Suicide is often thought of as a very sad and quick answer to problems, such as depression but in Kate Chopin's novel, she ironically portrays suicide as a passage to freedom. The Awakening (1899) is a short novel that depicts the life of a young housewife struggling for her independence, sexuality, and her self worth in an unromantic marriage. The author, through three major actions, shows the successful and triumphant "awakening" of Edna Pontellier. Edna's change in character unravels as she takes up painting, moves into her own house, and eventually commits suicide.
As the story unfolds, we learn that, although Edna Pontellier lives in relative luxury in the French Quarter of New Orleans with a successful businessman for a husband and two young boys, she is unhappy about the direction her life is headed. Edna's "awakening" begins when she realizes that she is living her life for others and not herself. The story takes place in the late nineteenth century, a time when women were expected to stay at home and take care of the children, with little independence. Edna decides to pursue her passion of painting making it even harder for her husband Léonce to understand her. She is stepping out of the traditional routine of women, leaving her husband to believe that she may be coming down with a sickness. However, Edna's thoughts are simply filled with her fantasies of Robert. Every summer the Pontellier's vacation at an upscale resort on Grand Isle. This is where Edna first encounters Robert Lebrun spending most of her days with him; she is taken by his love. The narrator says, "She could only realize that she herself... was in some way different from the other self. That she was ...
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... swim to her death, "...There beside the sea, absolutely alone, and for the first time in her life she stood naked in the open air...and the waves invited her"(115). For Edna this was the freedom that she had been working for and had finally achieved.
The tragedy of Edna Pontellier's death was not a cowardly retraction of her goal to become an independent woman, but rather a daring act of her courageous soul and the only way for her to free herself form the trials of her world. The Awakening shows the independence of a woman in need of change and the courage that it takes to pursue individual goals. It portrays a strong message to me about how important it is to fulfill your personal goals and be your own individual. Edna showed us this through her triumphant "Awakening."
Kate Chopin, The Awakening, New York: Dover Publications, Inc.1993
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