gardens abounded, with frequent small plantations of orange or lemon trees intervening. The dark green clustered glistented from afar in the sun. (pg. 16)
This romantic description of this walk matches Edna’s values of taking walks, and the women who don’t “miss so much” (pg. 126). I know that I don’t go on walks often, but the times that I do, and my friends can attest to this, I become completely infatuated with nature and plants, moss, trees, etc. These consistent connections between Edna and nature, and especially her relationship with the ocean kept me engaged the entire time. There was something so freeing watching Edna’s story end in the ocean rather than something more traditional like a description of her running away with Robert. The image of her standing “naked in the open air, at the mercy of the sun, the breeze that beat upon her, and the waves that invited her” (pg. 136) is stuck in my mind. The rejection of not only her clothing, but her bathing suit too is the rejection of patriarchal societal expectations. Even now nudity is seen as an inherently sexual thing, but aren’t we all born naked? Babies aren’t sexual in any connotation. The scene reminded me of birth, and I imagine once Edna leaves the ocean, if she ever does, this moment will act as her rebirth. She’ll be spiritually free from the biases of “unpleasant, pricking” clothes and society (pg. 136).
When I said I fell in love with Edna that was no hyperbole. I fell in love with her, and all women in my life simultaneously. I must clarify that I do not mean romantic attraction, but attraction to the natures in and of women. I love my mom is the head of my household, working hard and providing for me every day. I love my great aunt who’s been helping us around the house. I love my sisters who challenge me and allow me to self-reflect. I love my grandmas who despite language barriers continue to care for me. I love Taylor and Aneesha who always make me laugh and who are always there for me when I need a hug. I love my dance teacher, Roberta, I love Ms. Dakota, I love my sassy cat Coco, I love my dance friends, Claire and Keeley, I love and admire and thank every woman who I’ve met. There is a spiritual beauty between all of us that Chopin let me see in all these women. There is a complex mystic bond that I am so grateful to share with every woman on the planet. It’s like an exclusive club, a sisterhood, a whisper, a loud yell, an understanding that none of us are the same, none of us are “conventional” even if we have traits that match stereotypes that we face every day.
Most significantly, I love myself. I want to run with Edna Pontellier in her childhood field, I want to walk with her around Grand Isle, and I want to strip with her into the ocean, and swim.
(Ironically, I don’t particularly enjoy swimming.)