Edna’s Choice in Kate Chopin's The Awakening
The text of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening often makes Edna Pontellier appear selfish and unfeeling, especially towards her children. Chopin does, however, allow for the possibility that Edna’s final act may be one of unselfish love for her children. It is Edna’s inability to assume the role society has chosen for her that leads her to act as she does. Edna really had no other choice in the end.
It is very easy to perceive Edna as a selfish, cold, unfeeling woman. Chopin gives many examples in the text that lead the reader to feel no sympathy towards Edna. She is often indifferent to her husband’s affections, a cause of concern for Mr. Pontellier: "He thought it very discouraging that his wife, who was the sole object of his existence, evinced so little interest in things which concerned him, and valued so little his conversation" (12). Is Edna really "the sole object of his existence"? How does he show her that he really cares for her? Leonce shows no great displays of affection for his wife at any time, nor does he profess his love for her or seek to spend a great deal of time with her. Leonce, very materialistic and image-conscious, believes he is showing affection for his wife by giving her money and buying beautiful, expensive things for the house. When he is not working, he usually opts to spend his spare time at a men’s club, rather than with his wife. This is so obvious that Madame Ratignolle sees the necessity of telling Edna "It’s a pity Mr. Pontellier doesn’t stay home more in the evenings. I think you would be more . . . united, if he did" (115).
Edna reveals early in the story that she was not passionately in love with her husband when she married him, but "She grew fond of [him], realizing . . . that no trace of passion or excessive and fictitious warmth colored her affection, thereby threatening its dissolution" (33). Edna honestly was fond of her husband, being "forced to admit that she knew of none better" when the other ladies exclaimed what a wonderful husband he was (15). Here, it is evident that she truly does appreciate his good qualities.
Of even greater concern to Mr. Pontellier is his wife’s failure as a mother: "It was something he felt rather than perceived, and he never voiced the feeling without subsequent regret and ample atonement" (16). As stated in this passage, Leonce felt guilty when pointing out his wife’s shortcomings as a mother. This did not, however, prevent him from doing so. When Leonce, upon returning home from an evening out, looks in on the children, he admonishes Edna for not noticing that Raoul has a fever. He scolds her for neglecting her children, as if she were hired help. Edna then goes herself to check on her son, but never reveals whether he truly had a fever or not. It’s quite possible that he did not. The narrator only gives Leonce’s viewpoint of the event, which may have been his reaction to her inattention to him at...