The Awakening is a story about the self-discovery of the protagonist, Edna Pontelliar. The story is set in the eighteen hundreds where the society is based on male chauvinistic beliefs There are gender-specific responsibilities that are expected from each sex. Women are supposed to be obedient to their husbands and dedicated to their children without caring about their own personal interests and activities. The story shows how different happenings ‘awaken’ Edna’s dormant traits. Along with the other awakenings, Edna’s desire for freedom is awakened which makes the greatest impact on her character.
Throughout the novel we see Edna undergoing many awakenings. After her marriage she loses her interest in painting and music but her interaction with the outer world especially with Robert and Adele rekindles her liking for these forms of art. Her love and desire for Robert incites passion and sexual desires; emotions which had disappeared after her marriage. These awakenings allow her to spend more time pursuing her interests however these do not do not detach her from family life; its only when rebellion takes hold of her character does she try to break away from all family ties and live life as per her will. The feelings of freedom that Edna had acquired through the ‘Awakening’ had therefore the greatest impact in the development of her character. All the desires for liberty that were suppressed deep down her character had been awakened that gradually and parasitically engulfed her. After this awakening, she feels her importance and authority and wishes to do everything according to her desires. Initially Edna is seen as a submissive woman who does not long for personal and sexual satisfaction but her sexual desires are also awakened after her interaction with Robert. This can be seen very clearly from the fact the only sexual relationship discussed in the story is Edna’s relationship with Arobin. Their relationship is only for the purpose of quenching Edna’s sexual thirst and she is the one who has complete control over their meeting and the overall relationship. Even though her sexual desires awaken they do not contribute towards any major change in her character. The Awakening of freedom let her forego her submissive nature and instead adopt an authoritative trait in her character She enjoys her relationship with Arobin just because she has complete authority over it and there is no compulsion, something which had previously been an integral part of her life.. In the start, she is seen as a dutiful wife and a caring mother. But after this awakening, she wants to get rid of her husband as well as the children. The love and all the maternal feelings are ripped off only to be replaced selfishness. In her own words, “Perhaps – no, I′m not going. I′m not going to be forced into things. I don′t want to go abroad. I want to be let alone. Nobody has any right – except children, perhaps – and even then, it seems to me – or it did seem – …” (Chopin, 171) She is however aware that her status as a mother would never really allow her to get complete freedom. This is quite evident at the end of the novel when it becomes clear to Edna that she would never be able to free herself from the tag of motherhood and she opts for suicide as a way to free herself from norms of the society.
The true awakening therefore was one that called for freedom as it allowed her to question the status of women in the society. This awakening turned her against something which she had been accepting for years. She repulses the role of woman as a wife and a mother and refuses to oblige to the demands of the society. She wishes to live her own life in her own way without any interference or external obligations. Previously she appears to be doing everything what the society demanded of her but with this awakening she becomes a complete rebel. Previously she had been submissive to her husband and lived the life of a typical housewife, a role that was expected of a woman in that society. This ‘Awakening’ later makes her believe the restrictions and confinements married life placed on her and causes her to rise against it. “She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before.” (73) And she achieves it not only literally by swimming in the ocean but also figuratively by rebelling against the society like no other woman had done. The Awakening had such a huge impact on Edna’s character that it forced her to embrace death as an escape from worldly obligations.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. Avon: 10th Printing edition, 1982. Print.