In the novel The Awakening by Kate Chopin, the main character, Edna Pontellier, is a woman trying to break free from the grasp of her husband and society. She begins on this incredible path to independence during the last summer she spends on Grand Isle. Here, she meets and falls in love with Robert Lebrun, and is introduced to the mystic joys of the sea. Ultimately, Edna takes the last step on her journey into complete freedom by drowning herself in the ocean that she loves. Robert's act of leaving her, rejecting her just as she rejected him at first, pushes her over the edge and forces her into the decision to take her own life.
Edna commits suicide in part because she can not have Robert. She is in love with Robert. She feels towards him "a quicker, fiercer, more overpowering love"(139) than she has felt for anyone else over her entire lifetime. When Robert returns this love, and then quickly takes it away from her, Edna does not know what to do. She feels as though "he did not know; he did not understand. He would never understand"(176). What he does not understand is that Edna can not live without him. Robert "awoke [her] last summer out of a life-long, stupid dream"(168). Because of Robert, she slowly but surely breaks the bonds and ties of her marriage and she lets herself become the person that she truly is inside. Robert is the one who rouses her out of her slumber and shows her what life really is.
Edna's suicide is also how she takes the final step towards achieving her freedom. Edna sees that "a bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling, disabled down to the water"(175). Like this bird, Edna is injured. But Edna's injury is a broken heart that drives her to the state of mind that causes her self-destruction. An added bruise to her already battered life is the guilt she feels at leaving her children behind. "The children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her; who had overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul's slavery for the rest of her days. But she knew a way to elude them"(175). Before she steps into the ocean, Edna "cast the unpleasant, pricking garments from her"(175) just as she sheds away the worries and problems of her old life. "For the first time in her life she stood naked in the open air, at the mercy of …the waves that invited her…She felt like some new-born creature"(175). Edna's nakedness symbolizes her rebirth and the "opening [of her] eyes in a familiar world that [she] had never known"(175). As the sea pulls Edna out of her world and into the next one, she is satisfied and her last thoughts are of some of her brief moments of freedom.
Edna ends her pursuit of freedom in the same place it began. It is at Grand Isle that she falls in love with Robert and first comes to realize how trapped she really is. The ocean at Grand Isle is where she first shouts "for joy, as with a sweeping stroke or two she lifted her body to the surface of the water"(73). The sea also reminds her of her home in Kentucky, where she "threw out her arms as if swimming when she walked, beating the tall grass as one strikes out in the water"(60). By killing herself in the sea Edna is recalling what first caused her to start on this adventure, and is in a sense going home to the place she loves. Water is essential for life, and it is ironic that she should end her life in the very substance that made it possible for her to live.
Edna Pontellier's suicide tells a lot about her. She is a strong woman, who goes after what she wants. If she does not get it, she goes to drastic measures to get the next best replacement. She is a woman who ultimately gains her independence by losing her life, which, in her eyes, is a resurrection of the soul.