In Kate Chopin's novel, The Awakening, the female protagonist, Edna Pontellier, learns about the world. Unfortunately for Edna, the world is defined in terms of love and marriage. This female awakening is really "an awakening to limitations" (Bloom 43). If read as a suicide, then Edna’s last swim is a consequence of her awakening to the limitations of her femaleness in a male-dominant society. But on a metaphysical level, The Awakening's final scene can be seen as Edna's ultimate gesture in trying to grasp the essence of her being. This essay will show that Edna's spiritual journey both begins and ends in the sea..
In the early chapters, Edna is referred to only as Mrs. Pontellier, as a subset of Mr. Pontellier. At this point, Edna's sense of self is still defined in terms of her connection with her husband, Léonce. At the same time, but on another level, Edna as a fictional character has not yet materialized from the text. For Mrs. Pontellier, suffering manifests itself early and is the easiest of the three marks of existence to identify. A few pages after making her entrance, Mrs. Pontellier fights with Mr. Pontellier and finds what Chopin describes as "an indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, [and] filled her whole being with a vague anguish" (49). On account of her still undelineated character and primordial sense of self, Mrs. Pontellier's suffering is appropriately "indescribable," "unfamiliar," and "vague." But in this unformed self, Edna is beginning to "realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her" (Chopin 5...
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...achments on the shore like she did at her first swim at which her sensual self was aroused into action. Edna swims out toward nirvana. And thus we come to the end of Edna's spiritual journey.
Works Cited and Consulted
Bercholz, Samuel, and Shearb Chödzin Kohn, eds. Entering the Stream: An Introduction to the Buddha and His Teachings. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1993.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Kate Chopin. Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening and Selected Stories. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.
"Nature." The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. 1993 ed.
Saddhatissa, Hammalawa. Buddhist Ethics: The Path to Nirvana. London: Wisdom Publications, 1987.
Schuhmacher, Stephan, et al., eds. The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1989.
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