Awakening And Suicide
What is suicide? “(Suicide is) the act of self-destruction by a person
sound in mind and capable of measuring his (or her) moral responsibility”
(Webster 1705). “No one really knows why human beings commit suicide.
Indeed, the very person who takes his (or her) own life may be least aware at
the moment of decision of the essence of his (or her) reasons and emotions for
doing so. At the outset, it can be said that a dozen individuals can kill
themselves and “do” (or commit) 12 psychologically different
deeds” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 385). Suicide is written about in a
variety of novels, short stories, and movies. Suicide moves like an undercurrent
in the sea of themes of The Awakening. The possibility of suicide and even the
idea of death darkens the story, making Edna’s emotional ups and downs dangerous
– her occasional misery leads her to subconsciously think of suicide. She holds
the hopelessness at bay by moving out and getting her own apartment, while
trying to find a man who will accept her, but in the end she succumbs. Edna’s
closest physical brush with death occurs one night at the beach, when the summer
residents decide to take a midnight swim. Despite having had a hard time
learning to swim, she realizes her ability and swims farther out than she ever
had before. She overestimates her power and almost doesn’t make it back. She has
a “quick vision of death”. The experience scares her, but she has
tested her limits and survived the sea for a while. Metaphorically, she has come
close to death but resisted it. Falling asleep can be associated with the idea
of death as well. Whenever Edna falls asleep, it is noted in the story; across
the bay at church and the first night once her husband has left are examples.
Each time there is a suggestion of drifting off to sleep and never waking up.
When she is across the bay, once she wakes up, she likens her nap to a hundred
years’ sleep. However, each time Edna does awaken; it is only at the very end
when she finally drifts away. She could have chosen sleeping pills as her method
of death, but she returns to the beach because of its memories of the summer,
and the men in her life. Her near-death experience in the summer left an
impression on her that influences her choice of escape from life. Throughout the
story, Edna struggles to free herself. Leonce Pontellier tries to hold Edna
down, wanting her to be a mother and a housewife, when she knows she is not like
that. Her husband’s oppression forces her to break free. This time, she escapes
and begins life on her own, to succeed at first. Then she meets Alece Arobin. He
is a disreputable man-about-town who draws Edna out to the horse races. For a
moment, he brings her away from the precipice of suicide. His attentiveness
attracts her, but in the end she realizes that he means little to her.
Eventually she sees Robert again. Having left her husband, she hopes to start a
fresh new life with Robert. Edna reminds him, that it was he who awoke her last
summer out of a life-long ,stupid dream; however, Robert only leaves her a note
that reads, “I love you. Good-by – because I love you.” (Chopin, 695).
He does not understand what she needs either. She realizes, during the long
sleepless night that follows, that eventually she will forget her love for even
Robert. That night she thinks about the forces that have tried to hold her down.
She thinks of “. . . Leonce and of the children.” (Chopin, 698); they
sought to drag her into the soul’s slavery for the rest of her days. Finally,
she realizes that her only escape is suicide. All her life, she has known people
who try to hold her down; she will forget them and meet others. This is her
surrender to a tradition and a society that is too powerful. She has flirted
with suicide throughout the novel; in the end she “. . . looked into the
distance . . . heard her father’s voice and her sister Maragret’s” (Chopin,
698), and then she was gone.
Chopin, Kate. “The Awakening.” Literature: Thinking, Reading, &
Writing Critically. 2nd ed. Ed. Sylvan Barnet, Morton Berman, William Burto, and
William E. Cain. New York: Longman, 1997. 607-98. “Suicide.”
Encyclopaedia Britannica. Vol. 21. 1973 ed. Webster, Noah. “Sucide.”
Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language: Unabridged.
Ed. The World Publishling Company. New York: Rockville House Publishers, Inc.,