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The Awakening | Chapter 7 | Summary

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Summary

Up to this point Edna has been a very reserved person, but now she begins to feel more comfortable sharing her private thoughts with others. This is partially due to the influence of Madame Ratignolle. One morning the two go to the beach together, leaving their children at home (though Madame Ratignolle insists on bringing some needlework). Sitting in the shade, Edna gazes out toward the sea, and Madame Ratignolle asks her to share her thoughts. Edna admits she wasn't really conscious of her own thoughts, but she tries to retrace them. She describes how the water, sailboats and sky make her want to keep looking at the scene, and how the warm wind makes her recall a childhood memory of walking through a meadow as if it were an ocean. She confides in Madame Ratignolle that she feels a bit like she is walking through such a meadow again, "aimlessly, unthinking and unguided."

Sitting with Madame Ratignolle, holding hands, leaning her head on her friend's shoulder, Edna recalls some of her past relationships—both friendships and romantic relationships. She thinks about her marriage to Léonce, which was based on his feelings for her more than her feelings for him: "She fancied there was a sympathy of thought and taste between them, in which fancy she was mistaken." She thinks, too, of her feelings for her children, which are uneven. As she thinks she confides some, but not all, of these thoughts to Madame Ratignolle before Robert arrives on the scene with the two women's children.

Analysis

Thus far Edna has taken for granted there are two contrasting parts of being human: the outer life and the inner life. The outer life is the world of action and is limited by the rules and expectations of society. Having good manners, doing what is asked of you, and following the life course appropriate to your gender are parts of that life. The inner life is the realm of thought and feeling. It is separate from the outer life and has little affect on it. For Edna's true self to emerge, the outer self must begin to align with the inner self.

But this is a process, and one that is barely started. So far Edna has had a strong emotional reaction to her husband's bullying, has begun to develop feelings for Robert, and has shown a dissatisfaction with her own artistic skills. She has been confused by her emotions. Now, in conversation and close physical intimacy with her friend, she is able to put some of what is inside her into words, and even let those words out. As Edna stares at the sea, a symbol of primeval life and of beginnings, her feelings coalesce into an image. This image can then be unpacked like a portentous dream and interpreted. Through the image of the sea to the image of the meadow, Edna is able to follow her own thoughts and express them in language. She can acknowledge—not just in emotional reactions but in sentences—that she has no real "sympathy" for her husband and lacks even a consistent emotional bond with her own children.

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