growaw Epiphany of Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin's The Awakening

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The Epiphany in The Awakening

Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening, presents the struggle of an American woman at the turn of the century to find her own identity. At the beginning of the novel, the protagonist, Edna Pontellier, seems to define her identity in terms of being a wife, a mother and a member of her community. As the story progresses, Edna seeks to define herself as an individual. The turning point in her struggle can be seen clearly in a scene in which Edna realizes for the first time that she can swim. Having struggled to learn to swim for months, she realizes in this scene that it is easy and natural. This discovery is symbolic of Edna’s break from viewing herself in terms of what society expects her to be,
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As with her religious faith, Edna has viewed her domestic life with the same unquestioning attitude. Her entire adult life has been driven along by the force of habit. She marries, has children, engages in appropriate hobbies and accepts what society deems standard for a woman of her class because it is expected and normal. Only in the months in which this story takes place does Edna once again begin to question her complacency. She begins “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” (14).

The turning point for Edna comes the night that she realizes she can swim. Reveling in how natural and easy it feels, she swims out alone, casting aside her need for “a hand nearby that might reach out and reassure her” (27). As she swims far away from her companions, Edna discovers two things. She finds space and solitude, and also a feeling of what she calls “the unlimited in which to lose herself” (28). Edna sees herself not only as a unique person, but also as one who is connected to a larger universe. Her initial reaction to this experience is fear, and she swims back to her comfortable companions. But the new awareness she reaches that night changes the way she looks at the world and how she conducts herself from that point onward.

Immediately following her swim, Edna begins to rebel against her