Kate Chopin, The Awakening Essay, Research Paper
In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening Edna Pontellier “awakens” to the realization that she is a person and not the possession of her husband. When she awakens she realizes she is in an oppressive society and that she is no longer one of the mindless member of the majority but an individual who’s passion conflicts the responsibility that society feels she should be dedicated to. She finds true love but realizes that to follow it would mean defying the majority and losing her family and everything she had. In the end their conflicting ideas and her unwillingness, or selfishness depending on your view, to give up to society lead to her suicide.
After her first liberation in the water, she begins to distance herself from both her husband and children. “I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself.” (pg.47) Her unwillingness to sacrifice herself for her children and her husband demonstrates that she does not want to give herself away in order to make others happy. Edna can give her children superficial items, yet because of her new found “awakening” she can no longer truly serve to provide for their happiness. The only point that she makes clear in that statement is that she would give her life for her children, showing that she loves them but cannot define herself based on creating their happiness. Her actions resemble those of a child. Her awakening evolves into a selfish agenda, concerned only with her own happiness and disregarding all others.
The culture portrayed in The Awakening put heavy emphasis upon responsibility and duty. Edna finds herself wanting to stray from her responsibilities and embrace her intense desire for personal fulfillment. Edna’s choice to escape shows two elements: rebellion to the suppression of her adventurous spirit and the lack of “fulfillment” in her relationship. After being “reasonable” for the twenty-eight years of her life, Edna breaks down. Her life has been riddled with reason and duty, essentially giving herself away to the people around her. This devotion to responsibility causes her to break away from her common behavioral pattern and moves her to focus on finding her inherent happiness. She wants to pursue love and disregard her duty to her husband and children. She falls in what she considers “girlish” love with the character Robert. She proclaims to him: “I love you . . . only you; no one but you. If was you who awoke me last summer out of a life-long, stupid dream . Oh! You have made me so unhappy with your indifference. Oh! I have suffered, suffered! Now you are here we shall love each other, my Robert… Nothing else in the world is of any consequence.” (pg. 109) Although she embraces her new found freedoms, but in the end commits suicide.
One of the main acts of social defiance during Edna’s awakening came from her relationships with various men. Her most scandalous relationship took place with Alcee Arobin, a well known playa’ in society. She uses him as a form of rebellion against her social restrictions that held her back in the past. This affair demonstrates she no longer cares for her husband, she seems to carry no concern for the feelings of those around her, including her husband. Ironically when she pondered the act with some regret, “What would he think?” She did not mean her husband; she meant Robert Lebrun. Her husband seemed to her now like a person she married without love as an excuse.” (pg.77) Edna makes her greatest transitions when she falls in love with Robert. She transforms from a woman in a relationship of comfort to one attempting to build a relationship based on love. Edna goes from one man to another at her whim, taking what she needs from them. She uses her husband for security, Robert for a feeling of love, and Alcee for pure lust. In reality she probably cares very little for these men, but was far more interested in what they could provide for her.
Edna’s final act of childish selfishness relates directly to her own demise. By swimming out into the water she attempts to escape responsibility. She can not face life and her freedom so she responds by running away in fear, in my opinion suicide is very selfish. There are many ways of looking at Edna’s choices and behavior, some may think her selfish and then again some may consider her a brave visionary, standing against the sexist majority and defining herself as an individual. In the end Edna’s conflict between passion and responsibility and defiance of the majority is not a minor influence on the story, but is the story.