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Kate Chopin’s second and final novel, The Awakening, was published in 1899 at the height of
her popularity. Ironically, this work, now regarded as a classic, essentially marked the end of
Chopin’s writing career. The Awakening has now earned a place in the literary canon for the
way it uses these formal and structural techniques to explore themes of marriage,
motherhood and woman’s independence, desire, and sexuality. In my opinion all these issues
are best seen in the last chapter. That’s why I am to write about it.
Chapter XXXIX begins on Grand Isle. Victor and Mariequita flirt and discuss Edna’s
dinner party while Victor does construction work. Unexpectedly, they see Edna walking
toward them. It is still long before the summer season, but Edna explains that she has come
alone to the island in order to rest. She makes plans to have lunch with the pair and then walks
down to the beach for a swim, ignoring Victor and Mariequita’s claims that the water is much
too cold. As she walks along the beach, Edna’s thoughts are utterly different. Once she
reaches the water, she removes the garment with no one in sight. Edna stands “naked in the
open air, at the mercy of the sun, the breeze that beat upon her, and the waves that invited
her.” She swims out into the water. Eventually tiredness goes beyond her. The recollections of
her early days fill her thoughts as she gives up to the expanse of the deep.
First thing I would like to describe is deconstruction. I would like to point that the last
scene brings the variety of meanings and interpretations. On the one hand, the suicide is an act
of final capitulation to the power of social traditions. On the other hand such a surrender is
generous—that Edna does not want to “trample on the little lives” of her sons and cause them
pain. The suicide can also be seen as Edna’s rebellious declaration of her own will: because
Edna refuses to be tied down and to sacrifice “herself,” she bravely sacrifices her life for the
sake of upholding her integrity and sovereignty. According to Mademoiselle Reisz’s words:
“The artist must possess the courageous soul that dares and defies.”
By drowning herself she ensures that her last act is a self-determined one. Then we can
presume that she kills herself because she can’t stand being without Robert, whom she loves
with all her heart. Edna feels an overwhelming sense of solitude.
Alone in a world in which she has found no feeling of belonging, she can find only one
answer to the unavoidable and heartbreaking boundaries of society. She returns
to Grand Isle, the site of her first moments of emotional, sexual, and intellectual awareness,
and, in a final escape, gives herself to the sea. Then we can also consider another reason.
She commits suicide simply because she is in love in Madam Ratignolle. We can presume so
because in one of the previous chapters we can read:
“Never had that lady seemed a more tempting subject at that moment,
seated there like some sensuous Madonna, with the gleam of the fading day
enriching her splendid colour”.
Next I will try to show some influences of feminism in this last chapter.
In the XIXth century women were supposed to be good mothers and wives. Society believed
that a married woman needed to make both her husband\'s and children\'s needs her first
priority. Her duty included chores around the house. Woman’s role was within the home.
Women were not to have their own ambitions and plans. They were a sort of property of their
In the last chapter we can notice Edna’s unawareness of her feelings. She seems to
exist in a sort of semi-conscious state. She doesn’t want to be a good wife or even a good
mother. Her own children appear before her as “antagonists who had overcome her”
She breaks away the traditional woman’s role. Now she can understand her own words
which she said to Adele long ago:
“I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my
children; but I wouldn’t give myself”.
Committing suicide, she thinks of her family but she seems to be finally
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The Awakening, Edna, Grand Isle, Frdric Chopin, Kate Chopin, Dame Edna Everage, Edna Birch
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