The Awakening: Tragedy or Comedy?

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In The Awakening, the heroine Edna Pontellier tries to wake from the accustomed domesticity of a housewife to become an actual being in the late 19th century American society. For her realizations have led her to various pioneering decisions as a wife and as a mother, it seems in reality the “awakening” does not need to an actual liberation of her life. Afterall, is the “awakening” a tragedy or comedy for her?

The spark of Edna’s awakening starts in the summer in Grand Isle. It comes gradually with the starting dissatisfaction in a submissive family life. In the very beginning of the book, when Leonce returns from Klein’s hotel “in high spirits”, Edna was asleep after taking care of her children.When her response does not satisfy his expectation, he vents his anger to critize Edna’s “habitual neglect of the children” while in fact the children are perfectly fine. The tears are “not uncommon in her married life”, as the courtesies of Leonce is depended on “a certain tacit submisssiveness” in his wife, that this “submissiveness” has driven Edna to do things she does not like at all. In fact as we are told, Edna is not “a mother-woman”. She does not enjoy domesticity as her acquaintance Madame Ratignolle does. Her love for her children is also “ in an uneven, impulsive way”, that they are an adorable burden for her which are always in need of her care. This constant dissatisfaction in her family life has striked her to think about how she is unsuitable for the traditional gender role of a mother.

The growing habit to Robert Lebrun’s presence also reminds Edna’s insticts about love. From her talk with Madame Ratigonelle, it is known that Edna’s marriage with Leonce is “purely an acciedent”, which is only romantic in Edna’s perspective with her father’s objection to the marriage. Leonce has been a very courteous and loving husband, fulfilling his duties as a husband. However, it is Robert who really got her love, when love is actually cannot be forced upon even with the boundary of marriage. Edna’s “one of the two contradictory impulses which impelled her” to go to the beach with Robert just sufficiently illustrates how Edna starts acting according to her natural wills, such as going out with the person she loves. Even the two have been acting properly all the time in Grand Isle, their dependence on each other is evident. When Robert annoucnes that he is going to Mexico, the frustration of Edna about Robert not mentioning anything about it has reflected his importance in Edna’s heart. When Edna says “Why, I was planning to be together, thinking of how pleasant it would be to see you in the city next winter”, it shows how Edna hopes their relationship can continue, even if Edna has not realize that it may be a potential affair scandal. In the later part of the story, Edna’s love for Robert becomes more apparent in the way how she misses him, when “Robert’s going had some way taken the brightness, the color, the meaning out of everything”. Robert is a siginificant figure that reminds Edna of her natural instinct for love, that love is about her own will and choice to choose the person she wants to stay with, and not purely a fanciful courtship that flatters her. The significant turning point for Edna process of realization comes when Edna tries to swim out from the shore. Her natural ability to learn swimming on her own enlightens her that she can achieve a skill on her own without anyone telling her what to do and how to do. The suden realization excites her and encourages her to go further, to swim to “where no woman had had swum before.” It is a moment that Edna gains her power over her own body. It also reveals the dangers of going beyond the norms when “a quick vision of death smote her soul”. When the previous revelations only remind her of her own emotions and feelings, how she perceive things passively, this revelation through swimming reminds her of her active ability to accomplish without any form of aid from...
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