There is No Beauty in the Breakdown
Suicide has been defined as "the act of self-destruction by a person sound in mind and capable of measuring his (or her) moral responsibility" (Webster 1705). Determining one's moral responsibility is what all of humanity struggles with and strives to achieve. Many forces act toward the suppression of this self-discovery, causing a breakdown and ultimately a complete collapse of conventional conceptions of the self. So then the question presented becomes whether or not suicide is an act of tragic affirmation or pathetic defeat. Which argument is more strongly supported by evidence found in Kate Chopin's late 19th century novella The Awakening? Most analyses of the protagonist, Edna Pontellier, explain the newly emerged awareness and struggle against the societal forces that repress her. However, they ignore the weaknesses in Edna that prevented her from achieving the personal autonomy that she glimpsed during her periods of "awakening". Kate Chopin chooses to have Edna take a "final swim" as evidence of her absolute defeat as an insightful study of the limitations that prevent any woman from achieving the ultimate goal of self-actualization. Simply put, Edna's awakening leads to her suicide. Newly aware of the meanings her life could take on, the awakened part of herself presents Edna with a command to take action. When Edna is unable to rationalize her old and new selves, she surrenders her life to the sea as an escape from domestic compliance and solitary freedom.
Edna did not experience her awakening at Grand Isle, but instead a "re-awakening" of childlike passion which allowed for "impulsive," "aimless," and "unguided" decisions (Chopin 38). Although Edna believes her awakening took place at Grand Isle that night on the porch, this is actually a false awakening. Edna's first problem stems from this event, the mislabeling of her awakening. Her true awakening in fact occurs shortly before her suicide, when...
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