Edna's Swim: The First Step in Her "Awakening"
The central conflict in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening is the self-discovery, or “awakening,” of the protagonist, Edna Pontellier. Throughout the course of the novel she transforms from the bored, submissive wife of Lèonce Pontellier to a vibrant, independent woman with a powerful will of her own. The episode that launches Edna’s awakening is her learning to swim. Edna’s swim is a fresh and exciting experience for her and stimulates feelings of realization. Chopin’s description of the event is a metaphor for Edna’s awakening as well as a foreshadowing of the consequences of her self-discovery.
Edna’s learning to swim is such an important event in the novel because she has accomplished something without outside help and solely for her own enjoyment. The observers of the phenomenon are surprised at the event; it was an “unlooked-for achievement,” and “the subject of wonder,” indicating that Edna’s family and friends underestimate her (p.27). Each of Edna’s friends who in the past had attempted to instruct her “congratulated himself that his special teachings had accomplished this desired end” (p.27). The other characters cannot accept that Edna has achieved something on her own; therefore, they attempt to give credit to themselves...
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