The Awakening Essay, Research Paper
The central narrative of Kate Chopin?s novel The Awakening can be said to concern Edna Pontellier?s struggle to define herself as an active subject, and to cease to be merely the passive object of forces beyond her control. But the precise nature of this struggle, as well as its emotional and psychological dimensions, is less easily articulated. One textual counterpart to this complexity is the ongoing interplay between active and passive voice which parallels, and not infrequently undermines, the overt narrative. The relationship between formal grammatical patterns and obvious narrative meaning shapes our understanding of Edna?s changing consciousness and serves as an index to its changes. The verb ?awaken,? from which the novels title and central metaphor derive, formally complicates in a similar way the active and passive elements of Edna?s experience.
The first part of the book establishes contradiction and dualities presumably to parallel what the narrative tells about Edna. She is continually baffled by her behavior and feelings, and fluctuates between apparent self knowledge and apparent self deception. Her perceptions are hedged in modals and conditional structures, negatives, and relative clauses. Any sense of guiding consciousness is undercut by verbal signals of doubt and hesitation. The caged birds that open the novel establish immediately the sense of constrained potential that marks the first chapters. When Edna does experience her first ?breath of freedom? it is compared to wine and being drunk, images of deceptive euphoria that suggest only an illusory loss of restraint.
Edna?s complicated life falls away the night Edna learns to swim, an event that is a triumphant celebration of the unity of emotion and will. The evening begins with the family entertainments at which Mademoiselle Reisz is asked to play the piano. Edna?s unexpectedly passionate response to the music transcends the solid domestic atmosphere of the evening. To her own astonishment the gentile and poetic images are absent and in their place ?the very passions
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening: Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical and Historical Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Five Contemporary Theoretical Critical Perspectives. Ed. Nancy A. Walker. Boston: St. Martin’s Press, 1993.