In Kate Chopins novel The Awakening the constant boundaries and restrictions placed on Edna Pontellier by society will lead to her struggle for freedom and her ultimate suicide. Her husband Leonce Pontellier, the current women of society, and the Grand Isle make it evident that Edna is trapped in a patriarchal society. Despite these people, Edna has a need to be free and she is able to escape from the society that she despises. The sea, Robert Lebrun, and Mademoiselle Reisz serve as Ednas outlets from conformity.
Edna’s journey for personal independence involves finding the words to express herself. She commits suicide rather than sacrificing her independent, individual existence as social conventions demand of her (Ewell 153). There are constant boundaries and restrictions imposed on Edna Pontellier that initiate Ednas struggle for freedom. Edna is a young Creole wife and mother in a high-class society. The novel unfolds the life of a woman who feels dissatisfied and restrained by the expectations of society.
Leonce Pontellier, her husband is declared the best husband in the world (Chopin 6). Edna is forced to admit that she knew of none better. Edna married Leonce because he courted her earnestly and her father was opposed to her marriage to a Catholic. Edna felt that her marriage would anchor her to the conventional standards of society and end her infatuation (Skaggs 30). She is fond of Leonce, but he does not incite passionate feelings. Edna represents women in the past that were suppressed.
These women weren’t allowed to give their opinions and were often seen as objects, which explains the way her husband never really saw Edna as his wife, but more as a material possession. You are burnt beyond recognition, he added, looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered great damage (Chopin 2). In this society, men viewed their wives as an object, and she receives only the same respect as a possession. Edna did not respect her husband as the other women did. While he talked to her, Edna was overcome with sleep and answered him with little half utterances.
Leonce thought it very discouraging that his wife, who was the sole object of his existence, evinced so little interest in things which concerned him, and valued so little conversation (Chopin 4). Leonce condemned Edna for neglecting their children. If it was not a mothers place to look after children, whose on earth was it (Chopin 4). Edna realizes that the patriarchal society is quick to condemn particularly a freedom-seeking woman who neglects her children since she is intended by nature to take care of them (Dyer 126). She is “uneven and impulsive” in her affections for her children.
When they leave to visit their grandmother, she is relieved because she is not suited to the responsibilities of motherhood. Ednas mind was at rest concerning the present material needs of her children: In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-womanIt was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels (Chopin 6).
The “mother-woman” role is an image that summarizes this idea of decorum. It is a behavioral code which bases a woman’s identity on her capacity to bear children, look after them and worship the patriarch; it is a role based on the effacement and the extrication of each female individuality for the sake of the “mother-woman” raiment. Adele Ratignolle is the premium example of the mother-woman. She embodies all the “womanly charms” of romantic heroines. In seven years, she has had three children and is planning on a fourth.
Adele, represents the stages of a respectable Victorian woman’s life: romantic courtship, marriage, motherhood, and devout widowhood if she survives beyond her husband (Skaggs 23). Edna does not worship her husband as the women of society do. She shows this by showing no respect for her wedding ring. The ring symbolizes their marriage and unity, which Edna does not feel they share. Once she stopped, and taking off her wedding ring flung it upon the carpet. When she saw it lying there, she stamped her heel upon it, striving to crush it” (Chopin, 57).
Edna’s revolt is clear and precise. Her frustration is emphasized by the fact that her attempts are met with absolute resilience. Chopin makes clear that the marriage institution will fall to frustrated tantrums, but one that can be met and conquered in a mature, psychological fashion (Dyer 128). Grand Isle is where the novel is set. While on a spiritual level, the island seems to represent freedom and self-liberation for Edna, but on a literal level, the island can also symbolize the same kind of entrapment that faces Edna.
As an island, Grand Isle is surrounded on all sides by water and cut off from the mainland; Edna’s true self is surrounded on all sides by societal constraint and is completely cut off from the rest of the world around her- including even herself. For the first time, Edna is a close as she has ever been to a whole person, rather than existing as a mere dot on the mainland of society Edna struggles for freedom throughout the novel. The sea is where Edna begins her search for freedom. The sea is the novels central symbol of romantic possibility.
Chopin’s lavish descriptions of the sea give us an insight into its powerful effect on Edna: The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, 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 (Chopin 13). The sea is a place that promises spiritual as well as physical freedom. The sea urges Edna toward limitlessness, toward transcendence, toward the romantic.
Edna learns to swim– a moment of complete liberation and discovery of her self, or at least a some facet of identity: But that night she was like the little tottering, stumbling, clutching child, who all of a sudden realizes its powers, and walks for the first time alone, boldly and with over-confidence. She could have shouted for joy. She did shout for joy, as with a sweeping stroke or two she lifted her body to the surface of the water (Chopin 27). Edna also sought refuge in other men as an escape of her feelings of entrapment in her society.
Grand Isle is the setting for a moment of self-discovery and liberation for Edna. It is here that she meets Robert Lebrun. He is the one true love she has found in her life. Edna begins to find herself through Robert. She loves Robert because he is one of the few people who do not suppress her. She realizes through him that her husband is “a person whom she had married without love as an excuse” (Chopin 77). Edna and Robert can walk on the beach as lovers in the darkness and not worry about what people will say. Edna learns that she has a capacity to love on the island.
Far away from her husband and the constraints of maternal and matrimonial duty, she is able to remove the mask she has been wearing for so long in order to see what lies beneath (Skaggs 124). Another person who influences Ednas freedom is Mademoiselle Reisz. “The very first chords which Mademoiselle Reisz struck upon the piano sent a keen tremor down Mrs. Pontelliers spinal column. It was not the first time she had heard an artist at the piano” (Chopin 26). Madam Reisz was a predominant factor in the life of Edna, compelling her to arouse her courage and supplying her with the proper motivation to have her awakening.
You are the only one worth playing for. Those others, Bah! ” (Chopin 26). Madam Reisz had a profound influence upon the lifestyle of Edna, along with supplying a pillar for moral support. Roberts letters and Reiszs music: No other individual possesses the ability to pacify and appease Edna more than Madam Reisz does. Edna, by reading Roberts letters, was almost enriched with an incarnation of Roberts presence. Edna portrays such enthusiasm in receiving the letter from Robert to madam Reisz by her occasional, subtle exaltations; “Another so soon! ” she exclaimed, her eyes filled with delight.
Tell me, Mademoiselle, does he know that I see his letters? ” (Chopin 80). Madam Reisz possesses the ability to fully understand Edna, strengthening the moral support that she provides her with. Reisz tells Edna that Robert loves her and explains the reasons for his leave of absence. “Its because he loves you, poor fool, and is trying not to forget you, since you are not free to listen to him or belong to him” (Chopin 63). Reisz serves as a consultant for Edna on romance. She is so attached to the pianist is simply because she was “free” and encouraged her to express emotions that Edna didn’t even realize she was bottling up.
As the novel unfolds, Edna withdraws from her husband while she continues to think of Robert. When she thinks she has no chance with Robert, she begins an affair based purely upon sex with a New Orleans man named Alcee Arobin. She still loves Robert, however, and when he returns to New Orleans to visit relatives a few years later, he and Edna resume their affair. Only hours after they declare their love for each other, Edna is called away to the home of a sick friend. When she returns, Robert has left and she finds a note that says, “goodbye, because I love you.
Edna, devastated by Roberts rejection, and unhappy because none of the men in her life respect her need to govern her own life, goes back to Grand Isle where she goes to the beach, removes all her clothing and drowns herself in a fit of passion. Reisz inspired Edna to such an extent in which her influence was recalled before her death. Edna, when transgressing the borderlines of society, swimming without acknowledgment of her physical state, recalls Reisz, stating, “And you call yourself an artist! What pretensions, Madam! The artist must possess the courageous soul that dares and defies” (Chopin 116).
The ultimate reason for the heroines feeling of hopelessness, however is her urge for spiritual emancipation, She did not look back now, but went on and on (Skaggs 33). Edna thus takes her life because she, on the one hand insists on freedom. Edna takes an active part in finding happiness within her world. She pursues her swimming and other people in the interest of ending the monotony she lives with as a result of her being confined into her aristocratic society. Throughout the novel, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, Edna seeks independence from society.
Her series of awakenings are mostly about achieving this goal. The sea, Robert Lebrun, and Mademoiselle Reisz are her awakenings. In the end, Edna’s freedom takes place in death. This is the choice that social convention allows her. Edna cannot have anything she desires in this world, and therefore removed herself from it in a final awakening of her soul. Her thoughts as she walks into the sea comment profoundly on the identity problems that women face: “She thought of Leonce and the children. They were a part of her life. But they need not have thought that they could possess her, body and soul” (Chopin 152).