Feed on

The Awakening

Edna (Maria Marquis) in The Breadbox’s production of The Awakening. Photo: Ben Calabrese

Edna (Maria Marquis) in The Breadbox’s production of The Awakening. Photo: Ben

Edna Pontellier is a 28-year-old woman who lives an unsatisfied life void of any passion. She is married to a man she does not love. “Her marriage to Léonce Pontellier was purely an accident, in the respect resembling many other marriages which masquerade as the decrees of fate” (p.27). She loves her children, but she is content when they are away. Edna is not a zealous mother and, at times, seems indifferent to her children. She tells Adèle Ratignolle, who is a doting, loving mother of three children and is expecting a fourth, “… I would give my life for my children, but I wouldn’t give myself” (p.72).

Edna forced into a life that she did not want, but society decided for her; unfortunately, it took six years of marriage and two children before she realized this. I can empathize with Edna in the misery she felt.  A dismal, unhappy marriage, fear of change and rejection, so many “what ifs.” So many emotions and ups and downs, you cannot breathe, as though you were drowning. You have good days where there is hope and then the bad days that swallow you up like the ocean. I write this from experience.  I wanted a child, and I did the “proper “thing and married a man I did not love to have my first daughter. Two years later, the misery was so overwhelming. I took a lover who gave me the strength and courage to leave. I knew in my head that it would not last, but my heart was not listening.

While vacationing for the summer at Grand Isle she “awakens” to realize that she wants to be an independent woman. She wants more from life than what she has, and the cost of her liberation is not important.  “In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her” (p.19). To her husband’s displeasure, she stops living up to the expectations of a nineteenth-century wife and even goes as far as to move into her own home while he and the children are away.

She becomes infatuated with Robert Lebrun. When Robert goes to Mexico, Edna is devastated and hurt by his absence, and after returning to her home, she has a brief intimate relationship with Alcée Arobin. “She felt somewhat like a woman who in a moment of passion is betrayed into an act of infidelity…What would he think?” (p.119).  She thinks not of her husband, but Robert. After Robert’s return and his declaration of love for her, she tells him, “she is no longer a possession of her husbands, and she would laugh if Mr. Pontellier gave her to Robert because she gives herself where she chooses” (p.166). Robert leaves again with a note that said, “I love you. Good-by- because I love you” (p.172). Edna’s hope for an independent life leaves with him. The light in which she held hope extinguished.

Did Edna love Robert? I say no. When you face the difficult decision of leaving your spouse, it is easier when you feel you have someone to lean on, fall back on, an ace in the hole. Robert was her escape. She realizes that “the day would come when he (Robert), and the thought of him would melt out of her existence, leaving her alone” (p.176). She tells him she “will give herself where she chooses” when Robert tells her of his fantasies of marriage to her (p.166). Edna yearns for passion, love, sex, and independence but does not want to lose her newfound freedom by committing to be someone’s wife.

Edna returns to Grand Isle and swims, naked, to her death. “She thinks of Léonce and the children. They were a part of her life. But they need not have thought they could possess her, body and soul” (p.177). Edna was drowning before she ever stepped on the beach that night.

Leave a Reply