Failure or Success: The Conflict over Edna Pontellier's Suicide
Much controversy surrounds the ending of Kate Chopin's The Awakening and for good reason; the novel can be used to support two completely opposing views. On one hand the suicide of Edna Pontellier can be seen as the ultimate culmination of Edna's awakening as she comes to see both herself and her place in reality and begins to fully and ultimately control her own destiny rather than giving up what she has gained. Conversely, Edna's end can be seen as a most terrible failure that mocks not only her own awakening, but also the message that Kate Chopin intends to relate. Multiple passages and ideas from the novel can be used to support each view and in some cases, depending on interpretation, both.
It is easy for readers to dismiss Edna's suicide as a failure, because frankly it's unpleasant. People instinctively shy away from death, and the strength and growth that Edna shows through the course of the novel make her death sting all the worse while at the same time making it feel wrong. The last chapter, in which Edna actually drowns herself, contains a good deal of evidence in support of the negative view of Edna's death. Early on, she reveals the core of her failure; she has shed off the entire world she...
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