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“Edna began to feel like one who awakens gradually out of a dream, a delicious, grotesque, impossible dream, to feel again the realities oppressing into her soul.” (Pg. 42) In Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening the constant boundaries and restrictions placed on Edna Pontellier by society will lead to her struggle for freedom and her ultimate suicide. Her husband Leonce Pontellier, the current women of society, and the Grand Isle make it evident that Edna is trapped in a patriarchal society.
There are constant boundaries and restrictions imposed on Edna Pontellier that ignite Edna’s struggle for freedom. Edna is a young Creole wife and mother in a high-class society. Leonce Pontellier, her husband is declared “…the best husband in the world”, while Edna sits and feels unsatisfied with her marriage. Edna did not respect her husband as the other women did. Leonce condemned Edna for neglecting their children. Edna’s mind was at rest concerning the present material needs of her children. Edna’s thoughts are clouded with her unhappiness, one night she awakes and sits in the night air and cries. She does not know how to explain her crying, but the reader is able to understand that it is because she is unhappy with her life.
Unlike many of the women that Edna is surrounded by she does not worship her husband. In a fit of rage one night she rips her wedding ring from her finger and throws it on the floor. She tries to stomp on it, but her small heel makes not indentation. Later, Edna feels like a child, but the action holds a lot of meaning. A wedding ring is meant to bind two people together through a promise, and Edna wants out of this promise. Determined to leave the life she doesn’t want, Edna leaves her family while they are away and rents a small house.
Edna lives with the knowledge that she is not a “woman-mother”. Her own husband chides her for not paying more attention to the children. Edna’s affections for her children depend on her mood, although she her state of mind always makes clear that she loves them. While talking to a close friend she attempts to explain how far she would go for the sake of her children, "I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself.
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"The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clearing, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in the abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation. The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace." (Pg. 18) The sea is where Edna begins her search for freedom. In the beginning of the novel she is unable to swim, despite practically everyone on the island giving her instruction. However, once she does learn to swim she feels a bit of the freedom she wants. While swimming with a large group of people she breaks away and swims as far as her arms can take her. “As she swam she seemed to be reaching out for the unlimited in which to lose herself.” (Pg. 37) While it is not far from her husband’s view, Edna feels a slight thrill of panic and then peace in the water.
It is the sea that urges Edna to wander through life at her own pleasing. Edna comes to this conclusion because she compares swimming in the sea to when she wandered through a field as a child. While wandering she felt lost and free, “… sometimes I feel this summer as if I were walking through the green meadow again; idly, aimlessly, unthinking and unguided.” (Pg. 22)
Edna also sought refuge in other men as an escape of her feelings of entrapment in her society. Grand Isle is the setting for a moment of self-discovery and liberation for Edna. Edna begins to find herself through Robert. Through her stay on the isle Edna learns that she is capable of loving, capable of something other than infatuation. Madam Reisz had a profound influence upon the lifestyle of Edna, along with supplying a pillar for moral support. Madame Reisz plays the piano for Edna, giving her both company and solitude. It is also through Madame Reisz that she is able to keep in contact with Robert. This is done purely through Edna reading the letters that Robert sends Madame Reisz. She tells Edna that Robert loves her and explains the reasons for his leave of absence.
As the novel unfolds, Edna withdraws from her husband while she continues to think of Robert. While she does not see him, she retreats farther and farther into the life with him in her mind. Art becomes the only form of expression that she can handle. Women of the time where not allowed to simply speak out, so Edna finds a way to sound her voice louder than a human voice could. Edna does have talent and is able to make a small living selling her works.
Throughout the novel Chopin presents a character that seeks independence from society. Edna Pontellier represents the rebel in any person, the primal need for free. The sea, Robert Lebrun, and Mademoiselle Reisz are her awakenings to the life that she wants to live and is living. In the end, Edna's freedom takes place in death.