One theme apparent in Kate Chopin's novel, The Awakening, is the consequence of solitude when independence is chosen over conformity. The novel's protagonist, Edna Pontellier, is faced with this consequence after she embarks on a journey of self-discovery. "As Edna's ability to express herself grows, the number of people who can understand her newfound language shrinks" (Ward 3). Edna's awakening from a conforming, Victorian wife and mother, into an emotional and sexual woman takes place through the use of self-expression in three forms: emotional language, art, and physical passion.
The first form of self-expression Edna learns is the emotional language spoken by the Creole women. These "mother-women" of Grand Isle freely use language to express their frank emotions and illustrate the stories of their every-day lives. Edna is initially shocked by "their entire absence of prudery" but she later finds it liberating (Chopin 686). Her Creole friend Adele Ratignolle is the most influential in Edna's verbal liberation. They spend a day at the beach together and Edna learns she can face her emotions, past and present, without fear. As she recognizes this change within herself, she begins to question the rules and ideas she has based her life on. Chopin acknowledges, "she [Edna] began to loosen a little the mantle of reserve that had always enveloped her" (690). This first step toward true self-expression are "like a first breath of freedom" for Edna, leaving her wanting more (Chopin 694).
Along with more expressive language, Edna learns to express her identity through art. Her teacher of this method is Mademoiselle Reisz, a Creole pianist. When previously lis...
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...r once again, leaving her devastated.
As Edna nears the end of the novel, she has reached full self-realization and independence through these three forms of expression. Her despair comes in the fact the she has surpassed each of her teachers, leaving her in a free, but lonely world. Edna is convinced her awakening, though liberating, has only led to essential solitude and chooses the ultimate isolation of death.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. Anthology of American Literature. Volume II: Realism to the Present. Ed. George McMichael. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2000. 697-771.
Davis, Sara de Saussure. "Kate Chopin." Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 12 pp. 59-71. Literature Resource Center. Gale Group Databases. Central Lib. Fort Worth, TX. 11 Feb. 2003
Ward, Selena. "Spark Notes on The Awakening." 11 Feb 2003.
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