The Awakenning: Edna's Cowardly End

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Justin Wickett


Edna's Cowardly End

Victorian women of the late 1800s were expected to perform their domestic duties and care for the health and the happiness of their families, which prevented them from seeking the satisfaction of their own wants and needs, thus limiting the opportunities for individual expression. In The Awakening by Kate Chopin, Edna's gradual process of awakening unfolds causing her to discover her own identity and acknowledge both her sexual and emotional desires. As Edna begins to verbalize her feelings for independence and abandons her past lifestyle, she realizes that she is no longer socially acceptable and hopes to find refuge with Robert. However, when Edna grasps Robert's inability to escape the ties of society, she acknowledges the profundity of her solitude. When Robert, whose love matches the sincerity and desperation of her own, refuses to trespass the boundaries of societal convention, Edna admits the profundity of her solitude, and realizes that she is trapped by society and its expectations of her.

Instead of following Mademoiselle Reisz lifestyle in which she devotes time to her passions, Edna lacks a courageous and defiant soul, and, like "A bird with a broken wing [was] beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water" (108), Edna cowardly escapes society by committing suicide when she could have been self-sufficient and independent like Mademoiselle Reisz.

Throughout the novel, Mademoiselle Reisz serves as a guide during Edna's awakening period. As an unmarried childless woman and a recluse, she becomes Edna's companion and encourages her towards her goals of freedom and independence. Had Edna not been such a selfish coward and committed suicide, she could have turned into a powerful woman like Mademoiselle Reisz. She would have became a self-sufficient woman who ruled by selling her paintings...