Essay on Edna Pontellier's Suicide in Kate Chopin's The Awakening

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Edna Pontellier's Suicide

Suicide has been defined as "the act of self-destruction by a person sound in mind and

capable of measuring his (or her) moral responsibility" (Webster 1705). Determining one's

moral responsibility is what all of humanity struggles with and strives to achieve. Many forces

act toward the suppression of this self-discovery, causing a breakdown and ultimately a complete

collapse of conventional conceptions of the self. So then the question presented becomes

whether or not Edna's suicide is an act of tragic affirmation or pathetic defeat. Most analyses of

the protagonist, Edna Pontellier, explain the newly emerged awareness and struggle against the

societal forces that repress
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Her true awakening in fact occurs shortly before her suicide, when she "grew faint"

after returning home to find Robert gone (106). When all seems to be lost with Robert's going

away, Edna has nowhere to turn but inward. It is at this precise moment she discovers her

failure, her lack of true individuality. Her feelings of individuality, her feelings of solitude, stem

from her inability to reconcile her inner and outer selves. Her outer self is that which she

displays to society, the acceptable mother-woman, conventional in every way. After her initial

awakening (the false awakening), she sheds off the world and its effects on her in its entirety.

However, she is unable to define a world into which she is able to enter. This leads ultimately to

Edna's realization that she does not belong in either of the extremes displayed in the work; the

expected mother-woman with no individuality whatsoever or the social outcast with too much

individuality. Edna begins to realize that "there was no one thing in the world she desired"

(198). Coming to this understanding is jarring to Edna's perception of the world as she has

known it all her life because there is nowhere to find affirmation of self. Rushing forward in the

chapters leading up to her realization that there is no one and nowhere to turn to, Edna ends up in

limbo. Incapable of establishing a place for herself in the world, Edna

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