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Book Analysis: The Awakening

By melam0409 Dec 08, 2013 972 Words

The Awakening
“The only person you will ever have to lean on for the rest of your life is you.” -Anonymous
Everyone at some point feels loneliness and it is when we are lonely that we truly discover ourselves. The title of Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening is appropriate and foreshadowing of the protagonist’s journey into self-discovery. Edna Pontellier is forced into self-discovery when she finds herself in solitude throughout the novel. Edna’s husband, children, friends and lovers are scarce leaving Edna to be isolated in her own thoughts. Edna is a married woman vacationing at her summer home with her family. Edna’s husband conforms to gender stereotypes of this time and is devoted more to his work than to his family, and believes he holds dominance over his wife solely because he is male. In the first chapter of the novel Mr. Pontellier leaves Edna for Klein’s Hotel and doesn’t return for hours. This is the first of many instanced when Edna is isolated from her husband for long periods of time. Edna quickly becomes rebellious toward her husband. In her time alone she realizes that she doesn’t need him and can be perfectly happy on her own. Edna relishes in her first experience of talking back to her husband enjoying the power she suddenly feels over him. Mr. Pontellier eventually takes a business trip to New York later in the novel and never appears again. Edna and her husband have two children but they are rarely mentioned by name leaving them as ghosts of characters in the novel. They are spoken of but in an emotional sense not as a physical presence. Very commonly women lose themselves when their lives become stagnant after having children. As it is mentioned in the novel most women are thrown into motherhood and consume themselves with their children. Edna is different. Edna loves her children but says clearly, “I would give up the unessential; I would give up my money, I would give up my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself. I can't make it more clear; it's only something I can beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me” (46). No character in the novel is really attached to Edna. Robert, the man she loves leaves her multiple times even going to Mexico for a long period. While it is evidently clear that Edna has been abandoned, we cannot ignore her constant plea to be left alone. Throughout the novel she asks her husband, Arobin, and Robert to leave her alone. Margo Culley suggests that “Edna Pontellier experiences not only dread in the face of solitude but delight.” Edna is gaining self-awareness and fulfillment in her times alone, thus delighting in them. Jules Chametzky’s essay Edna And The Woman Question talks about the condemnation and questionable morality of the novel. Chopin writes, “but whatever came, she had resolved never again to belong to another than herself” (76). Edna realizes this. This is her awakening. How can her husband be happy and how can her children flourish with a wife and mother that feels possessed by another and drowning in her own solitude? Edna finally finds herself and out of the cave in which she has been living emerges a strong and powerful woman. Aside from the pain she will cause her family by committing suicide, Edna feels it would much more painful for them should she continue to live and not love them and despise the life she has with them. In defense of Edna’s thoughts and behaviors, which I can relate to personally, I’d like to point out that it is suggested by the novel that in this society women were expected to act in a certain way. Women were responsible for taking care of the home and the children. This is a specific characteristic that shouldn’t have been assumed that all women possess this characteristic. A woman that is single with no children has the luxury of being selfish. Edna does not have this luxury although she indulges in it anyway. Edna sees her children as an irreversible obligation that only death can take her away from. Before her suicide she repeats Mrs. Ratignolle’s words “Think of the children Edna, Oh think of the children! Remember them” (104). This coming right before she reads Robert’s note, which reads, “I love you. Good-by because I love you” (106). With this final goodbye from the man she loves, and the lingering statement from a now deceased friend, Edna makes the choice to go back to Grand Isle. The sea is a symbol of solitude in the novel. “The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation. 
The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace” (14). The sea is where Edna spent many of her lonely days, her days with Robert and ultimately it is where she chooses to be completely alone, in death. Loneliness can get inside of someone and haunt him or her. Loneliness causes a person to look inside themselves. It forces us into self-discovery and it can be the ting that ultimately destroys us. “At the innermost core of all loneliness is a deep and powerful yearning for union with one's lost self.” -Brendan Francis

Works Cited
Chopin, Katie. The Awakening. 2nd ed. New York City: W.W. Norton &, 1994. Print. Culley, Margo. "Edna Pontellier: "A Solitary Soul"" (n.d.): n. pag. Rpt. in Essays in Criticism. New York City: W.W Norton &, 1994. 247-51. Print. Chametzky, Jules. "Edna and the "Woman Question"" Essays in Criticism 2nd ser. (1994): 221-22. Print.

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