I read this novella a few years ago now, but for some unidentifiable reason I keep recollecting it. Especially recently. It was read for examination purposes and so perhaps the brightly coloured-coded pages throughout the text are still imprinted on my brain, and being around other people doing exams has brought it back. Perhaps it is because I have been watching French dramas on TV and I have made links to the Creole society. Either way, it is on my mind.
The story follows the awakening of Edna Pontellier who realises that she is able to be independent and does not have to live the rest of her life in the traditional and restrictive Victorian society. During this transformation Edna has both a sexual and emotional change, she begins to love another man, leaves her husband and her children and moves into her own cottage where she can paint, draw and swim at her own leisure. Swimming presents itself throughout the novel, and at some of the most crucial moments; Edna is swimming when she first realises that she has the power and strength necessary to create a happy life for herself. Women were to raise children, look after their husband and perform all kinds of domestic duties; which often left little time or ability for the mother and wife (she was labelled as both those terms, not an independent woman, but as either a possession of the man or of the children) to care for her own well-being.
What I found most interesting in this book, was the ending. So I apologise for those of you who haven’t read it, but then why are you reading a review of it if you haven’t read it!? SPOILER ALERT. The book ends with Edna swimming out to sea as far as she can, but the text ends before we learn if she dies or not. She is forever swimming. Her suicide attempt reveals more about the Creole society the text is set in than the rest of the book.
Edna has been driven to this. She was oppressed, she was liberated and then she did not belong. The people she loved and had valued were no longer able to communicate with her, they do not grow and develop at the same rate that she does/ or alternatively Edna does not allow them to do so. Her awakening is a rebirth, she is reborn as a new and enlightened person. In a childlike state Edna is able to view society differently and both realises that she has found a better position for herself but that society is unwilling to get there yet.
Often seen as an early feminist novel The Awakening exposes the oppressive Victorian society and also blames it for the death of Edna. Edna as a woman discovers a better life, a more equal life but is unable to make other people see her opinion. Her swim out to sea happens because it is the only way Edna can conclude her awakening, but also save her family. She has become a different person, one that society is not ready to accept and so she does not belong anywhere. Her husband and children still have a place in Creole New Orleans and so by leaving them she also saves them from the knowledge that she has learnt. Although her potential suicide can be seen as undermining to the feminist cause, there were limited other possibilities on Edna’s horizon.