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In Kate Chopin's The Awakening, the principal character, Edna decides to kill herself rather than to live a lie. It seemed to Kate that the time of her own death was the only thing remaining under her control since society had already decided the rest of her life for her. Edna was a woman of the wrong times; she wanted her independence and she wanted to be with her lover, Robert. This type of behavior would never be accepted by the society of her time. Edna's relationship with Robert, and her rejection of the role dictated to her by society, resulted in her perceiving suicide to be the only solution to her problems.
Critics of Kate Chopin's The Awakening tend to read the novel as the dramatization of a woman's struggle to achieve selfhood--a struggle doomed failure either because the patriarchal conventions of her society restrict freedom, or because the ideal of selfhood that she pursue is a masculine defined one that allows for none of the physical and undeniable claims which maternity makes upon women. Ultimately. in both views, Edna Pontellier ends her life because she cannot have it both ways: given her time, place, and notion of self, she cannot be a mother and have a self. (Simons)
Edna Pontellier could not have what she wanted. There are many arguments about Edna being selfish for ending her life and leaving her children behind. "Edna does indeed dread 'being reduced to her biological function, 'but this is what the Creole culture does to women , as Priscilla Leder suggests" (Simons). She could not offer the love that children deserve from a parent. I do not feel that she was selfish, she did not love her children the way a mother-woman would. A mother-woman is someone who puts her children before anything else in her life. Edna is not one of those "mother-women" who "esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels"; she is, rather a twenty-eight-year-old woman who hears 'the voice of the sea,' which seduces 'the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in inward contemplation'." (Toth)
Edna needed to be in control of her life. As long as she was married and a mother she would never have total control.
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Edna wanted her independence but could not have it as long as she was seen as being her husband's property. When Edna was sunburned on the beach Chopin wrote that Leonce looked "at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage". (21) Edna also speaks of her gaining her independence in a conversation with Robert. "You have been a very, very foolish boy, wasting your time dreaming of impossible things when you speak of Mr. Pontellier setting me free! I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier's possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose."(129)
One critic suggest that Edna kills herself due to a post-traumatic event. Roger Platizky suggests that a post-traumatic memory could cause mood changes, boundary problems, and suicide. "Edna's extreme mood swings - from elation to dependency - are another sign that she may be suffering from a post-traumatic event. In general, her depressive thoughts seem to subside only when Edna feels she is in control of the men in her life, whether they be her father, her husband, her sons, or Robert and Alcee. The thought of not being in control of one's own body or choices would be frightening for anyone, but for someone that has been physically violated, the fear of losing such control could be devastating." (Platizky)
Edna Pontellier wanted to be with Robert Lebrun. He wanted her as a wife but she did not want to marry again. Edna wanted to have her own identity and did not want to be any one else's possession after she set herself free from Leonce. Edna tried to gain her independence by moving out the house that Leonce paid for and rented a "pigeon house" that she paid for with her painting. Edna wanted to be self-sufficient but when she left the "big house" Leonce explained to the community that they were remodeling and the move was only temporary.
Edna was not able to stay alive without being in control of her life. She wanted Robert but this was not possible. She did not want to be a mother and a wife but it was too late. Edna did not fit in with her society. She was not a "mother woman" and she was not able to live a life in solitude like Mademoiselle Reisz. She wanted companionship but not responsibility. She ended her life because she was not happy with her role in society and given her time and place she had no way out except for suicide.
Chopin, Kate.The Awakening. Ed. by Nancy Walker. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's Press, 2000.
Platizky, R. "Chopin's The Awakening." Explicator 53 (Winter 1995): 99-102.
Simons, Karen. "Kate Chopin on the Nature of Things." The Mississippi Quarterly. 51.2 (1998).
Toth, Emily. Unveiling Kate Chopin. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999.