Kate Chopin: “The Awakening”
On page 442, Edna finds great joy in
getting to see her children and spending time with them. Throughout the story,
Edna has seemed to think of her kids as enslaving her. What is it about being
with her children, then, that makes Edna happy?
Chopin uses birds as symbols throughout the
story. For example, on page 433, Edna recounts Madame Reisz’ advice to
her: “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and
prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings
bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.”
Later, on page 458, Edna, walking down to the water, sees an injured
bird: “A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling,
fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water.”
We’ve learned in class that literature’s realist period is characterized by
people who cannot rise above or transcend society. The injured bird at the end
of the story (458) could represent Edna’s own failure to ultimately rise above
Or the bird could symbolize the fall of convention. Which do you find the more
The sea could be said to represent freedom. But
independence can lead to great strength and great sadness. The first
time Edna goes swimming, she undergoes an awakening. The second time, she
takes her own life. Is her choice of suicide a sign of final freedom, or is it
a sign of submission?
times, Robert seems willing to go against “the norm” and act upon his feelings
for Edna, including telling her he loves her and being physically romantic.
When all is said and done, though, are Robert’s actions and behaviors
different from those of Léonce? Or does Robert give in to the same “women as
property” mindset of the Mr. Pontellier?
Notes for Presentation
Discussion: Page 418, Isolde’s Song [“Liebstod”]
Lyrics: “As they swell and roar around me, shall I breathe them, shall I listen
to them? Shall I sip them, plunge beneath them, to expire in sweet perfume? In
the surging swell, in the ringing sound, in the vast wave of the world’s breath
– to drown, to sink, unconscious – supreme bliss.”
Significance: Augurs Edna’s death in the sea.
Discussion: Possible Answers to Questions
Edna seems to spend a lot of time outdoors with
the children—we get the sense that Edna enjoys the outdoors. Edna also likes
being around the kids’ “young existence”; perhaps youthfulness makes her feel
more free-spirited and independent. Edna’s attraction to Robert (and Alcée) is
rather superficial; it is lust. But Edna shares a more sincere, “real” sort of
emotional attachment with both sons. And she still seems to feel some sense of
responsibility to them; maybe she unconsciously feels some pangs of guilt
about what her extramarital affair would do to them.
Open-ended question—answer probably was
intentionally left ambiguous.
Same as above—open to interpretation. She gives
herself freedom by dying with integrity and independence, and the decision to
die was none but hers. But perhaps a sign of submission also comes with this
independence; she feels controlled not by her husband but by her children.
They are innocent, susceptible—the kids depend on her, including their
reputation and happiness.
So perhaps Edna’s suicide is really submission—she is worried about society’s
customs, attitudes, manners, and submits to them. She’s worried about her
kids’ reputations and how they’d be treated if she left her husband.
But maybe she has done right by them: She’s saved her kids’ reputation, and
she has not betrayed herself. [She doesn’t feel responsible to Léonce, but
returning to him for her kids’ sake would go against her very nature.]
Robert really is no different from Edna’s husband. On 452-3, Robert says he
imagined Edna being his wife, and of Léonce setting her free. The biggest
problem Robert has with the potential affair is that he thinks of Edna as one
of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions rather than truly as another person.