Edna Ponteiller, the protagonist in The Awakening, is perhaps one of most controversial feminist characters in English Fiction. The ideals and values of individuality and freedom to defy conventions of society, which she exemplifies was pugnacious and censorious in eyes of the then Creole Society. Kate Chopin has achieved in portraying Edna in favorable light by supporting Edna in her endeavors. It is by making us sympathize with Edna’s conditions that Chopin succeeds in communicating the significance of respecting the principles for which Edna epitomizes.
The metaphysical connection that is established between the caged parrot which introduces us to the novel and Edna imbues in our senses a pity for Edna’s prognosticated predicaments. By using this symbol of a caged and misunderstood parrot to mirror Edna’s life the tone of despondency and miscomprehension is established. This tone infiltrates in our senses, captivating us in an anticipation of distress, and dread that influence our sympathies for Edna.Order now
Conflicts and sufferings are key tools in arousing our sympathies. Hardly has the plot of The Awakening developed when we are thrust into what is the defining altercation between Edna and Leonce regarding the moralistic issue of the children. Leonce is portrayed to be repetitive and vexatious (He talked in a monotonous, insistent way) which seeks to enlist our sympathies for Edna as we realize that his concerns are in essence of a lower order of significance. This short dispute is followed by the first of many to come, intense inner contemplations that envision Edna as a thoroughly forlorn woman. (The tears came so fast to Mrs. Pontellier’s eyes…..)(An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness filled her whole being with a vague anguish; Pg 8) This cogitation marks the commencement of Edna’s awakening as she indulges in a path of self-discovery. The sufferings though not explained do enrapture our sentiments for Edna’s situation and we feel some form of innate sympathy for Edna’s pains.
As the narrative continues we are also exposed to the external happiness that enshrouds Edna’s life. She has married to a gentleman whose devotion and love for her is incessant. He is prefigured by society to be the ‘best husband in the world’. She has also befriended a vivant man : Robert; and is with intimate terms with a charming lady Adele Ratignole. This is the opposing force against the sympathy that we were encroached to feel, as we realize that Edna’s life is in perfect harmony.
Soon we are enlightened to what the narrator deems to be fountain of her dolefulness: a certain form of realization and awakening to the realities of her life. As this is conveyed we notice a sympathetic and pitiful tone employed by the author (ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon a young soul)(How few of us emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult!) to induce in us sentiments of commiseration and compassion as we apprehend her predestined fate.
Edna’s infatuations characterize failures in her life and failures are another key tool to captivating our sympathy. All her earlier unfulfilled passions also portent her unsuccessful future thereby capturing our sympathy for her Fate.
Edna’s first swim into the ocean which scripts her first step towards freedom, self-discovery, and individuality is embellished with a prominent symbol of an infant advancing in its first walking steps. This insinuation teases and provokes what can only be characterized as an exploitation of the universality of sympathy felt for a fragile, innocent, and vulnerable infant. (But that night she was like the little tottering, stumbling, clutching child, who of a sudden realizes its powers)(A quick vision of death smote her soul, and for a second of time appalled and enfeebled her senses). This effective image burns in our consciousness and captures our sympathy. Also it attenuates Edna’s physical and spiritual form, and indicatively makes her a being of lesser abilities which makes it easier for us to forgive her amoral attitudes. By indirectly supporting Edna’s process of awakening, Chopin proposes her acceptance and belief in the ‘desire to defy conventions’.
The emotional pain experienced by an unfulfilled passion kindles within us an innate sympathy as we cognize the tribulation of the situation. As Edna is separated from Robert a sense of hopelessness is induced within our consciousness, and the readers feel an urge to empathize with her situation which represents a love and longing that is experienced universally.(to torture her as it was doing with the biting conviction that she had lost what she had held, that she had been denied that which her impassioned, newly awakened being demanded.) We realize that the whole Creole society from her best friend Adele Ratignole to her very husband Leonce Ponteiller sympathize with her unhappiness and despondent mood preceding Robert’s untimely departure.(How do you get on without him Edna). The is a further adage to our commiserations for Edna however also acts as an antagonizing force within our sentiments as we perceive the empathy that she is dealt with by the society actually puts her in a favorable and comfortable external environment where there exists no force that compels her to do any task. So the question arises in our minds: What is the root of Edna’s distress. The perplexity of her despondency is solved eventually and it is this sympathy that the narrator is enforcing on us that make us feel her eventual decision is acceptable and justified.
As Edna’s process of awakening becomes more developed and sophisticated we feel an appalling yet a tingling pity for her actions. We as time passes comprehend her sentiments and her inflicting opinion on Adele’s life: (A pity for that colorless existence, which never uplifted its possessor beyond the region of blind contentment, in which no moment of anguish ever visited her soul, in which she would never have the taste of life’s delirium). Though shocking at first, with some inward contemplation we apprehend Edna’s point of view and her perceptions, and after all comprehension is an indirect form sympathizing.
Symbolism has the pertinent ability to permeate in our consciousness an imposing image that captures our imagination. So when Mme Reiz gives Edna in her act of fatalism the metaphorical value of a bird trying to fly beyond the constraining powers of society, a journey which she prefigures to have an ominous sense of failure, our sympathy for her destiny is captivated.(The bird that would soar beyond the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted fluttering back to earth)(An artist is a courageous soul that dares and defies). As Mme Reiz in her frivolity tries to warn Edna she is also by her own means conveying a pity for Edna’s predicaments.
As Edna’s idiosyncratic nature consequences in her migration to what she deems to be the facet of her peregrination of self-discovery, artistic expression, and assertion of individuality: ‘the pigeons house’, our sympathies for Edna are stretched as we are consternated and shocked by her actions. She has withdrawn from the care-taking of her children, defied a husband who has kindly liberated her from a vast majority of her responsibility, yet she breeds dissatisfaction within her soul to escape from their complete sphere of influence. At this moment even the minute of incidents such as her spending one happy and cherishing day with her children ease our acrimony for her character, making us subconsciously believe in her humanity and ability to love and still be responsible for her children.(spent a week with her children)(She wept for very pleasure when she felt their little arms)
As this scripture of a woman’s emancipation reaches its final chapters an upturn in the plot takes place with the re-introduction of Robert. We witness Edna’s desperate efforts to take her relationship with Robert to a culmination. Her failure to do so, her intense contemplations, and her final realization that even Robert cannot satisfy her inner desire enshrouds our sentiments, enticing in us a feeling of pity and commiseration.(Each morning she awoke with hope and each night she was a prey to despondency). This one sided love is something that we as readers comprehend and sympathize with. However a passionate and amorous scene in a Cafï¿½ changes our perceptions and we realize that it is the conventions of society that poses what seems to be the friction force disenabling the fruition of Robert’s and Edna’s relationship. Our sentiments are aroused in pity for the lovers and the happiness the have forfeited thereby building in us a belief in Edna’s actions as somewhat intrinsically right. This is what I believe to be Kate’s intensions for sympathizing with Edna is: to form in our minds the questionable notion of whether society is justified in having set conventional expectation from women which leads to the curbing of their freedom, and self-expression. We with this gradual build in sympathy for Edna’s character, agree with her revolutionary conviction not to (be the possession of another man).
Doctor Mandelet, an intelligent and discerning character too offers his sympathies to Edna, and this unlike our natural pity is one of an intellectual cognizing. The final climax aided with the small anti-climax of Edna’s witnessing of the birth of Adele’s child is the ultimate facet for drawing on our sympathy. The poignancy and piteous manner of her suicide grapples our emotions, compassions, and pity while at the same time enhancing our comprehension of the underlying reasons beneath her calculated and premeditated death. The anti-climax involving an appalling, and tormenting parturition of Adele’s fourth child, of which Edna was a forced witness has detrimental effect on her psyche, as Adele has as she intended succeeded planting in Edna’s mind a horrifying and oppressing impression of her responsibilities.(she was stunned and speechless with emotion)
However as we reach towards the last pages of this epiphany, Edna’s vicarious character imposes upon on us and when she states (The children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her ; who had overcome and sought to drag her into the soul’s slavery for the rest of her days) we strangely feel justifying her assertions. For us as readers to cast aside our sympathies for harmless and impeccable children who require care-taking in favor of a seemingly selfish lady and her independent desire is truly an enchanting work of art by Kate Chopin. Why do we support Edna in spite of her moralistic discrepancies? I think we must admit that we have never seen these children in any way discontented with life, while on the other hand Edna through Kate’s artistic weaving is a pitiful (new born creature opening its eyes in a familiar world that it has never known).
Therefore with the death of Edna ends this novel, and in retrospect we must note that through out the entire book the narrator had intensively focused on Edna, and this technique following up till her death is efficacious in imbuing in us an engaging sense of sympathy for her plenary character. One impacting symbolism that ends, and crucially procures our sympathies is that of a (A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water). Fulfilling Mme Reiz’s apocalyptical prophecies Edna is a wounded bird whose death is ominous, and therefore we are to respect and mourn for her death realizing just how convincing her ideals were but alas there was no one in the society to support and enliven her fascinated imaginations and aspirations.