Edna’s Agency in her Tragic End

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Edna Pontellier in The Awakening by Kate Chopin begins the novel in a semiconscious state where she is living the role condemned to her by society of a mother and homemaker. Her progression from a passive woman to a passionate, independent female corresponds to the steps she takes in her “awakening”. As Edna lets go of societal principles and her stereotypical role in the world, Edna creates a new identity away from her family and embodies the “new woman”. She knows she cannot truly escape society which is why she ultimately submits to death. Edna steers her actions by her emotional needs and personal interest causing her to show a complete lack of perception outside of herself. Her death critiques societal conventions through the actions she takes in her liberation since Edna is conscious of her revolt against the system. Edna is fully aware of her situation, although in the end she realizes she cannot live outside of society, she isolates herself from civilization to create a new independent identity, starts to explore her desires through art and truly gives into her sexual needs while demanding more respect for herself as a form of rebellion. Edna understood that by disregarding societal values, she will be isolating herself from everyone in her life. Isolation and independence are mutually inclusive and Edna starts to understand this when Adele Ratignolle cannot comprehend how Edna “would never sacrifice herself for her children” (46). Even Adele, Edna’s Creole friend who expresses herself freely about sexual matters and lives outside the classic “American” stereotype, does not understand Edna’s behaviour. Edna additionally separates herself from society when she stops having guests on Tuesdays (54). She even sends her ch... ... middle of paper ... ...her control. Edna embodies the “new woman” who breaks conventional female roles. She is aware of the controversy of her actions when comparing herself to Adele who embodies womanhood and motherhood. As Edna discovers her own identity, she is met with opposition and misunderstanding. After Edna is isolated from society and tries to develop herself as a person by demanding respect through painting and sexual affairs, she realizes that her rebellion is useless. She lacks any agency in her outcome when the world around her is constant in its ways. Robert leaving Edna was the last recognition of how alone Edna is in her awakening and how she cannot live a life of solitude. Edna’s death is a final act of freedom from the constraints of society. She does not fight her death because she knows that she will never be able to live in the romantic illusion she has about life.

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