Morality and Self-sacrifice

January 9, 2019 by Essay Writer

Kate Chopin’s master novel, The Awakening, takes the modern reader to an earlier time while still provoking the questions of morality and self-sacrifice that exist in the present age. Edna Pontellier, the protagonist of the story, places herself as the individual against society from the onset of the novel. Throughout initial chapters, her sporadic characteristics and actions worthy of rebuke lead to a breakdown of her moral integrity. These behaviors permit her eventually to become a woman that not only her Creole culture, but civilization in general no longer accepts.Edna’s plight thoughout the entire novel perfected her status as the individual against society. From the inception of the story, her uncommon reserve toward her children placed her in abnormal standing. Her behavior, not necessarily of neglect, rather of apathetic involvement in their lives contrasted the ideal motherly figure of the age. Her friend, Madame Ratignolle, on the other hand, showed quite a reverse position towards her children and husband. She possessed the dependent attitude which the Creole society not only encouraged, but in some aspects required. But, this approach toward domestic responsibilities was something Edna was not able to foster. Although she loved her children dearly, and in spells needed them with fervor, she was more accustomed to leaving them with the nanny or a friend rather than looking after their needs herself. As she proved, she would give everything she had for her children, but she would not give herself. In an age of expected domestic dependence, Edna’s rejection towards obligation as mother and wife went against the tacit rules of the world she lived in.While in the beginning Edna was outwardly performing the duties of her life, her heart was occupied with other thoughts. Over the course of the summer, she fell in love with the local lover who followed her around, Robert Lebrun. Although he had previously established his “third wheel” status in the families at Grande Isle, this was another aspect of her life that pitted her against her surroundings. As Robert fell in love with Edna, and she with him, her independent longing was inflamed, and her passions began to overpower her self-control. Seeing that her husband, Leonce was in love with the idea of a wife for him and mother for his children rather than Edna herself, it became easier for Edna to let go of her morals. When Robert suddenly bolted for Mexico on a business excursion, Edna became despondent and unfocused. Perhaps through the severe longing for him and grief at his removal she became intensely connected to herself. When she started painting again, trying to express her inner passions, she began to feel life once more. In her visits to Madame Reisz’s piano concerts she was moved to tears at the music that touched her soul. She appreciated nature all the more; she valued the glory of the ocean with improved vigor.When Leonce was away on a trip, Edna finally cut the outer strings of enslavement to her duties as a wife and mother. She gathered her belongings and moved out of the house. After throwing one last party, she proceeded to wait for Robert’s return, which she had learned about in his letters to Madame Reisz. In the meantime, however, after becoming involved with Alscee Adonwin, Edna realized that her values and choices in her life were no longer acceptable in the society that she lived. Although her friend, Madame Ratignolle told her just to live the life she was called to lead, she could not do it. In her last days when she saw the family doctor, he reflected her thoughts best by saying, “The trouble is…that youth is given up to illusions. It seems to be a provision of Nature, a decoy to secure mothers for the race. And Nature takes no account of moral consequences, of arbitrary conditions which we create, and which we feel obliged to maintain at any cost.” Often in life we never see the consequences of our actions. We are never given the chance to see how our lives might be had we made different decisions . But, the story of Edna Pontellier, the wife, mother, hostess and friend, showed all too clearly a woman who was really a lover, a painter, an outcast, and a soul who knew to well what might have been. Upon telling Robert goodbye after a serendipitous meeting in a secret garden, Edna returned to the sea. She swam out to the place where she once felt fear….and then she kept going, swimming her way to the only answer she knew to her inner desire for independence –death.

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