*spoiler alert* the conclusion of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening will be explicitly discussed in this post…in case you haven’t read it, and wish to….
I received some really interesting comments and feedback via facebook and text for my last post about Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. I ended my comments on the classic by stating that I wished Edna Pontellier had had the chance to truly live the independent life she craved.
One of the comments asked “But, have you read the thing?” (this was from a dear friend whom had recommended the novel).
And, my response was of course, yes. Traditionally, scholars have looked at the conclusion of this text as Edna’s ultimate expression of free will when she decides to end her life. It is her way of showing the world that she will not be held to its expectations of class and gender – she will be her own woman. Not even the thought of leaving her two sons without a mother is enough to stop her need to express herself.
The imagery of the sea is used throughout this novel. From its opening pages, the sea mesmerizes Edna. It offers a vastness and freedom she has never experienced. We learn that she has just learned how to swim and takes to the water like a fish, seeking breath, seeking life. This makes her drowning all the more significant. Her willingness to swim as far out into freedom as she can, until she can no longer sustain her body and allow herself to be submerged into water – the water that calmed her, soothed her, promised her liberty – indicates her absolute conviction that she will be free, even if that is solely in death.
This is a highly symbolic end. I believe the social commentary here is scathing – expectations of women are so limiting, so restricting that a woman who is provoked to question her position really has no other option than death in order to feel truly free or happy. Or, does she? As a modern woman, I find it difficult to understand being driven to suicide because of an inharmonious marriage. Attempting to place myself in 1899, I can see why Edna did what she did and why Chopin’s tale ruffled a few feathers.
Ultimately, this is a difficult story to relate to. And, I see why the conclusion can be considered an act of heroism according to modern interpretation…but, I still wish Edna had had a different end. A chance to live out her freedom. But, that’s just me.