Outrage felt American Critics of the 18th century when The Awakening was published. Who would have dared to write about a topic such as sex and even suggest women as sexual beings with desires? That person, that woman, was Kate Chopin. Throughout her career, many praised Kate Chopin for her short stories full of local color and style and even considered her a regional writer. With great anticipation, they had been waiting to read her masterpiece The Awakening expecting it to be just as her past short stories. However, they were soon surprised. As one expert critic said, “The many admirers whom she has won by her earlier work will be surprised… by this latest venture…it was not necessary for a writer of so great refinement and poetic grace to enter the overworked field of sex fiction.” (Books of the Day 149). Another proficient critic wrote, “It is sad and mad and bad…” (Deyo 149) Clearly, Chopin was ahead of her time. In The Awakening, Kate Chopin’s heroine Edna Pontellier awakens to self-expression, freedom, and passionate love.
Edna is a Presbyterian who never had a deep bond with a woman. Her mother died when Edna was at a young age and she never had a deep emotional bond with her sisters. However, that changed at Grand Isle. A competent critic suggests, “Through her relationship with Adèle, Edna learns a great deal about freedom of expression.” (Ward and Spain) Adèle Ratignolle is the epitome of a perfect Creole woman. Often described by Chopin as a mother-woman, Adèle is a giver, a woman who only lives for her children and husband. Ironically, Adèle’s relationship with Edna triggers her awakening. Without her, Edna would have probably stayed the same woman she was before going to Grande Isle. With Adele Edna learned to express her thoughts, sometimes making no sense. However, as one competent critic implies, “Edna differs from the Creoles in that she respects words and tries to use them accurately, so as to express her individuality… Edna is now the one whose ‘freedom of expression’ is incomprehensible, and she thoroughly exposes the falsity of the Creole claim to liberated speech.”(Gilmore 66) Though not understanding the falsity of freedom of speech in Creole society did not hinder Edna’s awakening she later has to deal with the reality of the false freedom.
Although, Adèle’s Creole unusual behavior initiated Edna’s awakening, it is not until she swims in the sea that she gives in to her new awakened self. As a capable critic said, “Her new-found control immediately tempts Edna to excess, swimming ‘far out’ where no woman had swung before.’ As Paula Treichler observers, the passive with its implied warnings of premature confidence, pinpoints both the spiritual dimension and sexual—political risks of Edna’s act.” (Ewell 148). In the sea, Edna experiences something she had never felt before: self-control. She never in her life had felt alive or in control. She had always followed and listened to men. First, that person in control of her was her father, and then her husband. Edna did not have to listen to anybody in the sea—she was free and controlled every movement she made. As a respected critic says, “…Edna’s midnight swim, which awakens the ‘first-felt throbbings of desire,’ takes place in an atmosphere of erotic fragrance…” (Showalter 43) The sea unfolds Edna’s deepest desires of freedom, self-expression, and passionate love. The indescribable feeling of freedom and self-control overwhelmed her as a result freeing her of the social chains of society.
Subsequently, after freeing herself of social restraints, Edna finally decides to follow her desire for the young man, Robert Lebrun. A knowledgeable critic states, “When she learns to swim, she becomes aware of the sensations of her body—the feel of the water against her limbs…and with the awakened sense of her body comes sexual arousal.” (Huf 43) The son of Madame Lebrun,...