There are many ways of looking at Edna's Suicide in The Awakening, and each offers a different perspective. It is not necessary for the reader to like the ending of the novel, but the reader should come to understand it in relation to the story it ends. The fact that readers do not like the ending, that they struggle to make sense of it, is reflected in the body of criticism on the novel: almost all scholars attempt to explain the suicide. Some of the explanations make more sense than others. By reading them the reader will come to a fuller understanding of the end of the novel (and in the process the entire novel) and hopefully make the ending less disappointing.
Joseph Urgo reads the novel in terms of Edna learning to narrate her own story. He maintains that by the end of the novel she has discovered that her story is "unacceptable in her culture" (23) and in order to get along in that culture she must be silent. Edna rejects this muting of her voice and would, Urgo maintains, rather "extinguish her life than edit her tale" (23). To save herself from an ending others would write or an ending that would compromise what she has fought to obtain, she has to write her own end and remove herself from the tale. As she swims out, the voices of her children come to pull at her like little "antagonists," and there are others on shore who would also hold her down: Robert, Adele, Arobin, and Leonce. Edna finds a way to elude them all, and narrates in her suicide the conclusion to her tale. In this type of reading, her suicide can be understood in terms of societal pressure. What is the result of silencing a person's voice? Urgo maintains, on a symbolic level...
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...g Sea': Freedom and Drowning in Eliot, Chopin, and Drabble." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 12 (1993): 315-32.
Malzahn, Manfred. "The Strange Demise of Edna Pontellier." Southern Literary Journal 23.2 (1992): 31-39.
Roscher, Marina L. "The suicide of Edna Pontellier: An Ambiguous Ending?" Southern Studies 23 (1984): 289-98.
Showalter, Elaine. Sister's Choice: Tradition and Change in American Women's Writing. Oxford: Claredon Press, 1991.
Skaggs, Peggy. "Three Tragic Figures in Kate Chopin's The Awakening." Louisiana Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of the South 4 (1974): 345-64.
Spangler, George M. "Kate Chopin's The Awakening: A Partial Dissent." Novel: A Forum on Fiction 3 (1970): 249-55.
Urgo, Joseph R. "A Prologue to Rebellion: The Awakening and the Habit of Self-expression." The Southern Literary Journal 20.1 (1987): 22-32.
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