The Awakening

The Open Sea: The Centrality of Ambiguity in Kate Chopin's The Awakening

Leonce Pontellier, the husband of Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin's The Awakening, becomes very perturbed when his wife, in the period of a few months, suddenly drops all of her responsibilities. After she admits that she has "let things go," he angrily asks, "on account of what?" Edna is unable to provide a definite answer, and says, "Oh! I don't know. Let me along; you bother me" (108). The uncertainty she expresses springs out of the ambiguous nature of the transformation she has undergone. It is easy to read Edna's transformation in strictly negative termsas a move away from the repressive expectations of her husband and societyor in strictly positive termsas a move toward the love and sensuality she finds at the summer beach resort of Grand Isle. While both of these moves exist in Edna's story, to focus on one aspect closes the reader off to the ambiguity that seems at the very center of Edna's awakening. Edna cannot define the nature of her awakening to her husband because it is not a single edged discovery; she comes to understand both what is not in her current situation and what is another situation. Furthermore, the sensuality that she has been awakened to is itself not...

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