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The Awakening: Where does the dream lie in Marriage, or Lust, or Freedom?

Edna: A Bird In Flight…

Edna Pontellier

From the confinements of conformity, Edna Pontellier begins to awaken into a state of moral independence. The protagonist of Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening,” Edna, demonstrates this new thinking in her contempt with husband, her affairs with Robert Lebrun, Alcee Arobin, and her time spent with Mademoiselle Reisz. Though Mrs. Pontellier may be seen as a horrible motherly figure and a disaster as a wife, in exerting her independence, she becomes the sole conduit for establishing her own moral philosophy about women in a male-dominated society.


Porcelain Trophy…

From her actions in the story readers can see that Edna is searching for something she cannot grasp. Even though she leads an extravagant life with her husband, Leonce, Edna is frustrated in the way he addresses her. In Edna’s dialogue with her friend Adele, she discloses that she married her husband “purely” by “accident” and that “no trace of passion” “colors her affection” for him. Yet Edna’s husband does love her with a sort of affection, but to Edna, her husband’s sense of affection is not one she craves. In New Orleans readers get a fresh glimpse of what Edna is struggling against. Her husband’s affections for her seem bought; he treats Edna as a mere investment, or better yet, a prize. Leonce, in his discussion with Doctor Mandelet saying “…but she doesn’t act well. She’s odd, she’s not like herself…” shows no regard to her independence and sees Edna’s attempt to break away from conformity as a type of sickness. Edna pursues her fate to be an independent woman even though her husband is completely against it.


Nonetheless a Mother…

Edna is not a cruel and unreasonable woman with her children it may seem that she embodies an uncaring mother, yet never disregards them. She displays this after her husband question, what he believes, is neglect for her children. “Mrs. Pontellier was by that time thoroughly awake. She began to cry a little…” because she realized her own odd way of loving her children. With her children Edna feels bound to a husband she doesn’t truly love but it is her children that keep her confined. Mrs. Pontellier loves them so much she can never break away from the bonds she describes as chains. Edna Pontellier battles with the choices she makes being persistent enough to see she has not truly lived life and that she has rights to defend.


The Dream…

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Edna’s awakening really begins when she develops feelings for Robert Leburn. His attention to Edna on Grand Isle helps her “spread her wings” to see the possibility of true love and the ideal of being an independent woman. Her relationship with Robert had taken the form of “fantasy” in which she felt “The whole island seems changed. A new race of beings must have sprung up, leaving only you and me as past relics.” Her actions are those of a woman who a woman who “had forgotten the shocks of wonder” finally been introduced to it again with her fantasies with Robert. All the while she is with Robert her mind wonders about the possibilities of a life with him. With this dream-like sense, Edna turns happy and careless with love, feeling like she had always wanted to feel “careless” with a lover. Even though Robert, realizing the inappropriateness of their feelings, he leaves her to do business in Mexico. Edna pushes herself to develop into an independent soul who doesn’t need a man to order her. Later in the story Edna careless longing for affection draws a suitor named Alcee Arobin, a womanizer with a reputation in New Orleans.. Edna feeds off Arobin’s lust for her like a “narcotic” where “…his presences, his manners, the warmth of his glances, and above all the touch of his lips upon her hand…” Infatuated by his sweet whispers and long caresses, Edna becomes possessed by the idea of physical love again, “She slept a languorous sleep, interwoven with vanishing dreams.”


The Best of Us…

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Although most of her practical experience comes from the men in her life, Edna Pontellier realizes most of her independent philosophy from a Mademoiselle Reisz shows Edna a way of living that is against the restrictions imposed by conformity. Unequivocally, Reisz is brilliant and provides much pointed advice for those she regards with affection. She is a fearless character who gives Edna Pontellier the wings to soar above New Orleans’ society and become an independent individual. Reisz shows much affection and admiration for Edna since she sees her potential to be a beautiful individual. Reisz says to Edna “…To be an artist includes much…And, moreover, to succeed, the artist must possess the courageous soul” this fuels Edna’s ambition to be an independent woman, which Reisz implies, that this means a soul that “dares and defies (Pg. 63-64).” This causes Edna to feel lifted in a way of enlightenment taking in the notion she needs to learn how to survive on her own.


Taking Flight…

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Edna’s main trait of persistence proves to be her strength against all the characters who reprimand her for trying to become an independent woman. From Grand Isle to New Orleans and to the “Pigeon-House,” Edna creates her own space. In the “Pigeon-House” Edna expresses her freedoms by dabbling in things she fancies to be fun, such as painting, reading, or writing. By taking matters into her own hands Edna begins to transform herself from a kept woman to an independent one who chooses to move around the block from her husband’s home. In the end Edna becomes aware of her independence in reality and her dream of being with Robert shatters when he, like the other men in her life, wants to possess her. Her pursuit of independence causes her to see freedom only in death and leads to her suicide.

Edna Pontellier is a very deep character who consistently searches for her purpose in life away from conformity. Edna’s struggle mirrors the struggle in real life of fighting for the rights of women. Edna Pontellier amazes with her persistence against her marriage with Leonce yet upsets us with her lust with Alcee and Robert, in how she allowed herself to be victim to the longing for physical love. However, humans naturally will yearn for that physical affection and receive it sometimes. Edna’s persona is that of a believable and real character. Many women today may relate to her in her struggles with conformity and marriage. Some people will live for that dream, and once they have it, feed off it as if it were a drug. It is only in the end can they realize with experience that they can see the power of having independence. That is where our realities lie, and our own awakening to seeing the truth of being an independent individual.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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(Writer/ Author/ Thespian/ Poet/ Musician/ Vocalist) Pursuing Literature major at San Francisco State University. Author of fiction novel "Dying to Wake."

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30 Comments

  1. I think you did a wonderful job analyzing the antics of Edna in “The Awakening”. You thought quite deeply and pulled marvelous quotes to support your claim. I never did like Edna much, or “The Awakening”, but your writing definitely enabled me to view her in a different light. Well done!

  2. I appreciated Edna Pontellier’s oppressive situation as the wife of a rather pompous but well off man, but I can’t say that I really liked the character.

  3. Lemieux
    0

    I had to read this book for my senior English class and I absolutely love it.

  4. DClarke

    very well done. I think that you have completed a really nice and well written character study here.

  5. How else can a woman regain her power and independence, if not through a man? An interesting twist to the ideas of power, balance, relationships, and feminism. I would have liked a longer read though!

  6. The Awakening is one of my favorite late nineteenth-century novels by women. Kate Chopin’s book is, I think, more subtle and complicated than this review suggests; many of the observations made in this article are not entirely supported by the characters and action in the novel. And what of Edna’s end and how Chopin concludes the novel? I think the summary here is a bit too pat.

  7. Chopin is a beautiful writer.

  8. How could this be over 100 years old? What an amazingly modern novella.

  9. Olimpia
    0

    I found “The Awakening” to be very boring. There were a couple spots were I enjoyed what was going on, but they were not enough for me to change my opinion about the book.

  10. Villalobos
    0

    As I became acquainted with Edna and the awakening she goes through, I found that I could identify with her on a deeply personal level.

  11. Edna is one of my all-time favorite characters because she’s unforgettable. This piece does an excellent job of outlining the complexities that make her so human.

  12. ZenMasters
    0

    great feminist manifesto.

  13. i loved how much i dis-liked the book, idk it sounds odd to say that but.. there was some scences which i was lik ???? wth is going on? and there was some scenes where i was like oh my god, that was beautiful.

  14. Edna’s actions were appalling.

  15. I cannot help but despise the heroine who is a disillusioned, fantasy-driven, selfish woman.

    • If I’m being honest I don’t think we’re supposed to like her as a character. She’s selfish, childish, and cruel. She was a intriguing character to read about.

  16. This review did a wonderful job at capturing the idea of the manifesto. The story is extreme and dividing, but what else would a manifesto be? Based on the comments so far, this review did the novella service by being just as dividing as the subject.

  17. I first read this in high school, and just finished it again for book club this month.

  18. I love Chopin’s guts, she was constantly turned away by publishers because her female characters were too independent, sexually aware, and her work was considered radical.

  19. I think this article did a great job of describing the book and what Chopin set out to do with its publication. This book cause quite a stir when it came out, and I think it can’t be discredited what an impact it had immediately in society, and later when second wave feminism starting coming about.

  20. Kai Peak
    0

    Love this book and picked up the audio edition at the library on a whim.

  21. One thing that is really interesting about the book is how her “awakening” is tied to her sexual experiences/desires with men.

  22. Marcie Waters

    I’ve never read this book, but it sounds very interesting. I will have to add it to my list!

  23. OrchideousFleur

    I wrote a paper on this book. Very striking story.

  24. When I read “The Awakening”, I took Robert to be Edna’s reason to strive for independence, rather than him trying to possess her. For me, Madame Reisz’s advice of how the artist must have a “courageous soul” that “dares and defies” is a warning to Edna – of how she must strive to become independent for herself and her art, not for anyone else. And for a while, Edna is able to be independent.

    However, her conviction to be independent falters when Robert is unable to remove himself from the constraints of society as she did – and for this reason, commits suicide.

    Other than my own interpretation of the book, I do think this article covers the main points addressed in the book very well.

  25. While I am not a big fan of Edna’s character, I respect Chopin’s portrayal of such an independent, free-thinking woman, especially considering the time in which it was written. Nice work!

  26. I adore this novel even though I am not a huge fan of Edna myself. The subject matter is universal! Well done!

  27. Tatijana

    I think I was too young when I first read this. Def. worth a reread now that I’ve experienced more of life.

  28. Edna’s feelings of possession, isolation, and servitude continue, perhaps in different forms, today. When I was an undergraduate I was so struck by this short novel, that one could, with what seemed all the wealth and security in the world, walk into the gulf and end it all in order to escape. Now I am fifteen years older and, from the experience of life, understand that the only way out of that feeling of isolation and possession (which eventually grips us all) is to be outside the paradigm. This is what (mainly) we teach in many American Literature classes, to recognize when we have fallen into a narrative of living, a massive constriction. For Edna she viewed the waves that lapped over her as that escape—she had little else she could do. But for us now—? We need her title; we need “awakening,” the sublime moment that makes us feel more alive than ever before. So many of us are already dead inside. Perhaps then, in whatever way that we can, we can avoid such a tragic end.

  29. It’s been quite some time since I last read this novel. Well written essay and great job in refreshing my memory. The perfect ‘independent woman’ blueprint!

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