Finding True Freedom in The Awakening
Kate Chopin's novel, The Awakening details the endeavors of heroine Edna Pontellier to cope with the realization that she is not, nor can she ever be, the woman she wants to be. Edna has settled for less. She is married for all the wrong reasons, saddled with the burden of motherhood, and trapped by social roles that would never release her. The passage below is only one of the many tender and exquisitely sensory passages that reveal Edna’s soul to the reader.
"The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, dancing, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation. The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace."(32)
When Edna's one chance for change; her only hope, Robert, deserts her, she realizes that her dreams are unachievable. It is this grim acceptance that steals our heroine's last shard of optimism from her. Edna Pontellier's suicide is completely believable, justifiable, and understandable. This world was too cruel for her tender spirit; this life too stifling for her to bear. None of this surprises me. How many women (or men, for that matter) go through life with their eyes closed? How many find it easier to simply shut out the ugliness and horror that surrounds them? Finally seeing the loathsome existence they are a part of can simply be "too much" for many to sustain. Utter despair and hopelessness soon devour that fragile soul, with frailty too great for this existence.
Mr. Pontellier's thoughts reveal much about Edna's nature to us, and perhaps most of her mistakes as well. He feels that "his wife failed in her duty towards their children" (26). Edna is "not a mother-woman" (26). "She was fond of her children in an uneven, impulsive way. She would sometimes gather them passionately to her heart; she would sometimes forget them" (37). There is nothing wrong with lacking the maternal instincts that Edna does. What is wrong is living in a society that makes you feel guilty for not bearing litter after litter, and then fussing about them until your dying day. Thus, Edna endures her thoughts in secret shame: "Their absence was a relief, though she did not admit this, even to herself. It seemed to free her of a responsibility which she had blindly assumed and for which Fate had not fitted her" (37). Mrs. Pontellier was not meant to be some matronly icon. This situation is a prime example of the life she did not voluntarily choose, but was forced to live. Edna was, in truth, no less of a woman for her instincts (or lack thereof). She only had the misfortune of living at a time when such choices were unacceptable, when women were still judged by the softness of their bread and the size of their brood.
In addition, Edna had more or less stumbled into her marriage, which was "purely an accident" (36). She did it to...