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Edna Pontillier: Courageous or Cowardly?

In: English and Literature

Submitted By maximcrow
Words 340
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In Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening the protagonist, Edna Pontellier, ends her life to the chagrin of some readers. Many critics have stated that her suicide is a smack in the face of the readers who had become invested in her personal growth throughout the novel. Others, on the other hand, believe that her suicide is the epitome of Edna exercising control over her life and her destiny without the aid of a masculine influence.

Mrs. Pontellier’s suicide is her final expression of the independence and self-discovery that she fought to forge in this novel. She was cognizant that breaking away from the societal norms of being a (pseudo)-Creole “mother-woman” would cost her a many things and she was willing to surrender those items, but not her personhood. This fact is confirmed by her stating that “[she] would give up the unessential; [she] would give [her] money, [she] would give [her] life for [her] children; but [she] wouldn’t give [herself]” (Chapter 16).

The way in which Edna committed suicide in conjunction with her final thoughts speaks volumes about the nature of the scenario. Edna swam out into the sea which “[was] seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander into the abysses of solitude” (Chapter 39) while thinking of things from her childhood. In spite of the fact that her father was domineering, her childhood in Kentucky was a period in her life when she was free of the societal pressures to be a something she was not: a perfect Creole mother. Calling these things to mind in her final moments is her way of confirming that she is choosing the correct path and solidifying her grasp on the independence she was regaining.

By committing suicide, opposed to being with a man—which was expected of 29-year-old women in this time period—, scandalizing her husband and her jeopardizing children’s future, she gave…...

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