In the novel, The Awakening, author Kate Chopin portrays Edna’s dispute with society. Chopin coveys the attitudes of society toward women through the characters in the story, using Leonce and Madame Ratignolle as an example of what is considered adequate.
Edna is on a transcendental journey of self-discovery and finding out what it means to be a woman. Throughout the novel, Edna undergoes a transformation, she wants a life full of passion and love which cannot be achieved if she is confined by her children and husband. Edna’s process of awakening begins at the sea after her baptismal swim in the ocean, she is reborn and begins to deny being identified just as a “mother-woman”. When Edna reaches her final awakening, she realizes she cannot accomplish her desires without taking the demands of society into account and this realization drives her to suicide.
Over the course of the story, Edna embraces the fundamental value of feminism, becoming self-reliant. When looking at the ending of the novel through a feminist lens, it suggest that Edna’s suicide is justified because she wants to follow her intuition and doesn’t give herself up to society. Her suicide ended the struggle to live in a world she was unsuited for. Edna finds herself in a society where women are restricted to be mothers and wives, and she wants a different role besides the one given to her. Women in this patriarchal system are seen as domestic creatures whose main concern is her children and husband. From the beginning of the novel, Edna never conforms to these expectations, when the other ladies in Grand Isle thought of Edna’s husband, “as the best husband in the world” and “Mrs. Pontellier was forced to admit that she knew of none better”(Chopin 638). Which further reveals Edna’s feelings toward her husband, she married him not because there are none better.
Edna’s husband, Leonce, being the male figure views Edna as his possession rather than his wife, which is shown by Leonce’s expression when Edna returns from bathing, “looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage” (Chopin, 634). Leonce has viewed Edna just as anyone else would view a woman in this time period, but Edna goes against these societal norms to find a role outside of being a mother and devoted wife. After the vacation in Grand Isle, Edna has found a new purpose in her life, she wants to live free. When she goes to the beach for a swim, her first awakening happens and it’s where she discovers her position in society, “Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her” (Chopin 642). Women in this time period are prevented from seeking their satisfaction and feminist needs but Edna’s awakening enables her to recognize her identity and emotions.
Throughout The Awakening, Edna avoids being a “mother-woman” and her suicide at the end proves she made the choice of being something more than a devoted housewife that society forces her to be.Edna’s suicide is an assertion of her Independence. Unlike other women in Victorian society, she didn’t give up her identity and desires for her family thus expressing her own feminist assertions.