Awakening The Ending Essay, Research Paper
Although the ending of Kate Chopin s The Awakening is a sad conclusion to an inspirational story, it does not compromise the central theme of the novel. Instead of viewing the end of the novel as Edna s failure to continue her pursuit of individualism and independence, one should see it as a failure of the society in which Edna lives to support her newly awakened self. Edna finds it impossible to live in her world and maintain her newfound identity, and therefore, finds suicide the only option in which she does not have to compromise herself.
Suicide is most often viewed as giving up to the pressures that one faces. However, with Edna, suicide was the only right choice for her, and by the end of the book, there was no one thing in the world that she desired . except Robert. (557). Despite her love for him, she refused to be Robert s wife and go from being one man s possession to another. The only other alternative with Robert would be to have an affair which is not only unacceptable to Robert, as he leaves her upon this request, but it would also be extremely difficult to accomplish in their society and would surely be detrimental to the lives of her children. A third alternative is to live as Mademoiselle Reisz did, in isolation from the rest of society and without men in her life. Although, this may seem to be a noble feminist move, Chopin did not describe Reisz as a heroic figure and therefore should not be viewed as such. She is described, instead, as a disagreeable little woman, no longer, young, who had quarreled with almost everyone, owing to a temper which was self-assertive and a disposition to trample upon the rights of others. (486-7). It is doubtful that Edna would be happy living the rest of her life in the same manner. Consequently, Edna fulfills the earlier claim she makes to Madame Ratignolle in which she states, I would give up the unessential I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn t give myself. (504).
The end of the novel in which Edna takes her final swim in the ocean and ends her life contains a great deal of imagery which supports this argument. Perhaps the most popular symbol is that of the injured bird which is often viewed as symbolic of Edna’s failure to continue her pursuit of individualism and independence. However, the fact that the bird is injured but not caged, as the bird in the beginning of the novel was, is very significant. Edna does not give in to the social conventions that have constrained her by returning to her “cage”, but is broken by them in her unwavering pursuit to defy them.
Edna’s final swim can be read metaphorically to describe her awakening, her struggles, and her eventual defeat, which is presently brought upon her. From this reading it is made even clearer that Edna’s suicide does not, in any way, signify a lack of or weak conviction. When Edna first goes down to the water she strips naked and feels like, “some new-born creature, opening its eyes in a familiar world that it had never known.” (558). This is symbolic of the awakenings she has experienced throughout the novel and reaffirms her commitment and zeal for her newfound self-image She is awakened to herself as an individual and is also awakened to the reality of the world around her. This awakening, however, will bring her trouble and death, but as Edna asserted, it is “better to wake up after all, even to suffer” than to be a “dupe to illusions” all one’s life. (555). Therefore, we see her walking into the ocean despite the “chill,” or metaphorically, the cold response to her pursuit of independence that is expected from those around her. She also continues despite how “deep” the water becomes, as she sinks further into the turmoil that is unavoidable for a woman during this time attempting to assert herself as an individual. (558). Edna realizes the dangers but is soon reassured and comforted by the “close embrace” of the sea. These positive emotions that seize Edna, despite the mounting danger she is in as she swims further out, are natural feelings that result from gaining the freedom to be herself. It is at this time that Edna returns to her childhood, a time when the social role of “woman” was not yet defined for her. She relates the sea to the blue-grass meadow that she believed had “no beginning or end.” (558). It was a place devoid of constrictions and boundaries. Sadly, we are aware that this is only an idealistic notion, for the society that brings Edna to the ocean is full of constraints that don’t allow her to be herself. As mentioned earlier, the only choices she has besides death force her to compromise herself in some way, which she is unwilling to do. She therefore loses strength, “exhaustion was pressing upon and overpowering her,” (558) and she is “broken” from the pressures of her society. Ironically, the only way Edna can sustain herself is through death.
Unlike the belief of many, Chopin does not compromise the theme, the awakening of individuality, in her novel, The Awakening, with its fateful ending. This theme is maintained and even strengthened with Edna’s suicide for Edna upholds her newfound loyalty to her own individualism by taking her life. Through this ending, Chopin adds a new element to the novel that deepens its meaning, realism. The reality of Edna’s situation sets in when she cannot escape the restraint that her society has on her. With this ending Chopin’s novel moves from an inspirational story, rousing its readers to “wake up” to their true selves, to a social commentary, criticizing societies and cultures that don’t allow people, and more specifically, women, to do this.