In Kate Chopin’s novella, The Awakening, Edna Pontellier’s behaviors appear to be symptoms of depression rather than the actions of a strong woman in search of liberation. This conclusion, however, is not entirely apparent until the end of the novel. Throughout the story, Edna does things to lead the reader to believe she is being strong and overcoming the burdens of living in a patriarchal society. However, a strong woman who is truly overcoming adversity is not going to commit suicide.
Reading carefully, one realizes that Chopin’s true model of feminism lies in Mademoiselle Reisz, who is happy to live alone and unmarried despite what society dictates a woman’s role to be. Mademoiselle Reisz is an accomplished pianist to whom Edna turns for advice as she struggles to find her sense of self. Unlike Mademoiselle Reisz, however, Edna lacks the motivation and willpower necessary to follow her desires from thought to fruition.
Throughout The Awakening, the reader follows Edna Pontellier as she becomes increasingly restless and discontented with her life. In Depression and Chopin’s The Awakening, Steven T. Ryan explains the parallels of Edna’s actions and inactions with depression. He writes:
Edna’s final despair derives from a paradoxical fear of entrapment…and a fear that she will be left alone, without authentic intimacy. This reaction to engulfment-estrangement is frequently interpreted as Edna’s heroic struggle against social roles and expectations, but the terror of engulfment-estrangement is a common effect of depression, one often understood as resulting from the depressive’s early frustration of dependency and intimacy needs (Ryan).
Ryan continues his assertion that Edna suffers from depression with the following:
Primary evidence of a depressive state that underlies Edna’s exhilaration occurs with her tearful night in the wicker chair in the beginning of the novel and her suicide in the end. Between the beginning and the end, Edna experiences lethargic and despondent dips that suggest her previous depressive tendencies (Ryan).
The reader knows very little of Edna’s life before her awakening. A brief glimpse of what her childhood had been like is revealed with the descriptions of Edna’s father as an austere and strict man who was overbearingly patriarchal in regard to managing his family. One can only surmise that in order to have maintained a sense of peace in the household, Edna’s mother must have been truly submissive. In Ryan’s article, he mentions a small interview type study of 12 women with depression, and 11 of those 12 defined their mothers as being submissive in a “clearly dominant/submissive relationship with the husband” (Np).
According to the PsychCentral web page, symptoms of depression include, but are not limited to, persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood, feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and pessimism, and restlessness and irritability (Grohol). While in the midst of her...