Ambiguity in Kate Chopin's The Awakening

Powerful Essays
Ambiguity in The Awakening

Leonce Pontellier, the husband of Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin's The Awakening, becomes very perturbed when his wife, in the period of a few months, suddenly drops all of her responsibilities. After she admits that she has "let things go," he angrily asks, "on account of what?" Edna is unable to provide a definite answer, and says, "Oh! I don't know. Let me along; you bother me" (108). The uncertainty she expresses springs out of the ambiguous nature of the transformation she has undergone. It is easy to read Edna's transformation in strictly negative terms‹as a move away from the repressive expectations of her husband and society‹or in strictly positive terms‹as a move toward the love and sensuality she finds at the summer beach resort of Grand Isle. While both of these moves exist in Edna's story, to focus on one aspect closes the reader off to the ambiguity that seems at the very center of Edna's awakening. Edna cannot define the nature of her awakening to her husband because it is not a single edged discovery; she comes to understand both what is not in her current situation and what is another situation. Furthermore, the sensuality that she has been awakened to is itself not merely the male or female sexuality she has been accustomed to before, but rather the sensuality that comes in the fusion of male and female. The most prominent symbol of the book‹the ocean that she finally gives herself up to‹embodies not one aspect of her awakening, but rather the multitude of contradictory meanings that she discovers. Only once the ambiguity of this central symbol is understood can we read the ending of the novel as a culmination and extension of the themes in the novel, and the novel regains a...

... middle of paper ...

... Relation. Boston: George Light, 1837.

Allen, Priscilla. "Old Critics and New: The Treatment of Chopin's The Awakening." In The Authority of Experience: Essays in Feminist Criticism, ed. Arlyn Diamond and Lee

R. Edwards. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1977, 224-238.

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. London: Penguin, 1986.

Hartog, Hendrick. Man and Wife in America. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2000.

Lewis, Jan. "The Republican Wife: Virtue and Seduction in the Early Republic." The William and Mary Quarterly. 44 (1987), 689-722.

Sullivan, Barbara. "Introduction to The Awakening." In The Awakening, ed. Barbara Sullivan. New York: Signet, 1976.

Toth, Emily. "Kate Chopin's The Awakening as Feminist Criticism." Louisiana Studies, 15 (1976), 241-251.

Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: Modern Library, 1899.
Get Access