Contradictory Impulses in Chopin’s The Awakening
“Edna Pontellier could not have told why, wishing to go to the beach with Robert, she should in the first place have declined, and in the second place have followed in obedience to one of the two contradictory impulses that impelled her.
A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her,--the light which, showing the way, forbids it,” (Chopin 34).
The possibility of a life beyond the scope of motherhood, social custom, standards of femininity, and wifedom characterize Kate Chopin’s vision of her heroine’s awakening, but Edna’s personal growth remains stifled by her inability to reconcile the contradictory impulses pulling her in different directions. Edna clearly envisions herself somewhere between mother-goddess figure Adele Ratignolle and the artist-spinster Mademoiselle Reisz, yet can not seem to negotiate a space that affords the luxury of love unspoiled by self-sacrifice and obligation. Edna’s “soul” surfaces when she allows herself to act on impulse over duty, but as Chopin’s words reveal, Mrs. Pontellier blindly follows these urges (“Edna could not have told why . . . she should . . . have followed in obedience”) without acknowledging the sacrifices inherent in every life. Equating the light dawning within Edna to a beacon that merely illuminates an impasse, Chopin renders a character who recognizes solitude but remains fearful and unwilling to ultimately confront it.
Chopin thematically represents the contradictory impulses shaping Edna’s awakening primarily through sound. Associating metallic, discordant, and intrusive noises with the world of domestic, filial, and social responsibility (the “clatter, clatter, bang!”...