Ambiguity in Kate Chopin's The Awakening Essay

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Ambiguity in The Awakening

Leonce Pontellier, the husband of Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin's The Awakening, becomes very perturbed when his wife, in the period of a few months, suddenly drops all of her responsibilities. After she admits that she has "let things go," he angrily asks, "on account of what?" Edna is unable to provide a definite answer, and says, "Oh! I don't know. Let me along; you bother me" (108). The uncertainty she expresses springs out of the ambiguous nature of the transformation she has undergone. It is easy to read Edna's transformation in strictly negative terms‹as a move away from the repressive expectations of her husband and society‹or in strictly positive terms‹as a move toward the love and
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Edna realizes that "she had all her life long been accustomed to harbor thoughts and emotions which never voiced themselves. They had never taken the form of struggles" (96). In the novel the struggle begins and it is against the demands of her husband and children. As she walks into the ocean at the end of the novel to escape her life she thinks, "they need not have thought that they could possess her, body and soul" (176). Emily Toth claims, "an escape from confinement is the overriding theme of The Awakening" (242). The primary means for this emotional confinement is the societal expectation, held over from the early Republican era of America, that "'the best way of a married woman to carry her points is to yield sometimes.'" Jan Lewis says that in early America "it was the wife who had to bend" (712). This remained true at the middle of the century when William Alcott declared "the balance of concession devolves on the wife. Whether the husband concede or not, she must" (32). Edna comes to understand that earlier in her life she followed this dictate without even thinking; she conceded in all cases, "not with any sense of submission or obedience to his compelling wishes, but unthinkingly, as we walk, move, sit, stand or go through the daily treadmill of the life which has been portioned out to us" (78). But she now realizes that this pattern was a mere treadmill whose path was always determined by