Critical Analysis Of The Awakening By Kate
Chopin Essay, Research Paper
The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, is the story of a woman who is seeking freedom. Edna Pontellier
feels confined in her role as mother and wife and finds freedom in her romantic interest, Robert
Lebrun. Although she views Robert as her liberator, he is the ultimate cause of her demise. Edna
sees Robert as an image of freedom, which brings her to rebel against her role in society. This
pursuit of freedom, however, causes her death. Chopin uses many images to clarify the relationship
between Robert and Edna and to show that Robert is the cause of both her freedom and her
Birds are a sizable image in The Awakening. Edna feels like a caged bird, and wishes to be
freed. When Madame Ratignolle plays the piano, Edna often creates pictures in her head that
represent the music. Edna’s picture of a musical peice called “Solitude” is “the figure of a man
standing beside a desolate rock on the seashore” (71). “His attitude was one of hopeless resignation
as he looked toward a distant bird winging its flight away from him” (71). Edna feels like this man,
as though she is trapped and cannot spread her wings and fly. This is a danger, however. Caged
birds, although they are not free, are safe. They do not know of the dangers that can come with
freedom. Once Edna tastes freedom, she does not want to go back to the safety of a caged life.
She does not know of all the possible dangers, and being naive, she is very susceptible to them.
Edna also relates to birds in that she is caged, yet she is doing all she is permitted to do within her
confines. This is represented by Madame Lebrun’s parrot and mocking-bird. Mr. Pontellier is
annoyed by the birds’ incessant chatter. However, “they had the right to make all the noise they
wished” (43). Edna is caged, and she is doing what ever she can to be free within her limits. Mr.
Pontellier is upset by his wife’s struggles for freedom. She allows herself to fall in love with Robert,
and purchases her own house, despite the wishes of her husband. Just as the birds have no concern
that their singing may bother those outside their cage, so Edna does not care that her actions may
negatively affect others. Just before Edna kills herself, she sees a “bird with a broken wing…beating
the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water” (175). Edna is this bird;
disabled and heading to her death in the water. Her freedom is not total, and causes her death.
For Edna, swimming represents freedom. When she learns to swim, “A feeling of exultation
[overtakes] her, as if some power of significant import [has] been given her to control the working of
her body and her soul” (73). Because Robert is the one who teaches her how to swim, he is seen as
her liberator. She fears the water, just as she fears freedom. When she does taste freedom, she
desires more of it. This is paralleled when she learns to swim. “She wanted to swim far out, where
no woman had swum before” (73). Robert aids in her independence, but this leads to her death. “A
quick vision of death smote her soul” (74). This foreshadows her eventual death in the water.
Robert gave her the ability to swim, and the ability to die. When she learns to swim, she also feels
“the first-felt throbbings of desire” (77) for Robert. She loves him because he has liberated her.
Robert himself is a symbol of independence. He is the personification of freedom in Edna’s
eyes. He may do whatever he pleases, whenever he pleases. One day he decides to go to Mexico,
just becuase he can. No one tells him what to do, and he has no responsibilities. Edna wants this
life for herself, and this causes her to idolize Robert’s life. Edna believes that Robert is her liberator
and savior, yet the desire he brings for freedom causes only death, not happiness. She falls in love
with him, and he allows her to even though she is married. He gives her a taste for freedom that she
cannot fully enjoy. When she realizes that she will be just as unhappy if she belongs to Robert
instead of Leonce, she finds that the only freedom she can truely have is in death. “To-day it is
Arobin; to-morrow it will be some one else. It makes no difference to me, it doesn’t matter about
Leonce Pontellier” (175). This woman on the road to destruction recognizes that “There [is] no one
thing in the world that she [desires]” (175). The realization that she will never experience true
happiness and freedom leads her to end her own life.
Edna’s desire for independence from her role in society eventually leads to her destruction.
Robert is the cause of her demise, although she does not realize this. In The Awakening, the
liberator becomes the destroyer. Robert claims to love Edna and seems to show this by revealing
freedom to her. But was it loving of him to give her the desire for something that she ultimately could
not achieve? One may question Robert’s judgement in getting involved with a married woman, and
desiring what both he and she could never have. Edna would have been wiser if she had stayed in
the safety of her perceived captivity. Robert’s influence over Edna causes her judgement to be
clouded, giving her the illusion that she can find happiness in complete personal freedom. Having
been given a taste of independence by Robert, she discovers that she will never find true happiness,
because she can no longer be content with the life she has been given.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. New York: Herbert S. Stone & Co., 1899.