Home from a summer at Grand Isle, separated from the company of an agreeable and, eventually beloved, companion and in the stifling company of a disagreeable, oblivious husband, Edna Pontellier sees her home, her garden, her fashionable neighborhood as "an alien world which had suddenly become antagonistic" (76). When she is left alone in the house, she thrills to the sensation of free time and space, the chance to explore, investigate, to see her house in its own light. To eat in peace without her husband's trifling complaints, to read until sleepy, to rest is a luxury which convention, her husband and her own complicity had denied her. She slept well, "now that her time was her own to do with as she liked" (96). This is but one night in the course of Edna's "awakening," a complicated process that, for better or worse, puts her in control of her own destiny. Ultimately, she will answer to no one but herself.
Her path to this point is a complex struggle to carve out the solitude she craves - companionship when and with whom of her choosing. As Edna grows to recognize her own voice, she suffers alternately euphoria, despair and frustration. Her choices develop from a heightened sense of the world around her, of her own preferences and desires. Her experiences, beginning with Robert Lebrun, open her to these sensations, and the sensations provide her with the power to free herself. Looking at examples of Edna's increasingly acute and outward responses to stimuli and her equally willful behavior, her search for solitude evolves as a woman becoming aware of her choices.
When Edna hears Mademoiselle Reisz play at Grand Isle, she is prepared to see the music, as she ...
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...had overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul's slavery for the rest of her days" (138). The sensations that colored her world and gave her voice also gave her an unquenchable desire for freedom, for choice, for self-determined solitude. Unable to make those whom she loved understand, she makes another choice, and opens herself to another wrap of sensation. Like the man in "Solitude," Edna stands upon the beach naked, surrounded by space and air. But unlike that man, her solitude and exposure are chosen - she is not left behind, she is leaving. The sea holds no boundaries any longer, she is not afraid to leave the shore and she knows she can swim to sea, as far out as it takes to be free. As she swims out, her senses revive in memory of her father and sister's voices and the odor of dianthus; once again she is being lulled, but this time toward a resolution.
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