Edna Pontellier's Gratified Decision
An Unfortunate Situation
Edna Pontellier in The Awakening by Kate Chopin, was a twenty-eight-year-old woman, wife of a wealthy aristocrat in New Orleans, with whom she had 2 children. She was expected to uphold a certain position in her society and to succumb to the duties that came along with being a mother and a wife of someone who made significant money. Edna loathed the idea of having her whole self, her whole being, taken over by the life she was expected to live and the people who surrounded her. She greatly feared she would never be able to be her true self. In the story, she fell in love with another man, Robert, a family friend who has over-exaggeratedly offered his affection to her, but would never know the pleasure of spending her life with him. In the end, Edna decided to take her own life because she knew that she would not ever be happy. After reading the story, it is believed that the reader is meant to see Edna as having succeeded in being true to herself and not letting society dictate who she was going to be.
During the story...
The story finds Edna at her summer house in Grand Isle. Mr. Pontellier spends a lot of time away from his wife and their two boys spend most of their time with their nanny. It seems that Edna prefers things this way. There are a number of foreshadowing thoughts that Edna has that show that she is growing uninterested in the life she is surrounded by. The first of many is when she is crying on the front porch of their condo and the story says "She could not have told why she was crying. Such experiences as the foregoing were not uncommon in her married life." (566) This shows that, clearly, her marriage was not one of love and happiness. Chopin writes, "A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly in her--the light which, showing the way, forbids it." (571) Edna was beginning to feel something new, and that something was changing but felt like she was unable to explore whatever it was. She longed to be someone new, someone who was free. Chopin writes,
"The past was nothing to her; offered no lesson which she was willing to heed. The future was a mystery which she never attempted to penetrate. The present alone was significant; was hers, to torture her as it was doing then with the biting conviction that she had lost that which she had held, that she had been denied that which impassioned her, newly awakened being demanded." (596)
Forbidden Love, Incredible Romance
Deep into the story, Edna fights her knowingly inappropriate feelings, but falls in love with Robert. Chopin explains in a very powerful way how Edna slowly realizes her feelings for Robert. She writes, "She missed him the days when some pretext served to take him away from her, just as one misses the sun on a cloudy day without having thought much about the sun when it was shining." (583) Edna started to like having Robert around and the more time they spent together, the stronger her feelings became. His presence offered her the freedom her soul was so desperately seeking. After Robert leaves for Mexico to seek work in which he had been promised, one of Edna's peers Mademoiselle Reisz asks Edna what she will do upon his return, and she simply replies, "Do? Nothing except feel glad and happy to be alive." (625)
When Robert returns from abroad, he and Edna's love finally reveals itself when they can no longer hold it in. She has already decided that she must spend her life with him, so to be as happy as she yearns to be. She deems a life with him the only road to happiness. "We shall be everything to each other. Nothing else in the world is of any consequence," Edna tells him. (646) Unfortunately, Robert seems to realize the mountainous consequences that would occur if they were to decide to be together, and decides to leave her, only by saying "I love you. Good-by--because I love you." (649) as if to spare her from the future conflicts that were sure to occur if they fought to be together.
Her Last Option
At the end of the story, having lost Robert, and feeling once again stuck in her life, Edna drives to their summer house in Grand Isle, as if to get away from everything; to clear her mind. There is a subtle peace and confidence in her actions. Chopin writes, "There was no one thing that she desired. There was no human being whom she wanted near her except Robert..The children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her...She was not thinking of these things when she walked down to the beach." (651) Edna had decided that she did not want to go on if she had to stay in the life she was expected to live, and without Robert. As she swam she proudly thought to herself that her husband and children "need not have thought that they could possess her, body and soul." (652) Her exhaustion from swimming overcomes her, and she is at peace with her decision.
This incredibly conventional and romantic story leaves the reader saddened but almost proud of Edna. She decided that she was not going to live a mechanical life, surrounded by people who she truly only cared for because she was expected to. She did not want to live without the man she truly loved. Her decision to take her own life is a bit dramatic, but can definitely be understood because of her seemingly impossible situation. Edna succeeded in being true to herself and did not let society decide who she was going to be.
Chopin, Kate. "The Awakening." The Norton Anthology, American Literature Volume C. Baym, Levine, Krupat, & Reesman. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2013. 561-652. Print.