Tag Archives: sea

Awakening To Her Final Sleep

When I first started this blog (as just a reading blog) and was surfing to see if there was possibly anyone else in the world who would be reading Kate Chopin (needless to say, there was), I read in someone else’s post that it ends tragically. I managed to keep myself from performing those spontaneous calculations when someone presents you with information you don’t want to know.

However, that didn’t stop me honing into the eventuality of the final scene.

The choice of immediately placing Edna in Grand Isle, once again, had a delirious sense of time warp. The fact that she is there out of season, when the place doesn’t exude the same hospitable vibe, but more of a barren, deserted feeling, eerily starts creeping up on the reader like a foreshadower of the end. Our final vision of Edna is naked, without any garments, completely exposed to the elements. This is such a remarkable transformation from the start; such a perfect evolution of her awakening process. There have been points earlier in the book when Chopin draws our attention towards Edna’s relationship to her clothes, having her remove them like shackles:

“Edna, left alone in the little room, loosened her clothes, removing the greater part of them. She bathed her face, neck and arms in the basin that stood between the windows. She took off her shoes and stockings and stretched herself in the very centre of the high, white bed.”

The scene above takes place after Edna leaves a church service with Robert after a “feeling of oppression and drowsiness overcomes” her. That day can perhaps be described as a first turning point in her awakening process. The oppression she feels suggests an intensity of perception and a hyper awareness of her surroundings from which she breaks free by taking refuge in Madam Antoine’s little house. Her deep afternoon slumber in the pristine, serene white room in the middle of the bright, hot day spells a certain transcendence.

To find her, at the novel’s end, completely alone, without clothes, in the same sea that first awakens her, is a fitting end to say the least. As she walks onwards into the horizon, letting go of any pangs of terror and connection, it’s as if a tight ball has been completely unwound and its structure dissolved into oblivion…


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Edna Out at Sea.

There’ve been migraines, grad school rejections, complete, maniacal boredom, a complete overload of CSS and an ophthalmological breakdown as a result, but I am still ploughing on with The Awakening. I feel a little silly making such a big deal on what is, from a superficial perspective, a rather easy read. I wish I truly felt liberated in my unemployment to simply enjoy the luxury of going to a cafe everyday and reading. Alas, some sort of mental fixation or inner demon pops up.

Today I read at home, on my aqua sofa with the last of my banana chocolate walnut muffins and tea.


Edna and Robert at Grand Islae

I love the way the beginning of the story sets up such a richly interwoven sub-layer of tensions. In the idyllic world of Grand Isle, there’s so much beneath the surface, and this is somehow echoed through the powerful presence of the sea. In one of the earlier passages, Chopin writes:

“Edna Pontellier, casting her eyes about, had finally kept them at rest upon the sea. The day was clear and carried the gaze out as far as the blue sky went; there were a few white clouds suspended idly over the horizon.”

Although the sea isn’t an obvious metaphor or presence in Chopin’s story-telling, there is the powerful scene towards the end of the Pontellier’s time at Grand Isle, when Edna masters swimming. Even from a detached, purely conceptual point of view, this is very symbolic. For a woman to learn to swim at that time may not have been a big deal in itself, but it somehow seems like a gesture of independence, of breaking free from the stiff formality of everyday dress and protocol. In the context of Edna’s “awakening,” though, this act takes on added meaning:

a cover piece that highlights this very quote...

“.. that night she was like the little tottering, stumbling, clutching child, who of a sudden realizes its powers, and walks for the first time alone, boldly and with over-confidence. She could have shouted for joy. She did shout for joy, as with a sweeping stroke or two she lifted her body to the surface of the water…

“… she grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before.”

In light of Edna’s move out of her husband’s home much later on, this reference to swimming and branching out seems especially potent. I also just realized that she feels the desire to swim out further than any woman, particularly, had swum out. This evokes our empathy or realization of Edna’s yearning to experience more soul, more feeling, perhaps that the average woman settles for. [apart from conjuring up a vision of early-2oth century Edna exploring the universe along side Jean Luc Picard, that is.]

If Edna’s experience in the water was one of the earlier “moments” in her awakening, then her dinner party, her “coup d’ etat,” as Arobin called it, was perhaps another. The sheer extravagance and resplendence of that dinner party seemed to be calling for attention. The diamonds in Edna’s hair kind of really take the cake. The amount of time Chopin spends describing the affair, the physical layout the, elements which make it rich and luxurious, really points to the significance of this scene:

“There was something extremely gorgeous about the appearance of the table, an effect of splendor conveyed by a cover of pale yellow satin under strips of lace-work. There were wax candles in massive brass candelabra, burning softly under yellow silk shades; full, fragrant roses, yellow and red, abounded. There were silver and gold, as she had said there would be, and crystal which glittered like the gems which the women wore.”

It’s such a contrast to the way we first meet Edna. It almost seems like a celebration of her “awakening,” some sort of pinnacle towards which the book has been heading. All the tensions of inner drama vs. outer silence have been released, and there she sits, bedecked in diamonds, the queen of the night:

“…magnificent cluster of diamonds that sparkled, that almost sputtered, in Edna’s hair, just over the centre of her forehead.”

The rhythm and feeling of things in the volume sort of change, as they often do in life, after such high-points. Edna herself couldn’t put it better when she says later that night to Arobin [who seems to me, so far, a little like the extra air that Edna must simply blow out of her, and also a little pretentious and annoying] after she’d moved into the new house:

“I feel as if I had been wound up to a certain pitch – too tight – and something inside of me had snapped.”


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