The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, tells one woman’s story of her attempt to awaken to her true wants and desires for her life. When Edna Pontellier spends the summer on Grand Isle, she begins to think beyond the role of wife and mother that she has played so far. She begins to think of herself as a separate person with independent thoughts and feelings. Her transformation is difficult and she has great trouble deciding what she really wants in life. Edna attempts to discard all of the traditional values of her life to find her independence. Confused by the new feelings these experiences bring, Edna’s awakening is a failure because she does not have the necessary skills to become independent. Despite her attempts to change and embrace a new life, Edna is defeated because of her weaknesses that are symbolized in her art, the water, and her relationships with men.
One of the first ways that Edna begins to find her inner self is through her painting. She definitely shows some talent as an artist and throws herself into this new self expression. She spends time painting rather than spending time with her husband, children and acquaintances from the past. Even as her artistic talents develop, art becomes a symbol of failure for Edna. Edna does learn to express herself and assert her self through her art. Even though Edna learns to live through her paintings, Madame Reize sees becoming an artist as a test. She believes that becoming an artist is a test of individuality. Edna fails that test because her wings are too weak to fly with her new life.
Another symbol of Edna’s defeat in the novel is the water. Edna blindly struggles to leave behind the conventions of society and her own life. She first begins her transformation while at the beach. The water shows her desire to change and flow with her life instead of being stuck in the life that she has. Each time she becomes unsure of her new path, she returns to the water to reconnect with the flow that she wants to create. Ultimately, however, the requirements of change become too great for her, and Edna is defeated by the process. When she realizes that she cannot make the necessary changes in her life she returns to the water to end her life. The water and her drowning show how Edna is in over her head and cannot tread any longer to stay afloat.
A third symbolization of defeat for Edna can be found in her relationships with men. As she develops more relationships with men besides her husband, Edna believes that she is growing and becoming more self aware. She confuses her relationship with Robert for developing awareness and liberation. However, she is only trading one dependence for another. Her desire for Robert makes her leave her family, but what she needs is to be more self reliant, not just reliant on another man. When Robert realizes that the relationship is becoming serious for Edna, he backs off and leaves her. She thinks she is becoming more independent, but she is still consumed by the need to be attached to a man. Edna fails because she does not develop an independent relationship with herself. Instead she just trades one romantic relationship for another.
The Awakening is a novel about change and the strength needed to fully change and become self aware. Edna tries her best to change into a more evolved and independent woman. Because of her weakness and inability to let go, she fails in her transformation. Even though she achieves some independence form her husband, Edna cannot move beyond her mixed emotions about her love for her children and her love for her new found freedom. Rather than evolving, she comes off as a spoiled and selfish woman, unable to cope with the responsibilities of her life.