Edna Pontellier’s Search For Independence In Chopin's The Awakening

2692 words - 11 pages

Edna's Search for Independence in The Awakening

    "How do you honor the deepest truth you know?" --Ram Das        In order to honor one's deepest truth, one must first discover what that truth is and then apply that truth to everyday life.  The life of Edna Pontellier in The Awakening signifies the search, discovery, and application of an individual's deepest truth.  Edna, a wealthy New Orleans housewife, at first attempts to find the deepest truth about herself by conforming to society's norms.  She marries a well-respected man, Leonce, and bears him children.  However, Edna discovers that she wants more out of life; something about her marriage is not allowing her to achieve fulfillment.  Through her relationships, confrontations, and conflicts with other characters, Edna discovers that her deepest truth is her need for independence from those that hold her back and she honors her deepest truth by exerting the power of her individuality.  However, Edna's search for and exertion of independence drastically contrasts the expected role of a nineteenth century woman in Louisiana and this fact eventually causes the entrapment which leads to Edna's suicide. Edna cannot have the things she wants (independence and freedom), and she cannot want the things she has (respectability, children, and a good home) and she must find a way to escape this predicament.  Chopin, by demonstrating Edna's awakening, attempts to wake her own society up to the beauty of an independent woman.  However, Louisiana was not very receptive, just as Edna's culture does not accept Edna's change.


            The first indication that Edna is not cut out to be the perfect Creole housewife occurs through Edna's conflicts with her husband, Leonce.  For example, in The Awakening, Leonce describes Edna as being "a valuable piece of personal property" (469) while Edna rebels against this: "[Her family was] a part of her life.  But they need not have thought that they could possess her, body and soul" (504).  Although Edna did perform her duties as a wife for some time, she is not the typical housewife.  She does not worship her husband or idolize her children, which makes both Edna and Leonce begin to sense that Edna is different from the other mother-women (Lin 1).  Edna never realized the reasons she neglected her duties as a wife until she fell in love with Robert and acknowledged that her desires and needs exist outside of her marriage.  Thus, after her experiences with Robert, Edna is ready to neglect her husband even more, because she now realizes that her husband is holding her back from her needs.  When Leonce tries to make Edna act like the other women that obey their husbands, his attempts to control Edna further instigate Edna's desire for independence from him.  For example, the scene when Edna is lying in the hammock, Leonce says: "I can't permit you to stay out there all night.  You must come in the house instantly," Edna replies: "I mean to stay out...

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