Chopin's The Awakening: O Death Where Is Thy Sting?

969 words - 4 pages

As a comment on the resolution to Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, an anonymous figure once stated, “A defeat and a regression, rooted in a self-annihilating instinct, in a romantic incapacity to accommodate to the limits of reality.” The main protagonist of The Awakening, Edna Pontellier, is initially met with joy and excitement with her transition from complacency and dissatisfaction to newfound independence and self-expression. However, as the anonymously declared statement implies, signs that appear throughout the story point towards a sort of self-annihilation to come, which in fact did come in the form of Edna’s implied death. Three main factors foreshadow a premature end to Edna’s ecstatic behavior and newly awakened persona: her random and sudden moments of despair and depression; her desire to escape the reality of things, most particularly from responsibilities; and her susceptibility and vulnerability to love and passion.

Perhaps the most alarming indicators of Edna’s eventual watery suicide are those moments during which she is seized by a sudden sense of despair. In Chapter III, after Leonce comes home and falls asleep, Edna goes into the porch, and the narrator paints her emotional state in this way: “An indescribable oppression[…]filled her whole being with a vague anguish[….] It was strange and unfamiliar: it was a mood,” (Chopin, 8). Another instance is when Edna holds a dinner-party at the Pontellier manor in celebration of her move to the “pigeon-house.” As this is a night of celebration, it would be natural to assume that Edna is enjoying herself. Yet, the narrator describes a peculiar moment during this dinner-party: “But as she sat there amid her guests, she felt the old ennui overtaking her; the hopelessness which so often assailed her, which came upon her like an obsession, like something extraneous, independent of volition[….]” (Chopin, 120). Edna feels hopeless, of all things, during what is supposed to be a joyous celebration. Edna, again, experiences a sudden sense of negativity in Chapter XXXVII. While she visits Madame Ratignolle during her childbirth, Edna “[…]was seized with a vague dread[….] She recalled faintly an ecstasy of pain, the heavy odor of chloroform, a stupor which had deadened sensation, and an awakening to find a little new life to which she had given being,” (Chopin, 149). This time, Edna feels a sudden “dread” while watching her dear friend give birth, which is indicative of the pain she has endured by confining herself within the boundaries of a regular house wife, as well as foreshadowing the guilt she would feel for leaving her children behind as she passes on. All of these sudden episodes of despair give insight into a problem deeply rooted within Edna’s emotional instability, much like the way suicidal actions and threats signify a problem with depression.

Edna’s “awakening” into a newfound independence also ignites a “wild side” from inside her, so to speak. She makes...

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