The text of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening often makes Edna Pontellier appear selfish and unfeeling, especially towards her children. Chopin does, however, allow for the possibility that Edna’s final act may be one of unselfish love for her children. It is Edna’s inability to assume the role society has chosen for her that leads her to act as she does. Edna really had no other choice in the end.
It is very easy to perceive Edna as a selfish, cold, unfeeling woman. Chopin gives many examples in the text that lead the reader to feel no sympathy towards Edna. She is often indifferent to her husband’s affections, a cause of concern for Mr. Pontellier: "He thought it very discouraging that his wife, who was the sole object of his existence, evinced so little interest in things which concerned him, and valued so little his conversation" (12). Is Edna really "the sole object of his existence"? How does he show her that he really cares for her? Leonce shows no great displays of affection for his wife at any time, nor does he profess his love for her or seek to spend a great deal of time with her. Leonce, very materialistic and image-conscious, believes he is showing affection for his wife by giving her money and buying beautiful, expensive things for the house. When he is not working, he usually opts to spend his spare time at a men’s club, rather than with his wife. This is so obvious that Madame Ratignolle sees the necessity of telling Edna "It’s a pity Mr. Pontellier doesn’t stay home more in the evenings. I think you would be more . . . united, if he did" (115).
Edna reveals early in the story that she was not passionately in love with her husband when she married him, ...
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...ife. If Edna could only be content to be just a wife and mother, to find true happiness in this, she could resolve the conflict in her marriage. This is not possible for Edna.
It is Edna’s inability to reconcile her true self with the woman that society and her husband expect her to be, that leads to her actions in the end. If Edna were a selfish, uncaring woman, she would simply have left her family to pursue her own interests. The stigma this would have placed on her children would have been harsh. It is because she loves her children that she comes to the decision to take her life. She tells Madame Ratignolle, "I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself" (80). Forced to have to choose between the two, she obviously chose that which would hurt her children the least.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. New York: Avon, 1972.
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