Edna Pontellier's Suicide in Kate Chopin's The Awakening

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Edna Pontellier's Suicide

Suicide has been defined as "the act of self-destruction by a person sound in mind and

capable of measuring his (or her) moral responsibility" (Webster 1705). Determining one's

moral responsibility is what all of humanity struggles with and strives to achieve. Many forces

act toward the suppression of this self-discovery, causing a breakdown and ultimately a complete

collapse of conventional conceptions of the self. So then the question presented becomes

whether or not Edna's suicide is an act of tragic affirmation or pathetic defeat. Most analyses of

the protagonist, Edna Pontellier, explain the newly emerged awareness and struggle against the

societal forces that repress her. However, they ignore the weaknesses in Edna that prevented her

from achieving the personal autonomy that she glimpsed during her periods of "awakening".

Kate Chopin chooses to have Edna take a "final swim" as evidence of her absolute defeat as an

insightful study of the limitations that prevent any woman from achieving the ultimate goal of

self-actualization. Simply put, Edna's awakening leads to her suicide. Newly aware of the

meanings her life could take on, the awakened part of herself presents Edna with a command to

take action. When Edna is unable to rationalize her old and new selves, she surrenders her life to

the sea as an escape from domestic compliance and solitary freedom.

Edna did not experience her awakening at Grand Isle, but instead a "re-awakening" of

childlike passion which allowed for "impulsive," "aimless," and "unguided" decisions (Chopin

38). Although Edna believes her awakening took place at Grand Isle that night on the p...

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... a failure. " Her suicide gives her the power, the

dignity, the self-possession of a tragic heroine. Her suicide is the crowning glory of her

development from the bewilderment which accompanied her early emancipation to the clarity

with which she understands her own nature and the possibilities of her life as she decides to end

it." (Wolkenfeld 242)

In Edna's view, she commits suicide because she feels like a possession of her husband,

of her children, and of her society. Although suicide is usually seen as a form of defeat, sees her

case as a dignified act. Edna chooses her suicide as a way to escape to a better place. Choosing to

dies is Edna's way of triumphing over the things she feels she has been imprisoned by in her life.

Despite everything, Edna was a very strong character, but in the end is conquered by her own

self.
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