The Awakening: Literary Criticism Summaries. In Cynthia Griffin Wolff’s analysis of the novel The Awakening, Wolff identifies Edna’s struggle with sexual identity, and exploits in conveying her experience of displaying primitive behaviors, through utilization of Freudian psycho analysis. Wolff further supports her thesis through utilization of literary and cultural analysis. It is argued that her interactions with others sexually is uninteresting, and devoid of any sexual gratification, “… owever, once she is by herself, left to seek restful sleep, Edna seems somewhat to revive, and the tone shifts from one of exhaustion to one of sensuous, leisurely enjoyment of her own body,” (Wolff, 231).
Due to her current situation involving current sexual activity, Edna starts to compensate by having and displaying attributes of basic necessity; these attributes seek to fulfill her ego over any other division of the Freudian psyche. Wolff corroborates such a stance with a focus on Edna’s desire for food, stating, “… n the simplest level, she is concerned with food. Her favorite adjective is ‘delicious’: she sees many motherwomen as “delicious” in their role; she carries echoes of her children’s voices ? like the memory of a delicious song’,” (232).
Wolff goes on to further explain that such primitive desires of food entail that she is “… not primarily a nourisher (as Adele is) but a sensualist in the only terms that she can truly comprehend,” (233). Wolff distinctly notices that although Edna constitutes her behavior with primitive engagements and ratification of the ego, “… only by hiding her ‘true self within – repressing all desire for instinctual gratification,” (235). For Edna, this repression and engagement with situations that are artificial sensually to the protagonist, see her engage in acts that fulfill her ego, yet relaying suffering in the process. With that we see Edna’s final act as one of”… regression, back beyond childhood, back to time eternal. ‘The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace,”” (241). In Patricia S.
Yaeger’s criticism of the Awakening, entitled A Language Which Nobody Understood, it is asserted that the true desires of Awakening author Kate Chopin, were to embody the transgressive idea of sexual liberation and empowerment, rather than the subversive idea of female sexuality. Yaeger’s primary example of an analysis regarding the subversive qualities of the novel, are derived from Tony Tanner’s criticism, Adultery in the Novel. Yaeger states, “According to Tanner, marriage and adultery are central to the bourgeois novel because marriage mediates between the opposed demands of private and public law,” (Yaeger, 198).
Patricia then begins to criticize Tanner’s notion of the primary subversive qualities of the novel, remarking, “The most radical act of trespass Chopin’s novel describes is not Edna’s propensity to fall in love, or even the way she acts after falling, but the fact that she is disturbed by her own obsessions,” (199). Yaeger further identifies that the plethora of languages and their diversity, form a “linguistic matrix” (203) that serve to elucidate the notion, that The Awakening is an emancipatory novel regarding the sexual liberation Edna undergoes.
Yaeger further identifies that specifically the romantic language of Robert Lebrun help to describe the tumultuous experience undergone by Edna, so much that she later begins to identify strongly with language. Regarding the matter Yaeger states, “… her continuing the journey toward self-articulation and self-awareness is initially eccentric and complex, so this journey is finally diminished and divided … to a simplistic narrative that falsifies the diversity of her awakening consciousness,” (206).
In essence, Edna is embarking on a pivotal journey, one constituted by not only exploration of identity of sexuality, but one constituted by the identity of consciousness. Although the language of Robert Lebrun serves Edna in giving a description of Edna’s journey and the path she embarks on, Edna is also guided by other entities, most notably the voice of the sea, in order to describe experiences she is devoid of describing accurately. Yaeger describes the symbolism of the sea as something that is, “… for a mode of speech that will express her (Edna) unspoken, but not unspeakable needs,” (219).
In The Awakening and the Failure of the Psyche, by literary critic Rosemary F. Franklin, it is asserted that the essence of Psyche and Eros, or desire, are accurate descriptions of Edna’s journey to discovering her identity both sexually and existentially. Franklin offers many comparisons between the story of Psyche and Eros compared to the journey of Edna throughout the duration of the novel. For instance, Robert’s departure to Mexico is compared to Eros’ departure from Psyche, both as a result of the mixed feelings of the female’s journey towards independence, which is met with a taboo outlook.
Furthermore, Franklin describes the struggles of Edna, that displays a, “… struggle as narrowly pathological rather than universally human,” (Franklin, 510). Ultimately, “Edna must differentiate between her sexual awakening and her awakening to self, a difficulty because both are occurring simultaneously,” (519). Franklin consistently describes the challenges of Edna as similar to those faced by Psyche within mythology, especially concerning the awakening of consciousness as well as of sexuality that compiles itslef into overwhelming and suicidal propensities.
Especially after Robert leaves Edna, she finds herself at a loss or a “pain of separation” (520) very similar to the pain experienced by Psyche after having been deserted by Eros. Although with this loss of a partner, Edna does begin to finally experience her identity within the world, looking to finally reach the apex of her being both existentially as well as sexually. Further pain is experienced by Edna, which allows her to ultimately develop the thought and identity of who she truly is who she wants to be.
When neglected by Robert in his writings, Edna succumbs to a sense of hopelessness. With this sense of defeat however, Edna simultaneously is utterly defeated mentally as well as being uplifted. Franklin compares this to the myth of Psyche, as it is elucidated, that with the departure of Eros form her life, the gods advise Psyche to continue to persevere, as these obstacles will only continue to stop her, but at the same time, Psyche continues to contemplate suicide.
Franklin explains that, “The paradigm of Psyche reveals Edna’s exploit as heroic, but it also shows where she fails to finish her task and is dragged down by fear of a long and lonely period of change,” (526). In Robert Treu’s criticism of the novel The Awakening, entitled Surviving Edna: A Reading of the Ending of The Awakening, it is explicitly stated that Edna does not actually succumb to death at the end of the novel. Treu first identifies that the common notion by readers and critics alike assumes that Edna commits suicide at the end of the novel.
Treu quotes Suzanne Wolkenfield on the matter remarking, “… ‘The feminist fatalism of presenting Edna as the victim of an oppressive society… ,'(Treu, 22). Treu later counters these assumptions stating, “Of course the inference of Edna’s suicide has more to support it … but the supporting evidence has often been contradictory, as we shall see,” (22). Treu offers to utilize the ideas of Russian theoretician, Mikhail Bakhtin, in order to corroborate the notion that Edna did not actually face her demise.
Treu derives a critical argument from the idea of “heteroglossia”. Heteroglossia is defined as the presence of multiple expressed viewpoints confined within a literary work. Treu identifies that Chopin utilizes different tones as well as perspectives in order to achieve an effect of heteroglossia. In turn, this utilization helps Treu assert his notion of Edna’s survival, as these differing perspectives, do not account for a straightforward or clear analysis as to the actual fate of the protagonist within the novel itself.
It is further noted that the experiences that would have been the cause of her contemplation of suicide would indefinitely support a notion that there could be no other alternative for Edna. Furthermore, Treu states,” Some critics have pointed to her inability to resolve the conflict between her need to be free and her responsibility toward her children, which leads her to ‘revolt against the ways of Nature’,” (28). Treu further notes that this desire for liberation and freedom, that can only be accomplished by suicide,may just be misinterpreted.
Instead, Treu argues, that these analyses are instead for the purpose of rebellion, refusing to conform and thus taking bold societal action. Finally, Treu analyzes the portion of the book regarding the sea as one of indications toward rebellious behavior, rather than those concerns regarding contemplation of suicide. Treu states, “Loneliness, like the sea, might destroy her, but its other name is solitude, a condition necessary for liberation,” This analysis indicates the true requirements for change within Edna’s life, a contrast between solitude for rebellion rather than loneliness for suicide.
Overarching thesis: In Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening, she precedes to detail and elicit the transgressive idea of female liberation both culturally and sexually. This is ultimately achieved through Chopin’s utilization of unorthodox themes and behaviors displayed by a women, and her intricate placement of literary devices, in order to convey ambiguity regarding the journey of the novel’s protagonist, Edna Pontellier.