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...