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The Awakening | Chapter 39 | Summary

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Summary

The next day Victor is doing some repair work on a house on Grand Isle as he and Mariequita flirt and gossip. They are surprised to see Edna approach. She explains that she has come for a short visit and plans on going for a swim in the ocean. As she looks at the sea she thinks about her children and about Robert, and the inevitable result that even those she loves will eventually abandon her.

The sea seems very appealing to Edna. She can see its vast expanse and a broken-winged bird flying overhead. She strips off her clothing and stands naked on the shore. Then she begins to walk out into the water. As she gets into deeper water she must swim, and she swims out farther and farther. She goes out beyond the point where she can return to shore. As she becomes increasingly exhausted, she recalls childhood sounds and smells.

Analysis

Robert's inability to truly love and understand Edna frees her from hope for a future in which her inner self and outer self fully align. With the wishful thinking borne of her feelings for Robert—the idea that somehow together they could live without the burden of society's rules and conventions—she sees her true situation. She does not want to be a wife and mother, but she is a mother; thus there is no practical path ahead for her. As she told Madame Ratignolle, she will sacrifice her life for her children, but she will not give up her self, her individuality. Her children have a mighty pull on her, but she feels she must resist their love because it puts her individuality at risk. Therefore instead of giving up her self by returning to her family, she gives up her life in the sea. Like the bird with the broken wing, she is unable to stay aloft in the water, and she plunges into the depths of the ocean.

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