Ever wake up and say to yourself, “I need to make some changes in my life”?
Maybe you want a new job, a new college major, a new significant other, or even a new haircut. Whatever it happens to be, you know that something has to change.
If you’ve ever felt this way, you can relate to The Awakening and its protagonist, Edna Pontellier. Edna is need of some serious changes in her life, and not just the “I hate my haircut” kind of changes, either. She wants to make some serious, life-altering transformations.
It’s these transformations that are the basis for many of The Awakening themes. Interested in learning more? Keep reading to learn about three important themes in the novel.
A Little About Edna (and the Plot)
Edna truly is a woman ahead of her (Victorian) time.
She realizes she doesn’t have a strong connection with her husband and maybe doesn’t even love him. Instead of suffering in silence, which is what would be expected of her during the Victorian Era, Edna yearns to break free of the gender roles that have kept her oppressed.
The plot of The Awakening
While on vacation, she ends up falling in love with Robert, but she’s pretty bummed when he leaves town. It’s after her vacation (and after Robert is absent from her life) that she turns to hobbies, such as painting and playing the piano, to pass the time and mend her broken heart.
Edna isn’t the type of gal to sit around moping, though.
Another man, Alcee, flirts with her, and while her husband is in New York for work, she begins an affair with Alcee. There really isn’t a love connection this time, however. It’s more of a friends-with-benefits relationship as Edna is still in love with Robert.
All of these new feelings surrounding passion, love, and independence leave Edna more than confused, and she ultimately decides to move into a home by herself in order to be fully independent.
But Robert throws a wrench in all of this when he returns from Mexico. You’d think Edna would be head over heels and ready to say yes to his marriage proposal, but she turns him down. She doesn’t want to belong to anyone—not to her husband and not to Robert.
Robert and Edna’s conversation about their future together is cut short, however, because she gets called away because her friend is in labor. Edna asks Robert to wait, but he doesn’t.
Again heartbroken, she returns home feeling lonely and isolated. She knows all of this is a result of her choices, of her expressing her independence, and of her straying from societal norms.
At the end of the novel, Edna goes for a swim and drowns, but the reader can’t be sure whether the drowning is accidental or if she has committed suicide.
In essence, Edna is a rebel who pays the ultimate price for her individuality.
3 Important The Awakening Themes
The Awakening is rich with themes, but the themes I’ve included here all focus on Edna and how her character establishes three key themes of the book.
I’ve also included a few example essays along the way, so make sure to check them out to see what other writers have to say about The Awakening themes.
As you mature and begin to form your own identity, you realize your likes, dislikes, and who you are as a person.
These discoveries may be as simple as the day you announce to your parents that you no longer want to be called “Andy.” You want to be called by your full name: Andrew.
Or your discovery may be an entire lifestyle change as you declare that you’ve become a vegetarian.
Like most of us, Edna Pontellier is still trying to figure out her own identity, but she’s experiencing an identity crisis.
She’s not so worried about whether she eats a burger or a salad for dinner, but she is concerned about what she’s called. No, she’s not worried about being called “Edna” or “Eddie.” She’s struggling with the labels of “wife” and “mother.”
She longs for independence and doesn’t want to be tied to these labels and lifestyles as Victorian standards require. It’s this identity crisis that causes her to explore her sexual desires through affairs, explore hobbies (such as painting and playing the piano), and assert her independence by living alone.
Her identity crisis may have also led to her death as she likely committed suicide because she simply didn’t feel as though she belonged within the current constraints of society.
How to write about the theme of identity
If you decide to write about identity as a theme, you can approach the essay in a few ways.
Check out compare and contrast essay. After all, Edna isn’t the first female character to search for her own identity.
You might, for instance, compare Edna’s journey to that of Nora Helmer in A Doll’s House. Nora, too, is unhappy in her relationship and leaves her husband and children in an attempt to find herself.
Here is an example essay that explores both characters’ search for identity and the turmoil they suffer throughout the stories.
You might also compare Edna’s journey to a current or classic film.
Ever see the classic movie Thelma and Louise? The movie is about two best friends (named, of course, Thelma and Louise) who long to escape their ordinary lives. They want a chance to experience greater independence and leave the men in their lives behind, which means that they’ve definitely got something in common with Edna.
The role of a Victorian woman was pretty much set in stone: obey your husband, be a dutiful mother, and be a respectable lady.
Edna’s BFF, Adele, is by most accounts the quintessential example of the Victorian woman who does anything and everything to make her family happy and make her home pleasant and cheerful. She is the wife and mother that society feels Edna should emulate.
Edna, however, can’t seem to make that happen.
She doesn’t fit the mold as she wants more for herself and doesn’t want to (or can’t) live her life for someone else. She longs for the kind of independence that society does not afford women of the Victorian era.
How to write about the theme of gender roles
Comparing Edna and Adele and their feelings toward expectations for their roles in society could be an excellent strategy for discussing gender roles in the novel. You might also complete a more detailed character analysis of one or both of the women to explore the theme of identity.
Looking for an example of a finished paper about the theme of gender roles in The Awakening? Take a look at these three example essays:
- Women’s Limitations in Society in The Awakening
- The State of Women in the Victorian Period in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening
- A Character Analysis of Edna Pontellier
Throughout the novel, it’s apparent that Edna doesn’t feel like a part of her community.
At the start of the novel, she doesn’t feel comfortable telling her husband about her desire to find herself and to be independent. She feels lonely and isolated because of these feelings and thus seeks to find some comfort in her female friends.
The women, however, are almost exact opposites of Edna. They are doting wives and mothers who believe strongly in their assigned roles of the era. This clash of opinions and beliefs only serves to further isolate Edna as she doesn’t even fit in with her friends.
When Edna eventually asserts her independence and acts on her impulses, she has two affairs and moves into her own home. These actions further force her into isolation as the man she falls in love with, Robert, ends the affair, leaving her alone.
Edna’s rebellion from her traditional societal roles results in complete isolation and her eventual suicide.
How to write about the theme of isolation
Take a look at these two example essays to see how writers compare their own lives to Edna’s.
- The Experience of Reading Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Identifying With Edna Pontellier
- A Reflection on The Awakening: Parallels Between Edna Pontellier and Me
Wake Up and Start Writing
Now that you have some ideas on The Awakening themes detailed above, If you’ve been putting off writing your essay, it’s time you get started.
Need a little help putting the wheels in motion? Here are a few quick tips:
- Wake up and get to work. Don’t put off writing any longer. Procrastination is your enemy.
- Power through writer’s block by focusing your mind (and your ideas)
- Narrow and select a topic for your paper.
- Do a little outlining (or other form of prewriting)
- Draft your essay
- Revise as needed
Having trouble waking up and getting started? Struggling with any (or all) of the steps in the writing process? Have a finished draft but aren’t sure you’ve properly tackled The Awakening themes (or theme) you’ve selected?
If so, let a Kibin editor read what you have so far. We’re happy to help with any step—from putting your ideas into motion to adding the finishing touches.