Edna’s Awakening in Kate Chopin’s Novel Or How Suicide is a Release
Edna’s Awakening in Kate Chopin’s Novel
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How Suicide is a Release
Edna Pontellier is Chopin’s main female protagonist in “The Awakening”. The use of water as a dominant symbol in the book will be dissected in this essay, as well as Edna’s independence throughout the novel which is a reflection of her failing marriage, and how her final act of independence and self identity is made through water which releases her from the bonds of a patriarch society and by extension her relationship with her husand. Thus, the act of suicide, indeed the choice of suicide is what makes the symbolism of water throughout the novel so important to that final act.
For a long time, social roles of women in the society and within the family were limited by gender stereotypes and social norms dominated since prehistory in a myriad of cultures. These norms were closely connected and influenced by class location of women and their social status. In the work, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, the author explores questions concerning the role of social class and social position in life of ordinary people especially in reference to the gap between women and men in reference to equality. Edna is influenced by false social values and traditions accepted by society’s mores, but her ‘awakening’ is caused by different events and life circumstances, so she chooses different methods to resist social oppression and tyranny (suicide) as Davis and Moore state, “Social inequality is thus an unconsciously evolved device by which societies insure that the most important positions are conscientiously filled by the more qualified persons” (Baldridge, 158).
Edna Pontellier, the main character of “The Awakening” is limited by her class location; nevertheless she breaks it and behaves as an independent woman. The author shows that to ‘woman’s mission’ is to offer society the benefits of the domestic model: to bridge the gulf between the two classes of rich and poor, to perform kindnesses which would transform mutinous sentiments into grateful ones, and to refashion the lower orders in the image of their betters. But these expectations contained many contradictory elements. As the most important, the female writers represent the social class as an “iron cage” for women. The authors portray that everything depends upon class location of the characters: their social life, wealth and respect which is a reflection of who they marry. For instance, Kate Chopin underlines that position of Léonce Pontellier is closely connected with the idea that business shapes a man. For instance, when Edna decides to leave him “he was not dreaming of scandal. He was simply thinking of his financial integrity” (Chopin, 1995). Thus, it does not seem that romance is a part of the marriage between these two characters.
Edna’s awakening begins with Adele Ratignolle. Taking into account upper class values, it was impossible for a woman to have physical desire and longing. Edna’s first attraction to Adele is physical: ‘the excessive physical charm of the Creole had first attracted her, for Edna had a sensuous susceptibility to beauty’ (Chopin, 1995). It is not then a romantic love which attracts Edna to Adele but a more physical desire. Edna seems fated to reenact social rituals, even though, as Chopin recounts these scenes, she satirizes and revises their conventions. Ironically, considering her determination to discard the trappings of her role as a society matron her wedding ring, her ‘reception day’, her ‘charming home’ the high point of Edna’s awakening is the dinner party she gives for her twenty-ninth birthday.
Edna thinks of her marriage as a mistake, the text makes it clear that Edna has married her husband, primarily because he was handsome and differed greatly from other men. Taking into account this situation, symbolically, the author depicts that marriage and social class become a prison for Edna which prevents her to obtain equal position and equal rights with men. Edna wants to have the same rights as men have and to be equal with them. She seems to have believed that men and women alike have great difficulty reconciling their need to live as discrete individuals. These conflicting needs lie at the center of the story. In sum, the author depicts that class position had a great influence on every aspect of life: economic and social. Upper classes can be economically independent which means that they can speak their mind and it would not cost them anything if they offended someone (Baldridge, 158). Chopin depicts evolution of spirit and will of the female characters. The development of the characters reflects inner psychological state of the heroines and helps readers to grasp the idea at once, to follow plot development and conflict resolution. The evolution and changing role of women is forced by inner struggle and great desire to be free from social norms and prejudice. The changing role for Edna, as is depicted in “The Awakening” is witnessed through her final act of suicide, or an act that is completely contrived by her, and executed by her; thus, independence, full independence from anyone.
In an effort to forego the allowances of inequality presented to them in previous generations, women of the early 20th century (especially as depicted through Chopin’s The Awakening) decided that something about society’s values toward women had to change. In the reflection of women’s roles that have been referenced to in this essays examination of literature it is clear that women were thought of as second class citizens two thousand years after they were considered second class citizens in the Roman, and Greek cultures. Thus, Edna’s suicide in the novel may be considered her only path toward personal freedom.
It is water that is the catalyst in this case, and it is water which purifies Edna at the end of the story, and baptizes her into her true self, and rids her of all of the contrary natures shoved onto her by her husband and society. Thus, the symbol of water works in the novel as a device which allows Edna a full identity, away from marriage and romantic love.
Baldridge, J. Victor. Sociology: A Critical Approach to Power, Conflict, and Change. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1975.
Chopin, K. The Awakening. 1995. 2007. <www.onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/ webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=160>