Dying to Live

May 13, 2001
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Excellent View of Victorian Society

Cons:Could have had more details

The Bottom Line: There are many lessons to be learned from this book, for both women, AND men.

In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, the main character, Edna Pontellier, is awakened to the depths of her soul when she first swims into the abyss of the ocean. “Mrs. Pontellier, who has been trying to learn how to swim the entire summer, suddenly and miraculously begins to swim through the ocean”. It is after this event in the novel that Edna begins to shed the garments of Victorian society and live as a person, and not as a product of everyone’s idea of social grace.
Edna begins to rebel in all directions by moving out of her home and painting. She also admits to herself that she is in love with Robert, a man she met at the beach. Despite her marriage, and despite her love for some one else, Edna sleeps with another man. She uses this to control him, thus giving her the false image that she is in control of her own life.
In the end, Robert confesses that he too is in love. He knows however, that no matter what happens, he could not be with her. Edna is married with children, and divorce is unheard of during this time. Robert, who loves Edna so much, refuses to have her if it could never be right. At this point, Edna realizes the full meaning of her awakening and only finds herself up against a wall.
At this point, Edna returns to Grand Isle where she was first awakened. “She walks down to the beach without thinking about anything. She has already done all her thinking…She starts to swim far out into the ocean and is not afraid. She thinks of the meadow in Kentucky that she played in when she was little, and she laughs at her husband and children, who can never possess her…She is growing tired, and her last thoughts are of her childhood: her father and her sister Margaret, an old dog, the cavalry officer she had a crush on, and the sounds and smells of her youth.”
Sandra M. Gilberth, speaking of Edna’s suicide, said, “Edna’s last swim is not a suicide- that is a death- at all, or if it is a death, it is a death associated with a resurrection, a pagan, female Good Friday that promises a Venusian Easter…. Edna swims… not into death but back into her own life, back into her own vision, back into the imaginative openness of her childhood.” Edna returns to the site of her awakening, not to kill herself, but simply to once again be apart of the peace that she found the first time she swam in the ocean. While reminiscing of her childhood, Edna realizes that as long as she is anywhere else, she will be trapped. While in the ocean however, she will always be free to think and do as she pleases. By drowning herself, Edna is not choosing to end her life, she is choosing to give her life back to the ocean, which had truly given it to her.

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