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The Awakening – In Defense of Edna
Does everyone have the right to happiness? It is stated in the
Constitution that we as Americans have the right to life, liberty, and the
PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. In the novel The Awakening by Kate Chopin the main
Character Edna has a comfortable life. A sweet loving husband, cute
children, enormous amounts of money and an extremely large house. Yet with all
of this Edna is not fulfilled. Edna never took time to examine her life to see
what she wanted out of it. After marriage, Edna wanted the freedom to
explore her mind, find herself and find what this person liked. In the
following I will defend the actions Edna took to find her happiness as
irrational as they may seem.
This story took place in the late 1800's when women's liberation was never heard
of. In this era women were supposed to find happiness in serving their husbands
and taking care of the children. There were no other options within the
restrictive boundaries of marriage, and divorce was never an alternative.
Women's lives were austere and self enrichment or self gratification were often
times cast aside relative to the more mundane tasks of daily life. Most women
accepted this but Edna did not. She figured that life was more than constantly
doing for someone else. She wanted time for herself in order to figure out who
she was. Some may see this as selfish but everyone is entitled to “me” time and
space. Although I admit she did not go about it in the best way at times; Edna
still was in going in the right direction.
Edna's marriage to Leonce Pontellier was to spite her father the Colonel because
Leonce was of a different religious faith. Also, Leonce was unceasingly devoted
to Edna which was something that had never occurred in any other relationship.
Edna, who had not experienced many male relationships before this was naive when
it came to men. This naiveté affected her in such a way that she neither knew
love and it's limitations nor the experience it took to make it through a
relationship. This showed Edna's immaturity which was a big issue in this story.
This shown as the woman inside who had been asleep all those years. Her
relationship with Leonce was what she sought to find happiness in.
After six years of marriage to Leonce, Edna felt an ever-growing void in her
life. She gave up all of her responsibilities such as taking care of her
children when they were sick and she never spent time playing with them.
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shows a contrast between her inner self which was “awakening” and her outer self
as a mother and a wife. At first, her character is portrayed as accepting of
the “outer role” in which she has to play. Soon after though she finds out that
she can have fulfillment too. Edna's “awakening” occurs and she is able to grow
spiritually, intimately and emotionally. Her life is confined as if in a cage.
This confinement is represented by the parrot in the story squaking in French “
Get out!”. He was caged and he was screaming to leave. The same is true of
Edna's heart. It was screaming for freedom and independence in her monotonous
life. This resulted in her moving into the “pigeon house” that she purchased,
which was a small house she bought around the corner from the Pontellier's
mansion. There Edna displayed her independence by her lack of acceptance of the
things that Leonce had bought for her and proved to everyone including herself
that no one had to be dependent on what society called the “moral way of living.”
In the end Edna swims naked into the ocean that was so free and open freeing
herself from societies restrictions. She swam out smoothly and fearlessly and
there she gave up herself to the ocean. Her decision to free herself of earthly
bonds was made with great resolve. Edna had made her decision. She swam out
and made the ultimate sacrifice...... herself. Edna knew she was born in the
right place at the wrong time and there was nothing this life had to offer her.
There was no room for free thinking women. She had two choices these being
either to live her whole life in misery and hide her spirit and soul, or to
sacrifice herself, that is her outer being and keep her dignity and essence.
Edna chose the latter as she gracefully left this world.
All of Edna's actions were not unintentional. She knew what she wanted like
most, but Edna was the only woman to have the courage and the determination to
go on the road less traveled. This story showed Edna's awakening, and her
realization that she had options and did not have to go along. This was her
revelation but she knew that society would never accept it so she killed herself
with dignity instead of being just another shadow.