Kate Chopin’s The Awakening is about the slow awakening of Edna Pontellier, a young married woman who pursues her own happiness of individualism and sexual desires in a Victorian society. As a result, Edna tries to makes changes in her life, such as neglecting her duties as a “mother-woman” and moving into her own home. But she soon realizes that nothing can change for the better. Feeling completely hopeless, Edna chose to die as a final escape from the oppression of the Victorian society she lives in. Back at the beach at Grand Isle, Edna walks along the beach and watches a bird with a broken wing crashing down into the waves right before her eyes. She then removes her clothes before entering the water. Edna swims out and embraces the waves of the ocean while thinking about her husband, Leonce, her two children, Robert, Mademoiselle Reisz, and finally her childhood before surrendering her life to the ocean. In looking at Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Edna Pontellier’s impulsive action to be naked, the image of the bird, and the ocean helped her realize that she is overwhelmed by her new power of the independent life she now leads, which ultimately caused her to commit suicide by drowning in the ocean.
Edna Pontellier’s impulsive action to be naked upon entering the water in the end of novel helped her realize that she cannot handle her new independent life, which caused her to drown herself. By taking off her clothes, she seems to make a statement that wearing clothes are like giving in to the bonds of social conventions. So when she took them off,
“But when she was there beside the sea, absolutely alone, she cast the unpleasant, pricking garments from her, and for the first time in her life she stood naked in the open air, at the mercy of the sun, the breeze that beat upon her, and the waves that invited her…She felt like some new-born creature, opening its eyes in a familiar world that it had never known” (Chopin 109).
Once her clothes are off, there are no restrictions against her for the first time in a long time; she feels free and peaceful at last. Also, clothes illustrate the rules and conventions of society. One’s appearance shows what kind of class one is in and they must act accordingly. So, being a married to a traditional Creole man, Edna had to act like a graceful and sophisticated “mother-woman”, a woman who is obedient to her husband and a great mother, never expected to pursue her own dreams and happiness. This oppression of social expectations is what led her to be naked and thus her suicide. This nakedness focuses on the idea of rebirth; the clothes she had on in the beginning of the novel is what defined her, but now, with nothing on, her body and soul exposes her true self as an individual.
Another depiction of nakedness is when Madame Adele Ratignolle played a piano piece that Edna entitled “Solitude”. While hearing the music, Edna imagined a “figure of a man standing beside a desolate rock on the...