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Edna Pontellier's Suicide In Kate Chopin's The Awakening

1569 words - 6 pages

Edna Pontellier's Suicide

Suicide has been defined as "the act of self-destruction by a person sound in mind and

capable of measuring his (or her) moral responsibility" (Webster 1705). Determining one's

moral responsibility is what all of humanity struggles with and strives to achieve. Many forces

act toward the suppression of this self-discovery, causing a breakdown and ultimately a complete

collapse of conventional conceptions of the self. So then the question presented becomes

whether or not Edna's suicide is an act of tragic affirmation or pathetic defeat. Most analyses of

the protagonist, Edna Pontellier, explain the newly emerged awareness and struggle against the

societal forces that repress her. However, they ignore the weaknesses in Edna that prevented her

from achieving the personal autonomy that she glimpsed during her periods of "awakening".

Kate Chopin chooses to have Edna take a "final swim" as evidence of her absolute defeat as an

insightful study of the limitations that prevent any woman from achieving the ultimate goal of

self-actualization. Simply put, Edna's awakening leads to her suicide. Newly aware of the

meanings her life could take on, the awakened part of herself presents Edna with a command to

take action. When Edna is unable to rationalize her old and new selves, she surrenders her life to

the sea as an escape from domestic compliance and solitary freedom.

Edna did not experience her awakening at Grand Isle, but instead a "re-awakening" of

childlike passion which allowed for "impulsive," "aimless," and "unguided" decisions (Chopin

38). Although Edna believes her awakening took place at Grand Isle that night on the porch, this

is actually a false awakening. Edna's first problem stems from this event, the mislabeling of her

awakening. Her true awakening in fact occurs shortly before her suicide, when she "grew faint"

after returning home to find Robert gone (106). When all seems to be lost with Robert's going

away, Edna has nowhere to turn but inward. It is at this precise moment she discovers her

failure, her lack of true individuality. Her feelings of individuality, her feelings of solitude, stem

from her inability to reconcile her inner and outer selves. Her outer self is that which she

displays to society, the acceptable mother-woman, conventional in every way. After her initial

awakening (the false awakening), she sheds off the world and its effects on her in its entirety.

However, she is unable to define a world into which she is able to enter. This leads ultimately to

Edna's realization that she does not belong in either of the extremes displayed in the work; the

expected mother-woman with no individuality whatsoever or the social outcast with too much

individuality. Edna begins to realize that "there was no one thing in the world she desired"

(198). Coming to this...

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