The Awakening is a novel about the growth of a woman into her own person, in spite of the mold society has formed for her. The book follows Edna Pontellier through about a year of her life. During this time we see her struggle to find who she really is, because she knows she cannot be happy filling the role of the mother-woman that society has created for her. She did not believe that she could break from this pattern because of the pressures of society, and ends up taking her own life. Should readers sympathize with her death? The answer is no. Edna Pontellier was on her way to an awakening.
She realized during the book that she was not happy with her position in life. It is apparent that she had never really been fully unaware however, because her own summary of this was some sort of blissful ignorance. Especially in the years of life readers are told about before her newly appearing independence, we see that she has never been fully content with the way her life had turned out. For example she admits she married Mr. Pontellier out of convenience rather than love. She knew he loved her but she did not love him.
It was not even the case that she did not know what love was, for she had had infatuations that at the time (being so young) she believed was love. She consciously chose to marry Mr. Pontellier even though she did not love him. When she falls in love with Robert she regrets her decision of marrying Mr. Pontellier.
Readers should not sympathize with this because she was the one who had set her own trap. She did not love her husband when she married him but will never once admit that it was a bad decision. She attributes all the problems of her marriage to the way society has defined the roles of men and women. She does not attribute any of the blame to herself. The only other example of married life in the book is Mr. and Mrs.
Ratignolle, who portray the traditional roles of married men and women of the time. Mr. Pontellier also seems to be a typical man of that society. Edna evidently was not. Mr. Pontellier knew this but had apparently not known before.
This shows through in the complete lack of constructive communication between the two. If she had been able to communicate with her husband they may have been able to work something out that would be able to make Edna feel satisfied in her life. They could possibly have created some outlet for her feelings of frustration, while she upheld the responsibilities that she had tied herself to. Instead of this, she began to rebel, but she ended up crossing the line. When a mother has children she cannot simply decide they do not need care because she does not like to constantly play the role of a mother.
Children are a responsibility. If Edna had not wanted children she should have told her husband and worked something out with him. They are much too big of a responsibility to completely disregard. Reception days are one issue and children are another. When she blew off her children she was going too far in her rebellion.
Another example of an instance where she went too far was the affair with Arobin. An affair with Robert would have been bad, but not quite as awful as the one with Arobin. This is because she loved Robert, but not Arobin. It is evidence of complete disrespect for her husband. She does not appreciate anything he has done for her. She has been completely unreasonable and he has still been quite lenient.
He did not even become hostile towards her when she moved into her own apartment, which would have been an understandable reaction for the time. He even tries to save her reputation by saying that they were remodeling their house, which was a very generous thing to do. Edna seems almost arrogant in some ways. She feels that the other women are pitiful because they cannot see past the mask society placed over their faces. She develops an air of superiority. She reproaches their forms of social interaction, not stopping once to think that maybe the women enjoy meeting together to talk.
She degrades their way of life completely, coming only to the conclusion that they choose to lead their lives the way they do because they are blind to the opportunity of freedom. Yet she has no right to scorn them because she is not free herself. She recognizes her problems with infatuation but cannot break herself from the trend. She never awakens because she is never free from her obsession. One of the last lines of the book reads 'The spurs of the cavalry officer clanged as he walked across the porch.' ; To her death, she is never free from her preoccupation. Readers should not sympathize with Edna's suicide for these reasons, among others.
She made bad choices and could not even admit them. Rather, she blamed them on society. Granted, it was not perfect, but it was also not the complete cause of her problems. She was also unreasonable in her means of dealing with her frustrations. Suicide is not a way of dealing with problems. Any alternative would have been infinitely better.
Edna Pontellier did not commit suicide because her eyes had opened and she could not bear to live the life she saw. She committed suicide because she was, if you see to the bottom of the situation, a weak woman who became frustrated when she could not cope with her problems. She committed an act of the greatest cowardice, and it is not something that should be seen with compassion.