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The Awakening-Edna Pontillier Essay, Research Paper

Edna Pontellier

Throughout The Awakening, a novel by Kate Chopin, the main character, Edna Pontellier showed signs of a growing depression. There are certain events that hasten this, events which eventually lead her to suicide.

At the beginning of the novel when Edna’s husband, Leonce Pontellier, returns from Klein’s hotel, he checks in on the children and believing that one of them has a fever he tells his wife, Edna. She says that the child was fine when he went to bed, but Mr. Pontellier is certain that he isn’t mistaken: “He reproached his wife with her inattention, her habitual neglect of the children.” (7) Because of the reprimand, Edna goes into the next room to check on the children. “She soon came back and sat on the edge of the bed, leaning her head down on the pillow?. She began to cry a little, and wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her peignoir.” (7) This is the first incident in which we see Edna’s depression. At first, it doesn’t seem like it is that significant, but Edna then goes out and sits on the porch and cries some more: ” The tears came so fast to Mrs. Pontellier’s eyes that the damp sleeve of her peignoir refused to dry them?. Turning, she trust her face, steaming and wet into the bend of her arm and went on crying there, not caring any longer to dry her face, her eyes, her arms. She could not have told you why she was crying.” (7-8)

As time goes on we can see that her depression grows ever so slightly, and that it will continue to grow throughout the novel. Such happenings are nothing new to Edna: ” Such experiences as the foregoing were not uncommon in her married life. They seemed never before to have weighed much against her husband’s kindness and a uniform devotion which had come to be tacit and self understood.” (8) The author goes on to describe what Edna felt during the episode: ” An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish. It was like a shadow, like a mist passing across her soul’s summer day.” (8)

When Edna goes to mass with her friend, Robert Lebrun, we see another instance where she’s not herself: “A feeling of oppression and drowsiness overcame Edna during the service. Her head began to ache, and the lights on the altar swayed before her eyes. Another time she might have made an effort to regain her composure; but her one thought was to quit the stifling atmosphere of the church and reach the open air.” (34) For the rest of the day she lingers at Madame Antoine’s, with no mind of what her husband thinks. He didn’t know that she was going in the first place. She seems not to worry about what others think of her, except Robert.

When Edna returns home later that day, she finds out that Robert is leaving for Mexico. She is rather upset with this news and afterwards leaves to go home. “She went directly to her room. The little cottage was close and stuffy after leaving the outer air. But she did not mind; there appeared to be a hundred different things demanding her attention indoors.” (42) She tries to ignore that his leaving and not telling her affects her so much. Yet she declines an invitation from Madame Lebrun to go and sit with them until Robert leaves. When Edna sees him leave it tears her up inside that her companion, the one person that she felt understood her, is leaving: “Edna bit her handkerchief convulsively, striving to hold back and to hide, even from herself as she would have hidden from another, the emotion which was troubling – tearing- her. Her eyes were brimming with tears.” (44) Edna’s life is not complete when Robert leaves:

Robert’s going had some way taken the brightness, the color, the meaning out of everything. The conditions of her life were in no way changed, but her whole existence was dulled, like a faded garment which seems no longer worth wearing. She sought him everywhere- in others whom she induced to talk about him. (44)

After the Pontellier’s return to the city, Edna is less concerned with doing what her husband and society has deemed is right and proper for her. She completely ignores her “reception day” and instead goes out and does what she wants to do. She acts nonchalant when her husband finds out and goes into a mild fury about it. He winds up leaving to go to the club to have dinner, while Edna finishes her dinner alone. She later goes up to her room. There she experiences another fit of depression:

She carried in her hands a thin handkerchief, which she tore into ribbons, rolled into a ball, and flung from her. Once she stooped, and taking off her wedding ring, flung it upon the carpet. When she saw it lying there, she stamped her heel upon it, striving to crush it. But her small boot heel did not make an indenture, not a mark upon the glittering circlet. (50-51)

She wants to do damage to something; it is her way of releasing the aggression and anger that her husband has caused her: ” In a sweeping passion she seized a glass vase from the table and flung it upon the tiles of the hearth. She wanted to destroy something. The clash and the clatter were what she wanted to hear.” (51)

Edna does what she wants in the days that follow, though some days she is more happy than on others: “There were days when she was unhappy, she did not know why, – when it did not seem worth while to be glad or sorry, to be alive or dead; when life appeared to her like a grotesque pandemonium and humanity like worms struggling blindly toward inevitable annihilation.” (56) Edna doesn’t understand what is affecting her so much, but she finds comfort in solitude: “When Edna was last alone, she breathed a big, genuine sigh or relief. A feeling that was unfamiliar but very delicious came over her.” (69) She likes to be alone when she sketches or paints; it is soothing to her. She seeks solitude when she’s experiencing her complicating emotions; “Or else she stayed indoors and nursed a mood with which she was becoming too familiar for her own comfort and peace of mind. It was not despair; but it seemed to her as life were passing by, leaving its promise broken and unfulfilled.” (70) In the solitude she starts to distance herself from those around her that love and care for her. Her moving from her husband’s house is the first step in this; it distances her from her husband’s control and everything that is his: “Instinct had prompted her to put away her husband’s bounty in casting off her allegiance.” (76) At the dinner party she gives before she moves, she is surrounded by those that care for her, but even then she wants to be alone: “But as she sat there amid her guests, she felt the old ennui overtaking her; the hopelessness which so often assailed her, which came upon her like an obsession, like something extraneous, independent of violation.” (84)

Edna begins to admit to Doctor Mandelet that there are some things that bother her, but she isn’t ready to fully discuss them; she doesn’t believe that he can understand her she merely explains: “Some way I don’t feel moved to speak of things that trouble me?. There are periods of despondency and suffering which take possession of me. But I don’t want anything but my own way.”(105) Edna is not willing to talk about what grips her, and after Robert leaves her again, she becomes completely depressed and dead to the world. From this point on she doesn’t know what she is doing. Despondent, Edna returns to Grand Isle, the place of her awakening and happiness with Robert. Yet she seems not to know what her purpose is there: “Edna walked on down to the beach rather mechanically, not noticing anything special except that the sun was hot. She was not dwelling upon any particular train of thought.” (108) Edna’s body has taken over because her mind has gone:

“Despondency had come upon her in the wakeful night, and it had never lifted. There was no one thing in the world that she desired. There was no human being whom she wanted near her except Robert; and she even realized that the day would come when he, too, and the thought of him would melt out of her existence, leaving her alone.” (108)

With her mind already gone, Edna’s body begins to swim out into the sea, not caring about what lies ahead: “She did not look back now, but went on and on, thinking of the blue-grass meadow that she had traversed when a little child, believing that it had no beginning and no end.” (109)

There are definite signs of Edna Pontellier’s depression, from the beginning of the novel and all the way to the end when she commits suicide. If there had been someone who had seen this, Edna might not have been driven to death, but she felt that no one could understand her wanting to be on her own. She thought of Doctor Mandelet, that he might have understood, but it was already too late, she was too far from shore and her strength was gone. So in the end there was really no one that could have saved her from this fate.

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