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The Awakening- A bried analysis of Edna Pontellier

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English

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Essay

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A brief analysis of Edna Pontellier
Kate Chopin's novel The Awakening reveals the mindset of 19
th
century Creole
upper-class society. It is a social circle that, aside form its sophisticated
privileges, still does not detour females from the male-dominated oppression that
is almost expected in marital a#airs. Yet, Chopin challenges these views by
suggesting that women, even within the historical context of the story, can opt to
defy the status quo and the social expectations bestowed upon them.
Main character Edna Pontellier is the epitome of such women trapped inside a
su#ocating reality. She is a woman who has no other option but to succumb to
what is expected of her gender. She is to court, to marry, to birth, to nurture, to
age, and, ultimately, to die as a digni)ed matron; the ultimate sacri)cial act of
sel+ess and maternal devotion. Yet, there is a )re lurking beneath the surface of
this otherwise typical wife and mother. It is the insatiable hunger for freedom
born from unful)lled dreams, unexploited passions, and con+icting emotions.
Chopin cleverly juxtaposes Pontellier’s character traits to those of Edna’s
cherished friend, Mademoiselle Reisz. An unmarried and eccentric artist, Reisz
represents the woman that Edna would have liked to become; one who
challenges the sanctimonious perceptions of women as a mere, childbearing
machine. Mademoiselle Reisz’s diverse outlook on life is what ultimately piques
Edna’s curiosity about her own identity: is she truly the woman that she believes
to be, or is there someone else trapped within her, desperate to break free from
construed paradigms?
The very )rst chords which Mademoiselle Reisz struck upon the piano sent a keen
tremor down Mrs. Pontellier's spinal column... Perhaps it was the )rst time she was
ready, perhaps the )rst time her being was tempered to take an impress of the
abiding truth.
The want and need of liberation entails that Edna and Mme. Reisz have done
what no other women has in their immediate circle: they have given herself the
chance to mature, albeit at di#erent rates and for di#erent reasons. They have
also acknowledged their true desires while defending the right to express them in
every way they wish. This, however, is second nature to Mademoiselle Reisz. Is
this also the case with the newly self-aware Edna?
Edna’s multiple attempts to )nd herself grow from subtle to radical in a relatively
short lapse of time. Her )rst signs of rebellion involved verbally challenging her
domineering husband, or slamming her wedding right down on the +oor. But as
she continues to search for her identity, lets herself fall deeply in love with a

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much younger Robert LeBrun, and then takes Alcee Arobin as a lover. Later on, she
makes the unthinkable choice of moving out of her own home (while her family is away), and
taking in a small place for herself she names “the pigeon hole”. This chain of events clearly
demonstrates that Edna is making up for lost time by sampling everything that she had never
experienced before. This leads to the main question: will Edna ever find what she is looking
for?
Edna does )nd her identity; but shortly after she realizes that she has always
known who she is, and what she is like. It is not her identity what she needed to
)nd, but the ultimate “time, moment, and place” that would complement the
woman that she really is. That, is not to be found. Looking back, Edna realizes
that the charade that was her life was, perhaps, all that she had. This “freshly
unleashed” new Edna she has no place in this world.
How can the old Edna and the new Edna coexist in the same, unchanging world?
Is that even a remote possibility? Chopin puts Edna right in the middle of this
paradoxical diatribe, where we witness Edna’s )nal, and ultimate act of self-
awareness. Pontellier returns the woman that she has just become back to the
vast unknown of all things. Edna, returns to the very vast and unknown ocean
she one feared and, naked, she swam away until she could no longer swim, and
she ultimately drowns;
How strange and awful it seemed to stand naked under the sky! How
delicious!
She felt like some newborn creature, opening its eyes in a familiar world
that it had never known.
The drowning is an allegory of rebirth. Edna ultimately does accomplish the wish
of at least preserving her identity intact. Society had already drowned Edna once.
She had already known how it feels to have her needs pushed aside, carelessly,
by those supposed to love her. This world that she knows, and despises, will not
come anywhere near the new Edna. They will not get to drown her too. Edna
saved herself, after all. She is now )nally free.

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Anonymous
Excellent resource! Really helped me get the gist of things.

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