The Importance of Setting in The Awakening Essay

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The Importance of Setting in The Awakening

Setting is a key element in Chopin's novel, The Awakening To the novel's main character, Edna Pontellier, house is not home. Edna was not herself when enclosed behind the walls of the Pontellier mansion. Instead, she was another person entirely-- someone she would like to forget. Similarly, Edna takes on a different identity in her vacation setting in Grand Isle, in her independent home in New Orleans, and in just about every other environment that she inhabits. In fact, Edna seems to drift from setting to setting in the novel, never really finding her true self - until the end of the novel.

Chopin seems highly concerned with this question throughout her
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The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace (Ch. 6, p. 13).

As Chopin writes, the sea is the place where Edna can truly look within herself in order to find out what lies beneath her socially constructed façade. Whether she ever does find her true self is another question. It is difficult to define Edna's "self" because it never seems to emerge at any point in the novel. Chopin presents us with Edna's identity problems early on:

Mrs. Pontellier was not a woman given to confidences, a characteristic hitherto contrary to her nature. Even as a child, she had lived her own small life all within herself. At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life-that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions (Ch. 7, p. 13).

The novel's abrupt and tragic ending (coincidentally on Grand Isle) puts an immediate halt to Edna's pursuit to answer those very questions. She does begin to slowly uncover small snippets of her life's true value in different settings throughout the novel and therefore begins to stake a claim for an identity. For example, it is on Grand Isle that Edna learns to swim-- a moment of complete liberation and discovery of her self, or at least a some facet of identity:

But that night she was like the little tottering, stumbling, clutching child, who all of a sudden
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