This short novel is about a woman, Edna Pontellier, who is a devoted wife and mother. The story revolves around her “awakening” as to who she is and her place in the world. She falls in love with another man Robert, moves out of her house, and also has an affair with another man, Arobin.
The tragedy of this novel is that although Robert, the man Edna is in love with, confesses his feelings also for her, he is unwilling to break the boundaries as much as she is willing to do so. Devastated, Edna realises that she is alone in her awakening and commits suicide.
I found Edna’s characterisation really interesting, because there is this tension between our disapproval at what she does and our joy at the discoveries which she makes. In one sense, I felt that Edna’s actions were very selfish in that she abandoned her husband and children in this quest for self-satisfying love and enjoyment. Yet, I also wonder – does she not deserve these things? Does marriage and belonging go hand-in-hand with loss of self and confinement. Chopin doesn’t appear to offer an answer and even Edna’s death at the end is rather ambiguous. I have interpreted her death as an act of martyrdom and despair.
I have to wonder though – when we read Edna’s experiences of rebellion and escape, do we not feel (vicariously) a sense of victory? We envy her ability to disregard those around her in her quest for self-identity and happiness. Upon reflection, I am rather amazed at her courage – she is a pioneer in love and she becomes a victim of its disappointments.
I really enjoyed Chopin’s style of writing – it was very modern and succinct with rather beautiful lines of imagery, symbolism and commentary. This makes the book a very easy read. You become absorbed in Edna’s narration and her emotional upheaval throughout the novel.
Related Text Potential:
Area of Study: Belonging
- How does Edna’s sense of belonging change throughout the novel?
- How does Edna’s belonging to her husband and children reflect certain difficulties with belonging?
- How does Edna’s experiences demonstrate the tension between individuality and society?
Standard English: Module C – Into the World
- How does Edna go “into the world”?
- What does Edna gain through her awakening? What does she lose?
- How do other respond to Edna’s awakening?