Edna Pontellier and Social Limitations in Kate Chopin's Awakening

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In discussing Kate Chopin's novel, The Awakening, critic Susan Rosowski categorizes the novel under the heading of "the novel of awakening" and differentiates it from the bildungsroman, the apprentice novel, in which the usually male protagonist "learn the nature of the world, discover its meaning and pattern, and acquire a philosophy of life and ‘the art of living'" (Bloom 43). In the novel of awakening, the female protagonist similarly learns about the world, but for the heroine, the world is defined in terms of love and marriage, and "the art of living" comes with a realization that such art is difficult or impossible; the price for the art is often tragic endings. Rosowski calls this female awakening "an awakening to…show more content…
The remedy to the light source problem, I think, is to base the discussion on a few basic Buddhist philosophical concepts, rather than on Buddhism's ethical precepts, a few of which Edna Pontellier has certainly violated. Commenting on sexual intercourse in general, the Buddha is recorded to have said, "A wise man should avoid unchastity as if were a pit of burning cinders. One who is not able to live in a state of celibacy should, at least, not break the purity of another man's wife" (Saddhatissa 88). However, on the philosophical level, especially in analyzing the realizations that eventually lead Edna to her final swim, the novel can be read as a person's quest for nirvana, the final release from the cycle of reincarnations as a result of the extinction of ignorance and cessation of suffering. Nirvana comes at the end to a successful exploration of the meaning of life that examines three Buddhist concepts: impermanence/change (anitya), suffering/unsatisfactoriness (duhkha), and non-self/nonessentiality (anatman) (Bercholz 84). These three concepts are referred to in Buddhist texts as the "three marks of existence," the three facts of life. Proper acknowledgment of these three facts depends on a solid understanding of two fundamental Buddhist concepts: attachment/craving (trishna) and ignorance (avidya). Although the end of Edna Pontellier's exploration leads her to death, seen in the Buddhist light, her fate can be read symbolically
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