There are many important paths that we must follow on our journey through life. We follow the path without questioning its intent. The path informs us when we should learn to talk, to walk, to marry, and to have children. We are told that we should never stray from it, because if we do, society will make it certain that we are bound for damnation. In the novel The Awakening the main character, Edna Pontellier, has followed this path without so much as a fuss.
All that changes when Edna is awakened from a life long slumbera slumber, which she found repetitious, monotonous, and futile. She discovers that she is incomplete being just a wife and a mother. She needs to fill the void that has been empty for so long. She finds herself looking aimlessly beyond the path toward a destination of new feelings, adventures, and awakenings her quest for true love. Edna stands under this symbol of love, she is faced with a dilemma. Should she kiss, (or in this case, marry), whether or not it is love?
Or should she pass by the opportunity and prepare herself for the hurricane winds of a disappointed and disapproving society? Edna chose to do what society wanted her to doshe ot married and left her fantasies and dreams in the depths of the shadows. “The acme of bliss, which would have been a marriage with the tragedian, was not for her in this world. As the devoted wife of a man who worshiped her, she felt she would take her place with a certain dignity in the world of reality, closing the portals forever behind her upon the realm of romance and dreams. ” (P. 4)
After marriage, hidden around the curvatures of the path, were the expectations of motherhood and being a devoted mother, after all “if it was not a mother’s place to look after children, whose on earth was t? ” (P. 7) The appearance of Edna’s life looked perfectshe was the envy of many women who declared, “Mr. Pontellier was the best husband in the world. Mrs. Pontellier was forced to admit she knew of none better. ” (P. 9) The cover of her life had that of a fairy tale, but inside, the pages were filled with the emptiness and the loneliness she was feeling.
During that summer at Grand Isle, the pages were finally read, and slowly Edna became less and less concerned for the welfare of her family. “He [Mr. Pontellier] thought it very discouraging that his wife, who was the sole object of his existence vinced so little interest in things which concerned him, and valued so little his conversation. ” (P. 6) In Mr. Pontellier’s eyes his wife was not a mother-woman, because “it was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood.
They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels. ” (P. 10) His wife seemed more interested in using her “protective” wings to fly about in search of he independent soul she once threw away at the altar. In the meantime, “if one of the little Pontellier boys took a tumble whilst at play, he was not apt to rush crying to his mother’s arms for comfort; he would more likely pick himself up, wipe the water out of his eyes, and the sand out of his mouth, and go on playing. ” (P. )
The love between Edna and her children existed, but it resembled more of the love between the members of an extended family in the 1990s. “Sometimes [she’d] gather them passionately in her heart; she would sometimes forget them, and their absence was a sort of relief. (P. 24) Around her, Edna could see the devoted Creole mothers flocking about their precious children. These women frowned upon Edna’s laissez faire attitude toward her children. None of the other women could relate to Edna’s declaration, “I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself. (P. 25)
Edna made the decision to have a family when she was young, naive, and unaware of what she truly wanted. That summer, she awakened from her slumber and frantically began to search for the gateway to her dreams. As for her children, “they need not have thought that they could possess her, body and soul. ” (P. 152) Raising a family prevailed in the nineteenth century and women who tried to pursue a career or a hobby were shunned by society. Edna throughout her life listened to everyone else but herself.
She accepted her assigned role in society and stashed away her passions, dreams, and desires to the deepest part of her soul. For many years she lived hidden beneath a facade, but the Edna who craved independence and romance began to emerge that summer. “In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her. ” (P. 17)
Edna was no longer “devotedly” walking down the typical woman’s path, but rather, she was exploring the opportunities around her. Sometimes I feel this summer as if I were walking through the green meadow again; idly, aimlessly, unthinking and unguided. ” (P. 22) She awakened to a whole new worlda world in which she had the courage and the independence to stray from her structural life. Painting used to be a mindless ctivity for her, but the hobby and the talent began to flourish before her very eyes. She was doing something she loved something she could express her innermost feelings with, something that fulfilled her much more than being a mother ever did. It began to consume her soul.
Edna cried a little that night after Arobin left her. It was only on phase of the multitudinous emotions, which had assailed her. There was with her an overwhelming feeling of irresponsibility. There was her husbands reproach looking at her from the external thing around her, which he had provided for her external existence. There Roberts reproach making itself felt by a quicker, fiercer, more over powering love, which had awakened within her toward him… There was a dull pang of regret because it was not the kiss of love which inflamed her, because it was not love which had held this cup of life to her lips. (140)
According to Jen Thompson, Edna was changing, she thought of her marriage to Leonce as a safe haven, there was not excitement or passion. She feels trapped and needs to escape. Months passed and Edna became more and more enthralled in finding her identityshe neglected her duties as a housewife and those as a mother. She fought her way off of the path and found herself in the cruel, yet sometimes fulfilling wilderness. The only woman who understood the battle that Edna was about to endure was Mademoiselle Reisz. “Edna truly admires Mademoiselle Reisz.
Edna appreciates her talent for playing the piano, while the other people on the Grand Isle dont appreciate her, because she does not fit their idea of what a proper woman should be, she is eccentric and bold. Her music touches Edna, it stirs something up inside her. (Thompson) Perhaps every woman awakens at one point in her life. Some choose to chase after a dream while others are more apt to cope with reality. Edna awakened to find herself next to a man she did not love and a life that did not compensate her emotional and sexual urges.
The sea began to touch her as it never did before, “The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace. ” (P. 17) Edna found herself touched by piano piece, which she ironically entitled “Solitude,” that her friend Madame Ratignolle played. “When she heard it there came before her imagination the figure of man standing beside a desolate rock on the sea shore. He was naked. His attitude was one of hopeless resignation as he looked toward a distant bird winging its flight away from him. ” (P. 5)
Edna never dared to think of the significance the image had for hermost likely out of fear of what it could be. Yet, she longed to be that bird. She longed to fly gracefully away from her passion and away from her need for the naked man, who stands on the brink of a sexual symbol for Herthe Sea. To be that bird, she had to gather the courage to be independent from men, and to find the courage to be happy with herself as n individual. Edna began to realize that she enjoyed the company of other men, particularly Robert, “just as one misses the sun on a cloudy day without having thought much about the sun when it was shining. (P. 33)
“As Edna walked along the street she was thinking of Robert. She was still under the spell of her infatuation. She had tried to forget him, realizing the inutility of remembering. But the thought of him was like an obsession, ever pressing itself upon her. It was not that she dwelt upon details of their acquaintance, or recalled in any special or peculiar way his personality; it was his being, is existence, which dominated her thought, fading sometimes as if it would melt into the mist of the forgotten, reviving again with an intensity which filled her with an incomprehensible longing. (P. 71)
Edna explained why she chose to “love” Robert, “Why do you suppose a woman knows why she loves? Does she select? Does she say to herself: ‘Go to! Here is a distinguished statesman with presidential possibilities; I shall proceed to fall in love with him. ‘” (P. 107) There is irony in her explanationshe was the person she was mockingshe had thought exactly that when she married Lйonce. Edna ad given up herself while waiting for Robert to return from Mexico. She had the power to be free, to soar high, but she chose to hang on to the fantasy of what could never be.
Sadly, a fantasy is always much sweeter than reality, because when Robert returned, Edna found herself admitting, “he had seemed nearer to her off there in Mexico. ” (P. 136) The man returned to his post on the rock. The bird, infatuated with his return, remained by his feet and with great devotion and admiration looked up at this creature and said, “It was you who awoke me last summer out of a life-long stupid dream. ” (P. 143) Edna ssociated her awakening with Robert and unawarely lost the independence she had sought after by being so superficially dependent on a man.
Throughout her life, Edna had always witnessed women with a man slung on their arms and had only encountered a few who were absent of one. Society deemed the latter as outcasts and told Edna that their days were deficient of happiness, comfort, and compassion. Edna was not strong enough to gain an independent soul and an independent arm. She could barely continue fighting the battle for the possession of her soul, and so, it was necessary that she found her support hrough Robert. When the man saw the bird perched at his feetreality struck him.
He could not proceed with this “love” any longer, because his conscience repeatedly scolded him, “She is a married woman with children. ” To resolve a guilty conscience, he kicked the bird from the ledge, in which they both once stood and justified his action by saying, “I love you. Good-by–because I love you. ” (P. 148) With his farewell, her aspirations and her hopes quickly faded away. She believed that without him she would go back to being a prisoner.
Time after time, another Robert would come y. With sweetness and gracefulness, he would unlock her cage and expose her once again to the marvels of freedom. Soon enough though, that Robert would leave her just as abrupt and cruel as the original one had. Once again, Edna would view life behind bars and would be unable to experience the utter beauty of life. Without a key, Edna was unable to escape from her cage. She did not have the strength to bend the bars and give herself the freedom she had been longing for. Perhaps, she knew the truthshe would have never been entirely as free as she wanted.
She would never be so in love forever like the couple at Grande Isle, because fantasies must always come to an end. It was more likely that she would become the woman dressed in black, wallow in her own pity, and count what little she had. Edna’s only escape was the sea that once awakened her to the possibilities of beauty, love, lust, and independence. Once Robert had struck her with that tremendous blow, the wings that once held such possibilities for her were shattered and “a bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling, disabled down, down to the water. ” (P. 152)