The Critics View of Edna's Suicide in The Awakening
There are many ways of looking at Edna's Suicide in The Awakening, and each offers a different perspective. It is not necessary for the reader to like the ending of the novel, but the reader should come to understand it in relation to the story it ends. The fact that readers do not like the ending, that they struggle to make sense of it, is reflected in the body of criticism on the novel: almost all scholars attempt to explain the suicide. Some of the explanations make more sense than others. By reading them the reader will come to a fuller understanding of the end of the novel (and in the process the entire novel) and hopefully make the ending less disappointing.
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Edna had awakened, found her selfhood, only to have that process and victory denied by Robert. His wanting her to be his "mother-woman," his wife with all the social conventions in place, denies her identity. Edna could not face this reality and chose not to exist if existence meant living in the societal cage in which all men wanted her to reside. Her life has become inseparable from the role her husband, lover, and society choose for her. Her identity is intertwined with the maternal nature that others decree should be her world. She has been denied by her father, husband, and Robert, the right to be what she wishes, and must place her sense of self inside their roles. Edna cannot do this, her sense of self was too hard won, too important to her now, to accept the role of wife and mother alone. As Skaggs' points out, "Edna's sense of self makes impossible her role of wife and mother as defined by her society; yet she comes to the discovery that her role of wife and mother also makes impossible her continuing sense of independent selfhood" (364). So as she walks into the water and swims away from the shore she thinks of "Leonce and the children. They were a part of her life. But they need not have thought that they could possess her, body and soul." Margit Stange explores the same idea of motherhood but sees it in terms of ownership. She believes that when Edna witnessed Adele's labor, she came to understand "extreme