Julia BowersMr. PottiegerAP American Literature12 April 2019Women’s RolesWhile critics have examined Kate Chopin’s bildungsroman, The Awakening, for its depiction of the sexual exploitation of women in the early 1900s and its transgressive portrayal of a woman acting contrary to women’s traditional societal roles, a deeper analysis of the psychological transformation of the protagonist, Edna Pontellier, reveals Edna’s progressively complex and changing idea of her own role as a woman. As the book progresses, Chopin uses interrelating images and symbols to show how Edna increasingly gains autonomy from her family and the constricting norms of society through her quest for independence and sexual exploration. Chopin highlights images of rebirth associated with Edna’s transformation and awakening as an illusion to baptism and the symbol of water. The motifs of art and music throughout the novel emphasizes the importance of selfhood and emotional sensuality as analogous to Edna’s artistic awakening. The romantic imagery of the sea and Edna’s physical act of swimming highlight the emergence of self into a new life as well as foreshadow Edna’s suicide in the sea. Ultimately, Edna’s conscious decision to take her own life is the pinnacle of her pursuit of independence, selfhood, and liberation from society’s limitations. The use of light and dark imagery, as well as symbols, reveals Edna’s struggle to overcome the transgressions that once denied her autonomy. Daniel Burt notes the oppressing norm of the societal standards regarding married women at the time: “‘a certain light was beginning to dawn’ about the inadequacy of her existence. She is treated by her husband as a
‘valuable piece of personal property,’ in which submission to her husband's will and sacrifice for her children's sake are all that are expected of her” (Burt). Because she is trapped in her marriage, Edna’s sense of self is diminished by her husband’s perceived ownership of her actionsand body. As John Carlos Rowe states, “What troubles Edna so profoundly is that it no longer belongs to her, but what she is can find no natural ground, no utterly transcendental experience of herself as a body” (Rowe). Throughout the course of the novel, Edna gradually takes further ownership of her own body and seeks to find something that will enable her to transform herself into a woman with a strong sense of identity and independence, free from the restraints of her husband and society’s expectations about what she “should” do as a wife and mother.Kate Chopin repeatedly explores psychological progress and awakening in her novella, using corporeal symbolism and evocative imagery to depict Edna’s escape from the burdens of her family and the restrictions on women through Edna’s decision to consciously commit suicide.