Edna Pontellier: Contradictions between the way others see her and the way she sees herself in The Awakening. Edna Pontellier is caught in the contradictions between the way others see her and the way she sees herself.  Identify several moments in which this becomes apparent, and show Edna’s growing awareness of this contradiction.

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Early in the novel, we see Edna begin to "awaken" to the truth of her inner self, as well as to the ways that self does not and cannot fulfill the expectations of the society around her. Edna Pontellier is an upper-class woman living in New Orleans at the end...

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Early in the novel, we see Edna begin to "awaken" to the truth of her inner self, as well as to the ways that self does not and cannot fulfill the expectations of the society around her. Edna Pontellier is an upper-class woman living in New Orleans at the end of the nineteenth century. She is married and has small children, and she is expected to devote herself to them. She is expected to fulfill certain social obligations, like remaining at home on particular days to welcome visitors. While she is on vacation in Grand Isle one summer, everything begins to change for Edna. The sea has an influence on her, as do the music of Mme. Reisz and her relationship with Robert Lebrun. When she returns to the city, Edna no longer wants to obey her husband's wishes or her society's rules. She wants to follow her own desires and be true to her authentic self.

A key quote on the contradictions between Edna's inner self and the expectations set on her by society is found about halfway through the novel, when she reflects on her childhood:

Even as a child she had lived her own small life all within herself. At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life—that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions.

This quote indicates that Edna has always been aware that she must act a certain way to fulfill the norms of society, even though it may not be in accordance with her true self. Before the summer at Grand Isle, she simply "conforms" and doesn't "question." Now, she will not submit to the demands of a "dual life" any longer. She realizes early on that she is no "mother-woman" and, later in the novel, declares that she will not sacrifice herself for her children. She no longer stays in the home during her appointed hours; if she feels like going out, she simply follows her whims. She paints and even gets herself a small house of her own. The story of the novella is the story of how Edna decides to move past the contradictions of feeling one way and acting another. Tragically, she seems to find that doing so successfully and happily is not possible, but she does try to follow her authentic self and its desires.

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One night, on Grande Isle, Edna attends a dinner where Mademoiselle Reisz agrees to play the piano. As she plays,

the very passions themselves were aroused within [Edna's] soul, swaying it, lashing it, as the waves daily beat upon her splendid body. She trembled, she was choking, and the tears blinded her.

Although the other attendees heard the music with enthusiasm, Edna's reaction is much more volatile than theirs. Edna is not even able to answer Mlle. Reisz's questions, because her agitation is so extreme. This is one example of a time when Edna's emotions do not match what others would expect of her. Clearly, she is beginning to awaken to a new emotional life. Later, to Robert, she says,

A thousand emotions have swept through me to-night. I don't comprehend half of them [....]. The people about me are like some uncanny, half-human beings.

Edna realizes that she is awakening, though she doesn't understand to what yet. She also realizes that she is not understood by others, and she understands the difference between herself and them.

That same night, Edna's interaction with her husband also provides evidence for these contradictions and her growing awareness of them. Leonce wants Edna to come inside, as it's late, but she refuses. She seems aware that he wants to be intimate with her, and

Another time she would have gone in at his request. She would, through habit, have yielded to his desire; not with any sense of submission or obedience to his compelling wishes, but unthinkingly, as we walk, move, sit, stand, go through the daily treadmill of the life which has been portioned out to us.

Leonce expects Edna's obedience, or at least her acquiescence to his wishes, and he is rendered "impatien[t] and irritat[ed]" by her rejection of his advances. Moreover, his upset only makes Edna that much more stubborn in her refusal to come inside when he calls.

She perceived that her will had blazed up, stubborn and resistant [....]. She wondered if her husband had ever spoken to her like that before, and if she had submitted to his command. Of course she had; she remembered that she had. But she could not realize why or how she should have yielded, feeling as she then did.

Here, there is evidence of Edna's increasing awareness of what others expect, and have expected, of her. She is even more aware of her own resistance to these expectations.

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Society sees institutions and the external, whereas Edna sees only the individual.

Society sees a woman as a product, a stage, a means to an end, whereas Edna sees herself as an active agent in the world.

Society sees a woman as defined by what she has (marriage, children, property, friends, clothes), not by who she is (beliefs, dreams).

Society sees marriage as a socio-economic institution (it opens doors to money and friends), whereas Edna sees it as a cage to limit the individual.

Society sees children as the reason for mothers to live, but Edna sees them as individuals unto themselves, not solely reliant upon the mother.

Society sees the ocean as a means of passage only (what goes on above), whereas Edna sees only the depths beneath it (death by drowning).

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