Kate Chopin’s works usually portray a heroine who finds herself in a confusing state, on a path to self-discovery, and no other female protagonist is as out-spoken, as ready to take her new life head on, as passionate and as unconventional as Edna Pontellier. Once she acknowledges her existence not as society requires her to be, but rather as a person who exists to make herself happy and satisfied, she turns her back to everything that was once part of her identity and commences a new, rich life of an artist, who cares little for social roles. Still, this is not a happy-end story, as Edna finds out that being liberated has its price, and she thus, chooses to end her life peacefully, emerged in the salvation-offering waters of the sea.
At the beginning of the novel, Edna is in a state of dormant existence; she is what society requires of her to be, her husband’s wife. Initially a romantic soul, she desired a different kind of life, but seeing that such a thing will not happen, she accepted her marriage, children and the life of domesticity as something inevitable. However, the experiences at Grand Isle will prove to be a resurrection, because her life was one that was almost death, with no joy or happiness. She experiences love in the guise of Robert Lebrun, the kind of man she was always dreaming of, and decides to leave her children and husband in an effort to become no man’s possession, completely liberated and living for herself, not for others. Interestingly enough, her actions frequently border on selfishness, though the novel remains mysteriously silent on whether her actions are justified or not. The ending remains ambiguously vague as Edna walks into the sea and allows the waves to wash over her, completely allowing herself to be engulfed by the water, which is a symbol of rebirth, chastity and cleansing, denoting her own soothing manner of death.
Thus, Edna is a character whom most women of Chopin’s time would not be able to identify with, out of fear or out of misunderstanding, but still, Edna’s psychological revival is depicted as necessary, without which her life would be hollow and meaningless. In the end, Edna does die, by her own hand, but not before she manages to feel again and to be truly alive.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. New York: SoHo Books, 2012. Print.