The story begins in the 19th century of Grand Island, Edna and her family members were taking a holiday here. Owing to her husband's busy, he had no time to accompany her, which made Edna have the opportunity to deal with Robert. They often went walking to the beach, talking, as the time went by, Robert's consideration stirred the long-repressed libido of Edna, then Edna became vibrant than ever, she learned how to swim, she began to realize her independence and sexual demand. But Robert's was limited by the traditional moral, he left and went to Mexico suddenly to avoid further development. Edna was driven to distraction by Robert's sudden disappearance , she felt sad and confused. Back to New Orleans, in order to divert her attention, she began to immerse herself in painting, abandoning all the social responsibility that she should take traditionally, and even cancelled the traditional habit of meeting guests. Eventually her husband noticed his wife's change, turning to the family doctor for help, who suggested her husband take a relax attitude about this. Her husband went to a business trip to New York and let his mother pick up the children, leaving Edna alone in the home. From then on, Edna abandoned the past way of life completely, she moved into a small house to live. She painted and visit a pianist. During this period, Edna had an intimate relationship with a man named Arce, but they did not love each other. She was in a great conflict because she desired Robert's love but she continued to indulge her own sexuality. Finally, Robert returned to New Orleans for the first time admitting to Edna for his love, which made Edna rekindled her feeling. Once again, Robert left without saying goodbye, just remained a note: I love you . because I love you, so I will no longer do so. Frustrate and disappointed, She came to Grand Island, which was her first awakening place in her eyes, without any hesitation, she chose to suicide.
II. Edna's awakening in self-consciousness
2.2 Two phases of Edna's awakening
2.2.1 Self- recognition
For a long time, Edna has done what the society requires of her: to get married and to have children. She was just like a prisoner in a cage-like situation-an easy, upper-middle class life but totally dependent on others. The marriage for Edna was merely a way to obtain a means of womanhood. Being a mother and wife, she was supposed to do all the things in harmony with her situation. but she had no passion towards her husband, their marriage was not like a real marriage, as they showed no interest to each other's activities and thought and they did not interfere into other's affairs at all. They had a loveless marriage, her husband can never understand or accept Edna as an individual human being, a person as well as a wife and a mother. They were lack of communication and understanding. Therefore, in fact, the home was just like a boundary for Edna both physically and psychologically., which did not allow her to grow or to become a mature, self-critical woman with a mind of her own. The cage sacrificed women's power and energy. Her husband has never intended to share Edna's thought and needs. On night when Edna first heard the music from Mademoiselle Reisa, she began to think that she can not be anyone's property, which stirred her own opinion about her position on the world. She perceived that "her will has blazed up. Stubborn and resistant."(p75) Unusually, following her husband's demand has become her habit of life focus, but this night, the obedient wife refused to accept her husband's desire directly. For the first time in six years of marriage, Edna had rebelled to her husband, which can be said a big challenge for her. So here we can say it was Edna's primary awakening, namely, self-realization, because she began to rebelled.
For a long time, social attitudes toward female body are highly distressing for women. "Female body is ridiculed as a sign of weakness of incompetence". Women in all literary or public contexts were presented as a source not of power but of vulnerability. The body of women was taken for granted as the property of her husband of the object to be appreciated by men. Adele Ratignolle, as Chopin indicated , was just one for the female figures of this type. Her appearance was absolutely coded with the traditional role of women, who were displayed for visual and erotic impact. Adele was a woman of excessive physical charm, whose body was as rich, white as her clothes.
"Never were hands more exquistic than hers, and it was a joy to look at them when she threaded her needle or adjusted gold humble to her taper middle finger as she sewed away on the little night-draw or fashioned a bodice of a bib.(p17)
From the above chapter we can see that the perfectly pale and gloved hands of Adele were signs mainly of her husband's wealth and organs of domestic labor. Her hands never lied still to prepare protection against the winter. However, the value of her labor did not stem from production for use. In the eyes of most people, the busy hands seemed to be utterly glamourous because they were perfect indication of the feminine duty. Adele proudly adopted such a kind of evidence to show how well she performed as a traditional mother-woman and to come into the centre of focus and praise. By the demonstration for properness, she had already transformed her body into an object, which was of no productive value but was an incarnation of qualified femininity. Women seemed to be the man-made invention, which were brought into the world for the staging of ownership. The masculine power became the order and principle of the civilized world.
Compared to Adele, Edna did not protect her complexion and hands in the careful manner. Though not so attractive as Adele, Edna charmed in her own beauty, she was rather handsome than beautiful. The word "handsome" was used for several times to portray the physical traits of Edna. As a matter of fact, she did not noticed her body. Just because of the beauty of Adele that encouraged Edna to become aware of her own physical feature and appreciate her own body as the self-attained subject. Obviously, their hands were totally different, or looking opposite, but Edna, uncovering her hands, she gave them away in public instead of hiding the hands like Adele for her husband. They serve her sensual appropriation of the world and provide her the opportunity to get in touch with more social reality. So we can draw a conclusion that her hands has extended from he domestic and private attributes and became her special property, never to be replaced by anything. Thus, we can say that this was her first step of self-realization, maybe readers considered it was very shallow, which was far from her awakening, of course, different people hold different ideas, we can not deny their opinion at free, but generally speaking, Edna's self- recognition is very tough for a woman at that time. To some extent, we can say self- realization is very essential and not omitted, because it lays the foundation of the later gradually awakening. So, it is easy for the readers to accept Edna's conflicts and struggle during the process of spiritual awakening, which sets a natural transition for the development of the story.
2.2.2 Sexual awareness
For a long time, sexuality has been under taboo and ranked among the most sensitive things for women. Traditional convention kept women ignorant of her own sexual desires, or she was told that her desires must be suppression. The ideal lady ought be passionless. The females were passive and devoid of sexual appetites, only the males tool the dominant role in the sexual life, while women were in a obedient position. For so many century passed, the females had already took it for granted about their role. In fact, this definition of feminine sexuality eliminated women's passion desire and destroy their individuality.
Through the wakening, Chopin regarded sexuality as a natural phenomenon, which was not a part of motherhood. Though Edna, she took a sexual awakening step by step. The first step was Edna refused to obey her husband's desire. After the evening swimming party, her husband wanted her, but this time Edna did not comply. Her refusal of the sex was an important landmark of the female autonomy, because from then on, Edna did not submit or obey her husband in the sexual life. Her position had improved, especially in sexual life. Edna was a normal mature woman, so she need the healthy sexual life, but the loveless and passionless marriage life can not meet her physical need. So later on, she turned her attention to Robert. She loved Robert, and she attached too much passion to him. So we can see that Edna's awakening strongly turned to passion and sexual desire, which marked the dawn of her sexual awakening. However, Robert did not have the courage to have the change in the relationship with Edna, finally he left without saying goodbye. Since unable to satisfy Edna's sexual need through her husband and Robert, Edna indulged herself into a affair with Alcee Arobin,. But Edna did not love him at all, she just in order to meet her awakening sexual desire. Her behavior was no doubt object to everything that the society hold. Ignorant about this, Edna had the self-possession of herself, she grew step by step.
2.2.3 Spiritual awakening
We know that spirit is abstract and intangible, so if we want to clearly see the spiritual things, we had better and must based on the concrete things that can prove spirit. Namely, by virtue of the real action, we can feel the spiritual awareness of Edna in the novel. So Kate Chopin took advantage of so many symbols of action to illustrate her spiritual awakening.
First is swim. Chopin exploited the form of learning to swim as a symbol of empowerment. Edna struggled all the summer to learn to swim, but at first, Edna was unable to venture into the water because she was afraid of abandoning herself to the sea's expanse. Despite the attempts of the guests to teach her, she was still unable to swim, she had been trained by all kinds of people on Grand isle. Suddenly she felt empowered and stepped into the water. When she lifted her body to the surface of the water, she realized that she can control her body easily and freely. She became active and engaged and transforms into real shouts of joy: "How easy it is! It is nothing", she succeed, she can swim on her own. From then on, she became aware of the existence of her body, which was strong enough to bring her to the place that no woman has ever been. After the swim, Edna seemed to be more confident in the thought that her body was the inseparable part of herself. Grasping the skill of swimming not only provided Edna with strength, joy, confidence but also fear and pain. On the night when she can swim, she sensed her strong passion for Robert and she understood clearly the faulty of her marriage without true love. Still on that, she came to have a deep understanding of the significance of death. Another meaning of Edna's learning to swimming is the capability of swimming can be regarded as the essential phase of her personal success. Even if she swam to the eternity in the end of the story, she still be considered triumph in certain degree as the swimming symbolized a test for her efforts at reaching selfhood, which gave her a taste of accomplishment as being able to stand on her own physically and spiritually.
Spiritual awakening was also supported when Edna took a trip with Robert to the island Cheniere Chaminada. After the sailing, Edna felt a little tired so she took a nap in the house of Madame Antoine. When left alone, she took off her shoes and stockings and lied comfortably in the center of the high,. The luxurious and quaint atmosphere on the island allured Edna into a close survey of herself. A new sensation overcame her:
She looked at her round arms as she hell them straight up and rubbed them one after the other, observing closely, as if it were something she saw for the first time, the fine, firm quality and texture of her flesh. She clasped her hands easily above her head, and it was thus she fell asleep. ï¼ˆp64ï¼‰
There was no sexual appeal in this body description, for Edna, it was a process of discovery of her own physical being, the strength and beauty. When Edna waked up, she looked at herself closely in the mirror, watching herself with appreciation, satisfaction, and delight in her body's power. Through the mirror, Edna regained the ability to distinguish herself from the exterior and thus obtained a whole sense of individuality. It was a revolution for Edna to try to think mostly about herself and took herself as the center of attention, not as individual secondary to her husband, nor as the possession of anyone. She did not link her physical self with men and with men's requirements, especially their sexual desire. An important aspect of the awakening to the self was the consciousness of her own body, her physical appearance. It was a realization that her nice figure. The self- consciousness of the beautiful and free body was subversive for Edna and helped her continue the exploration of a self.
Second is drawing pictures. What makes Edna more independent was her strong interest and persistence in painting, she attempted to use her art as a symbol of liberating selfhood. Drawing gave her the ability of thinking and meditation, she can transform her feeling and observation of external world into the activity of drawing. So the painting not only provided her with the enjoyment or praise but also the satisfaction of her insistent demands of inner yearning. Drawing pictures is a symbol of freedom too. It is through the process of drawing pictures that Edna achieved a certain point of her awakening. Edna regarded drawing pictures as a way of self-expression and of self-assertion. She learnt a lot about human being when she concentrated her attention on her drawing. Drawing picture is an activity both quite and lively. Quite means that it did not need to speak or talking or something like that, you just need your own space, which is quite. Lively refers to your inner thoughts, maybe you are speechless when drawing, but your thoughts must be awake, because you should think ,rethink and came up with the general form, so your thought must be vigorous then. That is what you looks quiet, your inner heart is just like the ocean under the heavy blowing. So here we can understand that drawing picture indicates that Edna's spiritual awakening, as she began to have her own opinion, avoiding the conventional values, she began to think with her unique mind, just as a real "thinker". Besides, Edna's pursuit of art offered her pleasures and fulfillment. But the most important thing was that Edna seek for an economic independence as she began to earn her own money by selling her own paintings. When she had her own income, she felt more confident in her pursuit and attempted to free from her husband's financial obligation. That is why we say today if a woman want to be independent, she must be independent.
Likewise, enjoying music is also a symbol of freedom and another important action to illustrate her spiritual awakening. There were a lot of descriptions of playing the piano both Adele and Mlle. Reisz play the piano. Each woman functioned differently in the narrative of the story. Adele was thought of as a musician by Leonce, but she did not play it for art, she did so just to keep her husband and children cheerful and also to add merriment to the party. Mlle. Reisz , on the contrary, was disliked by all, but is granted status as a musician by only Robert and Edna. In this novel, one of the reasons for Edna to enjoy the playing of Mlle. Reisz was that she can assimilate the power from the music to seek herself.
Therefore, during the music enjoyment, Edna was full of the solitary mood as no one can really understand her. In chapter?, Edna entitled the piece of music "solitude", which was often played by Madam Ratignolle and whose original name was beyond her knowledge. When she heard the performing of this piece, in her imagination, there will be " the figure of a man, standing beside a desolate rock on the seashore. He was naked. His attitude was one of hopeless resignation as he looked toward a distant bird winging its flight away from him". Obviously, the nomination and solitary images were the true reflection of Edna's personal solitude. After accept so many fresh external things, she began to rethink in a quite different way, she had already come to a stage of spiritual liberation, so she was solitude both physically and psychologically, which was the beginning of her awakening. But the people around her did not realize this, maybe they noticed the change of her, but they can not read it out, there is no wonder that Edna felt lonely. Yes, she was in a world that nobody n touch or reach, it was too high for the unawake people.
The high point of Edna's spiritual awakening is the dinner party she gave for her twenty-ninth birthday. She considered to discard the trappings of her roles as a society matron- her wedding ring, her "reception day", her "charming home". Edna's birthday party began like a kind of drawing-room comedy. We were told the guest lists, the seating plan, the menu, and the table setting. Though some of the guests were boring, and some do not like each other, yet as it proceed to its bacchanalian climax, the dinner party also had a symbolic intensity and resonance that made it Edna's most authentic act of self-definition. Not only was the twenty-ninth birthday a feminine threshold, the passage from youth to middle age, but Edna was literally on the threshold of a new life in her little house. The dinner was an overthrow of her marriage, all the more an act of aggression because Leonce will pay the bills. Moreover, she had created an atmosphere of splendor and luxury that seemed to exceed the requirements of the occasion. The table was set with gold satin, serves china, crystal silver, and gold; there is "champagne to swim in"ï¼ˆChap. 29ï¼‰, and Edna was magnificently dressed in a satin and lace gown, with a cluster of diamonds ï¼ˆa gift from Leonceï¼‰in her hair. Presiding at the head of the table, she seemed powerful and autonomous: "There was something in her attitude which suggested the regal woman, the one who ruled, who looked on, who stood alone" (Chap. 30).Edna's moment of mastery thus took place in the context of a familiar ceremony of women's culture. Indeed, dinner party was virtual set pieces of feminist aesthetics, suggesting that the hostess is a king of artist in her own sphere, someone whose creativity was channeled into the production of social and domestic harmony. Like Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Ramsay in To the Lighthouse, Edna exhausted herself in creating a sense of fellowship at her table, looking like a queen. Edna called it "a grand dinner before she leave the old house". "Grand" is not in the sense for splendid food or luxurious atmosphere, but in the sense of Edna's transformation, of the revelation of her inner power and her sovereignty, which not only represented a passage from youth to middle age, but also marked an essential change in her life. Generally speaking, the party were regarded as a turning point in the novel, which indicated Edna's farewell to her past, and the beginning of her awareness to establish a position within her vision. After gaining the power of self-supporting, Edna decided to move from the large double cottage to the four-room pigeon-house around the corner, which was a big move for a woman to take, especially in her time. This dignified Edna's determination to be physically and financially independent from her husband. The private house gave her a sense of unity and autonomy, closely linked to her own defensive womanhood. By owning a room of her own, she not only obtained a physical space for living, but also a wild zone through which she can contact with society more easily and directly.
III..Discussion about Edna's tragic death
Step by step, Edna achieved sexual awakening and spiritual awareness, while her surrounding show no understanding towards her, even her lover-Robert. Sad and disappointed, she chose to die finally. Edna died.
Edna's suicide has received considerable attention. Several critics comment on the price of freedom as Chopin portrayed Edna's fate :Jules Chametzky observed that " it is a lonely and isolated autonomy that exacts a terrible price" . Donald Ringe notes that " the philosophic questions raided by physical and social realities by which it is surrounded, and the price it must pay for insisting on absolute freedom." George Arms views Edna's suicide as a passive drifting asserts that she is the victim of her own self-delusion. George Spangler sees the conclusion of the novel as being at odds with Edna's essential strength and asserts that the conclusion represents a sentimental lapse on Chopin's part. Writing from a psychoanalytic perspective, Cynthia Griffin Wolff observes that Edna's suicide is a regressive act that is the result of arrested emotional development. According to Wolff, Edna experiences " an inner sense of emptiness" that no adult relationship can remedy. As we have seen, many contemporary critics and students romanticize Edna's suicide as an act of self-assertion, as a transcendence of he earthly limitations. Donald Ringe describes Edna's death as a " defeat that involves no surrender." Other critics focus on the ambiguous nature of the suicide: Stewart Smith and Kenneth Rosen argue that the conclusion of the novel underscores the essential ambivalence of Edna's nature. On one hand, she was a romantic absolutist and would not compromise her vision of freedom; on the other hand, she was defeated by convention. Suzanne Wolkenfeld points out that "Edna's suicide was not a conscious choice reached through her achievement of self-awareness." Therefore, in many respects, critics hold that the awakening was about death, not life. Edna's struggle for selfhood was doomed because there was little possibility for self-determination for women in a society where legal and economic practice and social custom prohibit female autonomy. At the turn of century, when The Awakening was published, marriage in New Orleans was based on the Napoleonic Code, which defined a wife and everything she possessed, including her clothes, as her husband's property. Divorce was an infrequent and scandalous event, particularly in Louisiana, which was a Catholic state.
Many reader interpret Edna's suicide as an failure during the process of her awakening, even her move from her husband's large house into a cottage of her own as an indication of growth as regression and retreat. In many respects, her new house, the "pigeon house" as she calls it, is just a smaller cage. A pigeon, after all, is a domesticated dove. Madame Reisz told her that "the bird would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings"(chap.27), but birds can not fly. Edna's limited ability to direct her energy and to master her emotion is symbolized by her desire to learn to swim "far out where no woman had swum before". Ambition, striving, overcoming odds, the focus of energy on a goal are habits of mind associated with masculine mastery. A woman who wants to develop these skill has to defy a centuries old tradition of passive femininity. She has to possess the "courageous soul " as Madame Reisz told her, "the brave soul. The soul that dares and defied"(chap.21). but Edna did not have the emotional behavior, conventions that she had, in fact, internalized. As we have seen, although Edna has freed herself from the domestic imperatives of her husband's house, she becomes ensnared by romantic love. Lacking a tradition of self-assertion to guild her, Edna internalized her anger, experiencing it as overwhelming depression: "despondency had come upon her in the wakeful night, and ahs never lifted" (chap.39). even her suicide is not willed. She returned to Grand Isle and in a moment, she stands by the sea "absolutely aloneâ€¦ for the first time in her life she stood naked in the air, at the mercy of the sun, the breeze that beat upon her and the waves that invited her (chap.39)". Although she feels new born", she somewhat fail to for to the higher position of awakening.
We can draw a conclusion from the above chapter that Edna's awakening was not beat the bottom and not complete. At the beginning of the road of her awakening , she did little by little, though small, it was conquer and rebellion. When she was about to reach the highest point of complete awakening, she fell down. What a pity about her tragic death. She may achieve a real succeed if she went through the inner and outer pressure, but she chose to suicide. Edna did not want to give primacy to nurturing; she will not serve others, but she can not serve herself. Her life represented the tension between Adele Ratignolle's code of affiliation and the politics of separation of Madame Reisz. Often, Edna's life seemed like a montage of dreams; she did not look the world with focus. So, we can see that the soil supported Edna was not fertile enough, there is no wonder that Edna chose to die finally as lacking the strong favor and understanding from the people. All her way, she was lonely. Anyhow, It is quite difficult for Edna to achieve this goal in that society. Maybe Edna's death will remind us of the similar story plot in other works, such as Madame Bovary (1852-1856) by Gustave Flaubert (1828-1877).Compared the death between Edna and Madame Bovary, we can easily notice that though the plot had some similarity, the themes of each other are quite different, because what Edna gave up was what Madame Bovary hoped to get rid of, the essence of their death was totally opposite. More accurately, when we mention the women's problem, we shall find an even great similarity between Edna and Nora, the protagonist of the play, A Doll's House wrote by Henridk Ibsen (1828-1906). In the play, Nora eight years marriage life made Nora saw through her husband's true nature and she realized that they had no equality in the family relation. Her husband showed no respect at all, so she left the doll's house to start her own life. Compared the fate between Edna and Nora, the difference are the result of their life choice. Edna died with higher awakening than Nora who not die. Of course, both of them rebelled, but Nora was obsessed only by the problem being a descent wife, but Edna's struggle attach her too much deep things about awakening. In this sense, we can not deny Edna's excellent characteristics though her death.
Here I want to say that Edna was a successful woman during the process of awakening except her choosing to die. In fact, Kate Chopin created a great woman-Edna in her novel. She fell down, but we should not be so trenchant to criticize that Edna was totally a failure. It is only putting the tragic color on her image, anyway, she was a pioneer in her time.
The awakening is the representative work of Kate Chopin. Edna, who is the protagonist in the novel, tired of the dull family life and hoping to get rid of the shackles imposed on women by the society, awakens from the initial depression and bewilderment to rebel. Edna goes through three phases of awakening: self-realization, sexual awakening and finally spiritual awakening, but unfortunately, she chooses to die to liberate her soul and body. The three phases of biological and mental awakening in this novel depicts Edna's painful journey to awakening. Generally speaking, Edna is a great woman created by Kate Chopin. We know that women have historically been defined as intellectually inferior to men. At the end of the eighteenth century, individual liberty was hotly debated. The social and scientific landscape of America was undergoing significant changes and feminist movement began to show its appearance. On the eve of a new century, this novel takes in a remarkable transition between the Victorian world of the 19th century and the Modern world of the 20th century. It is quite clearly that Chopin express her own idea on woman's self-fulfillment and struggle. Edna challenges the traditional convention by refusing to be a traditional wife and mother. She has tried her best to rebel and fight in the long way. We know in her society, it is extremely for a woman to make her own voice heard, but Edna encourages herself to try and fight. From this point we can see that Chopin is so forward thinking that she is the pioneer in the movement of women's emancipation. Personally I appreciate this novel because of its title "the Awakening", which implies some deep meaning under the story. Because I think the meaning of the word "awakening" is something deep rooted in our brain and our action, which can be sublime or something like that. The word itself hold the great power to effect one's mind. The ending of the story is indeed ambiguous because it is "open" and technically "circular", which gives the reader a wide space to rethink. Maybe it is Edna's rebirth, maybe she have began to live at another level of existence.
Of course, I feel a little pity about her death, I always think if she be mentally strong enough and stick to her own way and let alone other's opinion, maybe she will found a totally new world, which only belong to herself. But human beings are social animals, Edna was not understood by the people surround her, she was totally isolated by her times, so for a person full of emotion like Edna, she chose to die has the inevitability. Though Edna suicide, which add some tragic color to her image, we cannot deny her progress anyhow. Compared with other people in her time, she has already done a good job. Edna is a new woman, her image will be perfectly good if the tragic death could be omitted. Anyhow, she is a pioneer beyond her times and encourages the later women's complete awakening in the history.