A Complicated Marriage in The Awakening

May 23, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening, Edna’s marriage is complicated. Her marriage is both a source of positive and negative influence on her, in that it both confines, imprisons, and depresses her while also providing her with an impetus, reasoning, and inspiration for her individual aspirations and pursuits. Edna doesn’t particularly know, especially in the beginning of the novel, what is wrong, just that she is unhappy. Chopin characterizes Edna’s marriage as a factor in her unhappiness, but also as a factor in her budding awakening. Edna learns, through reflection on her lack of contentment, that her marriage is the foundation for individual, social, and even paternal expectations that concern, depress, and overwhelm her. This understanding, that a majority of her problem is rooted in her marriage, leads Edna strongly in a direction toward her own life’s goals. Chopin characterizes marriage as something in Edna’s life which constrains, informs, and inspires her and her pursuit for personal fulfillment. Edna’s marriage to Léonce Pontellier has the force to make her feel inextricably trapped, to complicate her social and solitary life, and to otherwise confuse the care, hope, and love out of her. The narrator frequently explores and elaborates the mental and emotional processing that Edna internally deals with. The apparent and clear turmoil Edna experiences is a response to the possession of her by external factors, her marriage perhaps the most significant, that she feels, senses, and frankly despises. Edna is at first, submissive to Mr. Pontellier, and could be described as an obedient, though unthinking, wife. It was as part of the common, unquestioned procession of life as its described in the novel, no love, but as part of the blind, guiding forces of life’s situations that Edna was married to Léonce in the first place. “Her marriage to Léonce Pontellier was purely an accident, in this respect resembling many other marriages which masquerade as the decrees of Fate. It was in the midst of her secret great passion that she met him. He fell in love, as men are in the habit of doing, and pressed his suit with an earnestness and an ardor which left nothing to desired,” (575). Edna, throughout the novel, progressively realizes her entrapment as she comes to desire an intimate relationship with Robert more and more. A significant part of Edna’s desire for Robert coincides and deepens with her will to break the traditional, societal, and marital obligations and code of behavior that she increasingly finds as fake and crippling. “She perceived that her will had blazed up, stubborn and resistant. She could not at that moment have done other than denied and resisted. She wondered if her husband had ever spoken to her like that before, and if she had submitted to his command,” (585). Edna’s awakening, the focus and title of the novel, is realized and demonstrated, in large part, through her growing discontentment of her marriage.Edna becomes primarily concerned with herself and her focus to be the sole arbiter of her own destiny, which means, of course, that she must understand all the intricacies of her imprisonment in order to seek and tread toward freedom. Edna recognizes her feelings for Robert as something real, something intrinsic to her inner true being, something completely different from the feelings she has for her husband. “The sentiment which she entertained for Robert in no way resembled that which she felt for her husband, or had ever felt, or ever expected to feel. She had all her life long been accustomed to harbor thoughts and emotions never voiced themselves. They had never taken the form of struggles. They belonged to her and were her own, and she entertained the conviction that she had a right to them and that they concerned no one but herself,” (598). Chopin characterizes Edna’s marriage as a reality of her life that has been imposed upon her, and that has, unbeknownst to Edna, driven her to accept. Edna learns to accept it no longer and follows the elusive, captivating guidance of her deepest desires. Edna, in learning the truth about her marriage to Mr. Pontellier, and in her deep, growing affection for Robert, also realizes that she is becoming an altogether new woman. “She let her mind wander back over her stay at Grand Isle; and she tried to discover wherein this summer and been different from any and other summer of her life. She could only realize that she herself–her present self–was in some way different from the other self,” (592). This notion of her marriage being a contradiction to her true self, and of breaking free from bondage, inspires Edna to a course of action that separates her from the other women around her.Through commiserating and identifying with Mademoiselle Reisz, longing in contemplative solitude for Robert, reminiscing with Madame Ratignolle on her days of youth dreaming of love, and in finally succumbing to the pull of the sensuous sea in its “soft, close embrace” (652), Edna acts out of inspiration to break free from external expectations for her life, for her marriage, and to live independent, unpossessed. “She felt no interest in anything about her. The street, the children, the fruit vender, the flowers growing there under her eyes, were all part and parcel of an alien world which had suddenly become antagonistic,” (603). As this excerpt from the novel shows, Edna’s quest to live free of social expectations does not exclusively result in a positive outlook or sentiment. She endures confusion, pain, and suffering in her journey of becoming a new woman, but she is not deterred from her path once she awakens to her reality and sets out. “Instinct had prompted her to put away her husband’s bounty in casting off her allegiance. She did not know how it would be when he returned. There would have to have been an understanding, an explanation. Conditions would some way adjust themselves, she felt, but whatever came, she had resolved never again to belong to another than herself,” (624). Edna makes up her mind, and though her wildly uncommon behavior and actions causes characters around her to question her sanity, and doesn’t turn back. “It sometimes entered Mr. Pontellier’s mind to wonder if his wife were not growing a little unbalanced mentally. He could see plainly that she was not herself. That is, he could not see that she was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world,” (606). Léonce, and Robert even, don’t understand the real reason for Edna’s strange new behaviors and decisions, and she herself arguably wouldn’t expect or want them to. She acts out of learning, awakening to, and rekindling her inner nature which refuses to be commanded or restricted by external forces.Marriage for Edna is something that makes her unhappy, ties her down, and is an insult to the woman she becomes as she opens up to the possibility of her independence and freedom. Edna’s experience, in dealing with new, depressing realizations of her state in marriage, is intense and consumes her hopes, desires, and life. “There came over her the acute longing which always summoned into her spiritual vision the presence of the beloved one, overpowering her at once with a sense of the unattainable” (631). Though Edna, in her internal and external actions, could be described as moving like a roller coaster, consistently through the novel she moves away from her marriage to Léonce and the social expectations therein. Though she interacts with, and feels for other characters such as Robert, Mademoiselle Reisz, and Madame Ratignolle, it is through her unhappy marriage that Edna learns, awakens, and aspires to act for herself.

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