The Importance of the Sea in Chopin’s The Awakening Essay

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The Importance of the Sea in Chopin’s The Awakening

Unlike María Eugenia, Edna in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening chooses not to fill her family’s expectations. As she takes her final steps into the sea she thinks to herself: “they need not have thought that they could possess her, body and soul” (655). Edna treasures her autonomy and chooses death over familial subjugation. However her transformational journey, alluded to by the title of the novel leads to more than the rejection of her self-sacrificing familial roles as wife and mother and her death.

We first meet Edna on her way back from a swim with Robert Lebrun, as Chopin begins to establish Edna’s burgeoning transformation in the context of her relationship with Robert and to
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She can find no happy medium between being the model wife and mother that her friend, Madame Ratignolle represents and the independent artist that Madame Reisz represents, while pursuing her relationship with Robert and staying true to herself.

From the beginning of the story, the reader is alerted to the fact that Edna is experiencing an inner struggle to reconcile her relationships with Mr. Pontellier, Robert, and herself. When Edna comes back from her swim with Robert, Mr. Pontellier criticizes her; “What folly! to bathe at such an hour in such heat!” (Chopin 522). From the outset, Mr. Pontellier is opposed to the engagement with the water that Robert and Edna share. He is neither cognizant of the fact that Edna and Robert are falling in love, nor is he supportive of Edna’s transformation.

Later on in the story after Edna has taken up painting and refuses to receive callers, Mr. Pontellier calls up his friend, Dr. Mandelet to evaluate Edna’s mental state. Mr. Pontellier’s action is indicative of the women artist’s position in society at the time, what Virginia Woolf refers to as the “crazy woman in the attic.” During the late 1800’s, women that pursued their lives independently were thought of as insane. Madame Reisz represents this stereotype in the novel as the single, eccentric, piano-playing, abrasive old woman who encourages Edna to pursue her art. In contrast, Madame Ratignolle represents the ideal woman in society, a dedicated wife and
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