The Awakening is based on the inner journey of the central character Edna Pontellier. Edna Pontellier is presented by Chopin as a woman whose beliefs regarding motherhood and womanhood happen to be contrary to the prevalent social conventions and norms. The plot unravels the inner journey of Edna as she evolves from being a woman confined and limited by social expectations to an individual who is intimately in touch with her most basic desires and aspirations. Thereby the passage under consideration marks the end of Edna’s tour of self discovery, as she comes back to the very same Grand Isle resort where she began her journey, and illustrates the unexpected climax of Edna’s tragic journey in a figurative language touching upon multiple aspects of her journey.
The thing that needs to be noticed is that the given passage occurs at a very important moment in the novel, when the plot of the novel has come full circle. The readers, who had accompanied Edna on her sad and lonely journey, finally find her totally in touch with those aspects of her personality, which she had long been suppressing under the claims of motherhood and wifely obligations. The passage does full justice to this moment by voicing the emotional intensity, sense of ambiguity and vagueness of beliefs faced by Edna. This represents a moment marked by a subtle kind of fatal decisiveness as “Edna did not look back (Chopin 160)”, contrary to the “feeling of exultation (Chopin 36)” that gripped her at a similar moment in her past.
It does need to be mentioned that the sense of realization that Edna has at this juncture in her life stands contrary to any possibility for social recognition and acceptance. Thereby the dilemma faced by Edna at this moment is to choose a line of action that allows her to fully embrace the convictions of her heart, while allowing her to exist as a socially relevant individual. Hence, this passage voices the unexpected and unconventional solution contrived by Edna to get over the dilemma being faced by her.
In this passage writer uses the third person narrative voice to achieve two important objectives. On the one hand the use of the third person narrative voice allows the readers to have a glimpse into the chaos and confusion marking Edna’s mind as she approaches this fateful moment. On the other side this also allows the readers to have a larger view of things where Edna just happens to be a speck under the sway of circumstances. This unique exploitation of the narrative view allows the writer to catch the twin forces of personal conviction and destiny shaping this particular moment in Edna’s life. Somewhere down the middle of the passage the third person narrator makes a shift from an omniscient to a limited point of view, thereby throwing light on the things happening in Edna’s mind as “Her arms and legs were growing tired (Chopin 160)” and she approached the outcome being dreaded by the readers.
The readers are totally at a loss to grasp as to whether what is happening is Edna’s personal choice, or whether her fate has been overtaken by the natural forces, as she stands confused by the social implications of her realization. Had it been modern times, perhaps it would have been possible for Edna to chose a more certain course of action. However, this passage needs to be analyzed in the light of the times and the social milieu in which Edna is placed. The conflicting forces identifiable in the passage have their origins within a specific time frame and social context. Thereby, the passage does full justice to the writer’s commitment to realism by allowing one to depict the immensity of the social beliefs of those times. Hence, the utter confusion and helplessness faced by Edna in such moment of personal empowerment and conviction is the outcome of the social fears that push Edna to act in such a way.
The writer does resort to a very figurative and symbolic language in this passage to verbally illustrate as to how Edna happened to be in the grip of the forces much larger than her, at her final moment of self realization. For instance the ample use of symbolic comparisons like “the foamy wavelets (Chopin 160)” that surrounded Edna “coiled like serpents around her ankles (Chopin 160)”, or the use of metaphors like “the touch of the sea (Chopin 160)” bring in a visual appeal and intensity to this fateful moment in Edna’s life. The physicality marking this passage as Edna discards the social constraints that had hitherto chained her and stands naked and exposed is indeed strong and liberating.
The passage time and again touches upon the images and ideas linked to Edna’s past when “as a child she had lived her own small life all within herself (Chopin 89)”, to her present state when she is pushing herself into the deep “thinking of the blue-grass meadow that she had traversed when a little child (Chopin 160)”, bringing out the two realities that marked Edna’s life, and the final falling of this sense of duality in a moment of intense self realization. The popping up of varied references like “Mademoiselle Reisz” or “Doctor Mandelet” having historical and cultural implications in the plot enhances the overall scope of the passage.
Chopin not only masterfully uses this passage to bring out the importance of the moment it happens to mark, but uses a very figurative and symbolic language to leave its overall interpretation open and inconclusive.