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Kate Chopin's The Awakening tells the story of Edna Pontellier, a Southern wife and mother. At the time this novel was published, women did as they were expected by society. They were expected to be good daughters, good wives, and good mothers. A woman was expected to move from the protection of her father's roof to the protection of her husband. Edna did not fit this mold, and that eventually leads her husband to send for a doctor. When her husband does this Edna Pontellier says words, which define The Awakening, "I don't want anything but my own way. That is wanting a good deal, of course, when you have to trample upon the lives, the hearts, the prejudices of others - but no matter"
At first, Edna is married and seems vaguely satisfied with her life. However, she cannot find true happiness. Her "awakening" begins when a persistent young man named Robert begins courting her. Edna begins to respond to him with a passion she has never felt before. She begins to realize that she can play roles other than wife and mother. Throughout the book, Edna takes many steps to increase her independence. She sends her children away, she refuses to stay at home on Tuesdays (as was the social convention of the time), and she frequents races and parties. Unfortunately, her independence proves to be her downfall. Edna remains married, because divorce is unheard of. She wants to marry Robert, but he will not because it will disgrace her to leave her husband. No matter how much Edna exceeds social boundaries and despite what she wants, she is held down by the will of others. In today's world divorce, sadly, is almost commonplace, but in her time she would have been an outcast of her society. By the end of The Awakening, Edna feels like a possession - of her husband, of her children, and of her society. The only solution she sees is to end her life, which she does by swimming out into the sea until her strength gives out.
The theme of The Awakening is deeper than the obvious themes of independence and women's rights. The Awakening presents suicide as a valid solution to problems. People commit suicide because of isolation and loneliness or a serious disruption of one's life. It is easy to connect these with Edna's life: the isolation of her small house, the disruption caused by Adele's death, and the common good of the children.
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The Awakening tells a story of independence, freedom, and will power unheard of during the times of its publication. It IS a stirring book that forces you to confront tough issues. It paints a picture of what goes through the mind of a person who loses hope. The Awakening tells us a story from the perspective of the oppressed. It is far more than another romance novel with a tragic ending. It is a book about the choices one will make to protect one's freedom.
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