"The Awakening" by Kate Chopin
The ending of The Awakening disappointed me, but I have to admit that there was an ambiguity to the way the novel closed. In the end, Edna could not get what she desired most, which was to remove her mask, so she ended her life because she could not live with the mask any longer.
Throughout the entire novel, the reader is exposed to Edna’s want of something more than she was and what she was expected. In this time period, the late 19th Century, a wife was supposed to do nothing except take care of the children and obey her husband, but Edna hated not only this life, but her marriage itself. In fact, the only reason that the marriage had taken place in the first place was because “he fell in love” and “it was in the midst of her secret great passion that she met him.” The “violent opposition of her father and her sister Margaret to her marriage with a Catholic” was just the icing on the figurative cake. So, Edna caused her own heart-ache and pain and, in this regard, her death was poetic justice. Her actions that lead to her wedding caused her to wear a mask that, once she met Robert, she found was too heavy for her face, and it brought her down.
However, there were other solutions to Edna’s dilemma that could’ve been implemented. She and Robert could’ve run away. The problem that arises from this solution is that they could never return; they would never be able to see their families again. Edna would never be able to see her children again. The only other solution, which is least likely, is that Edna could’ve divorced Leonce and married Robert. To understand why this would never happen, however, we must examine a poem.
If literary works were compared, Robert would be the Mirror from Sylvia Plath’s poem, and Edna would be the woman who searches the Mirror for herself.
Throughout the entire book, Robert is himself. He is “exact,” has “no preconceptions” and he doesn’t change. Even though he does wear a mask about his feelings for Edna, his mask is very transparent. Then, after he meets Edna, he becomes a lake. In their conversations and friendship, Edna is “searching [his] reaches for what she really is.” Mrs. Pontellier’s liars are Leonce, Madame Ratignolle, and her father. The only difference is that she doesn’t listen to her father.
That second solution is impossible for the same reason that Robert is not waiting for Edna when she comes home from visiting the ailing Madame Ratignolle: he’s too noble to take another man’s wife. I mean, sure, the novel said that, “Since the age of fifteen, which was eleven years before, Robert each summer at Grand Isle had constituted himself the devoted attendant of some fair dame or damsel. Sometimes it was a young girl, again a widow; but as often as not it was some interesting married woman.” So, Robert was never serious about the women he befriended, probably because of the married thing, but then he met Edna, and he loved her. He probably left because he knew what he was doing was wrong. He didn’t want to break up a marriage.
There was no other way for that element of the story to end.
Edna really is dead. That’s why Robert “would never understand.” That’s why, when Edna goes out to that part of the ocean again, “the old terror flamed up for an instant, then sank again.” It was like she was letting all of her worries go as she died. She remembered the “cavalry officer” because that was one of the most important elements to her true happiness; he represented Robert.
Once Robert left, suicide was Edna’s only option. It was either that or live with her mask for the rest of her life, or at least until Leonce died. The simple truth was that Edna was just too weak for the second option.
At the end, Edna faced the Mirror, and that was the main contributor to her suicide. She faced the Mirror and she couldn’t deal with what she saw. With Robert gone, she was stuck in her miserable life, and it was all just too much.
Chopin doesn’t intend confusion with her ending; we’re just looking too much into it. When this book was written, the author knew what she was writing; we just have to figure it out.
The novel’s ending, Edna’s suicide, is the fault of Edna herself. She made decisions that in the end came back to bite her, and taking her own life was the only way to deal with the fallout. So the novel’s meaning would be a warning that if you want to find your true self, or be awakened, make your decisions wisely, not out of revenge and spite, because when you decide to become wise, it may be too late.