In The Awakening, Edna refuses to "sacrifice herself for her children," yet, because she cannot give them what they need, she takes her own life. Discuss Edna's paradox.

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A paradox is a statement that appears on a superficial level to contradict itself. Edna 's paradox, and her suicide, has less to do with her mothering abilities and her attachment to her children and more to do with the fact that she finds herself most alive when she is...

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A paradox is a statement that appears on a superficial level to contradict itself. Edna's paradox, and her suicide, has less to do with her mothering abilities and her attachment to her children and more to do with the fact that she finds herself most alive when she is able to act on her freedom to decide her own death.

Edna is unable to "sacrifice herself for her children" because she cannot fathom sacrificing herself for anyone. Her grasp of her own need for independence and autonomy is firm and unrelenting and not even the pressures of motherhood can motivate her to let go of her hold on her own identity. Edna's suicide is a paradoxical way of making her identity as a free agent permanent; in death, she is thoroughly unchangeable.

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Edna does not think of her life as vital to her existence; instead, she conceives of the most vital, the most important, part of her existence as her self-awareness, her autonomous identity, and her absolute freedom from social rules, gender roles, and marital expectations. She tells Adele Ratignolle, her good friend,

she would never sacrifice herself for her children, or for any one . . . Edna tried . . . to explain. "I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself."

This perplexes Adele because she feels that to give one's life for one's children would be the greatest sacrifice a mother could make. However, Edna feels that her life is "unessential" to her sense of self; she could give up her life for her kids for this reason. What she cannot give up is her personal freedom. The paradox lies in her description of her life as being inessential; we would likely think of actually being alive as being fairly essential, but Edna does not. How can her life be inessential to her existence? Because, in her eyes, it is far more important to be free, even if she can only achieve that freedom in death.

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This question seems to infer that Edna committed suicide because she recognised she was not able to give her children what they needed. This text abounds with images of children that reinforce both the importance of Edna's children to her own life and also the way that she can be compared to a child because of her awakening. Actually, the text makes it very clear that Edna chooses to kill herself to escape the "soul's slavery" that her children represent. Note how they are described in the following quote:

The children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her; who had overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul's slavery for the rest of her days. But she knew a way to elude them.

It is hard to ignore the profoundly negative way in which the children are described, with the use of the word "antagonist" clearly showing the way that in Edna's mind they are pitted against her and her newfound identity and freedom. Edna recognises that her children threaten to return her to the roles of mother and wife that society has prepared for her, and which she has done everything she can to escape. In the end, her battle to live her life on her own terms meets too much opposition, and her "awakening" reaches its tragic and logical conclusion when she does the only thing she can to free herself from the restrictions of society forever: drown herself.

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