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In Flight
Forced Smiles
Happy Oblivion
Ducking Destiny
Chance of Showers
Chance Encounters
The Thinking Dog
The Race
Flight of the Ostrich
Monster Under My Bed
The Rose Garden
Window Shopping
Dramatic Romances
Musings on Nature
A Day at School
The Holy Light
A Rainy Night


The Roller Coaster
The Purse
Sammy's Lesson
The Legend of the Hungry Dragon
Spirits in the Night


My Philosophy of Life
Five Scholarship Questions
Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois
Prophets for God
My Service Project (1999-2000)
My Service Project (1997-1998)
The Beauty of the Forest
Reaching Beyond

The Pastry Menace
A College Just for You!
The Rights of Plants

Literary Analyses
Saving Harry:  Clearing the Controversy Over Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Essays on Wuthering Heights
The Creature in Frankenstein and the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
Edna's Decision in The Awakening
Character Comparison in Kate Chopin's The Awakening
Why The Chosen?

Research Papers
Race, Norms, and the Sidewalk
Analytical Exercise
The Validity of Comparing Governments
The British System: Legal-Rational Or Traditional?
The Importance of Framing
Madison on Factions
Spirituality and the Brain
Sea Water and Conductivity

Clinic Violence: A "Moral" Way to Bring About Change?
Graduation Speech
The Call to Relationship
Mark Twain Speaks Again (original version)
Mark Twain Speaks Again (shortened version)

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Year 2000
Hunting for Sport?

Mercury Spill Exercise
Chocolate Feature Exercise
Character Sketch
Reaction Story
Aspiring Actress Profile
"Shark Attack" Exercise
Villa Maria Academy Hosts Diversity Panel

Coastal Vacation

A Comparison of Edna Pontellier Before and After She Swims in Kate Chopin's The Awakening

Kate Chopin's realistic novel The Awakening features the character Edna Pontellier, a woman who comes to realize that she is unfulfilled in the role of a traditional wife and mother. Her breakthrough realization comes when she learns to swim, after a summer of failed attempts. At this point, Edna first "awakens" to the fact that she has been hiding and repressing her true self. Although she is physically the same person, Edna before she swims and Edna after she swims are mentally two different people.

Before her awakening, Edna is careful to obey all the rules of New Orleans Creole society. For example, the Creoles have a strict calling schedule that specifies days when certain women must call on their acquaintances and days when those women must stay at home and receive callers. According to the Chapter XVII, Tuesday is Edna's "reception day" (531), and every Tuesday, without fail, "Mrs. Pontellier, attired in a handsome reception gown, remained in the drawing-room the entire afternoon receiving her visitors." (531)

The person that Edna becomes through the process of discovering herself is willing to break all the rules of society that previously confined her. In the same chapter, the new Edna disregards custom and does not stay at home on Tuesday to receive callers. Moreover, she not only goes out on the day that every important member of society expects to find her at home, but, to her husband's horror, she does not even leave an excuse! When her husband demands a reason for this extraordinary breach of protocol, Edna replies, "'I simply felt like going out'" (532). Obviously, this indifferent woman is not the same person who just months before would never dream of disregarding social convention on a whim.

Edna, as Chapter VII states, "was not a woman given to confidences" (503) before her awakening. She is a modest and private person, who is embarrassed by the frank conversations of the Creoles and who lives internally. For example, when Robert Lebrun tries to lay his head on Edna's arm near the beginning of the novel, she firmly brushes him off, and later on, she is even slightly hesitant when her friend Adèle Ratignolle strokes her hand to comfort her. Also, Chopin demonstrates Edna's internal nature when she describes Edna's eyes in the second chapter: "She had a way of turning them swiftly upon an object and holding them there as if lost in some inward maze of contemplation or thought." (495)

The new Edna is a complete departure from the reserved woman of the first few chapters. She not only allows mental and physical intimacy, she embraces it. An example of this new attitude is her relationship with Alcée Arobin. Although she does not love him, she allows him to flirt with her and spends increasingly more time with him. Soon, Arobin tries to get more intimate with her, and in a charged moment, he kisses her. The new Edna does not push him away, like the old Edna would. Instead, as Chopin writes, "she clasped his head, holding his lips to hers." (557) Edna gives in to her desires, breaking the social code and her old reserve. In addition, the new Edna is able to reveal her thoughts and feelings, especially concerning Robert, to Mademoiselle Reisz, her new confidante.

Despite all these outward changes, in some ways, Edna essentially remains the same person. Even before her awakening, Edna has a strong sense of herself. She instinctively feels that she is different from the Creoles and senses that she does not belong in their society. Furthermore, she always lives in an active internal world of feelings and thoughts, and, as Chapter XVI states, "she entertained the conviction that she had a right to them and that they concerned no one but herself." (529)

Edna fully realizes her inherent individuality after her awakening. She understands her own importance and realizes that the only thing in the world she would not be willing to sacrifice is herself. At the end of the novel, Edna perceives that she cannot be a good mother and still live her life the way she wants. If she continues to ignore society's rules, she will ruin her sons' chances of succeeding in life. Knowing that she cannot sacrifice herself and go back to the old way of life, she takes the only other route open to her at the time. By committing suicide, she gives her life for her children without sacrificing herself.

Edna Pontellier dramatically changes from a submissive wife and mother to a strong-willed and independent woman the night she learns to swim. Although the seeds of her awakening are already within her, it is only on this night that they come into full bloom, allowing her to separate from her previous life and start anew. Edna's evolution as a character is what makes Kate Chopin's The Awakening such a compelling novel.

Copyright © 2002 Colleen Fischer | Last updated October 7, 2002