The significance of water in The Awakening is shown by Edna’s entering the water when she learns to swim and again at the end, when she swims out too far. In addition, as she and Robert contemplate a future life together, their discussion occurs in a boat on the water.
Edna’s increasing boldness and self-confidence are associated with water when she learns to swim. Gaining this new skill as she learns to navigate a new medium stands for her changing attitude toward life. Beyond proving what her body is capable of in athletic terms, swimming also relates to the overall “awakening” theme as bodily awareness connects with sexual passion. This association is made explicit later when music stirs “passions … within her soul” like “waves [that] … beat upon her splendid body.”
When Edna begins to realize her feelings for Robert, she decides to take a boat ride with him. Water plays an important role as the medium that supports them both. Furthermore, when the others present question their relationship, Mariequita tells a story about a married woman and a man who ran away together by boat.
In the end, after Robert leaves, Edna feels bereft over the loss of his love but also experiences a sense of kinship with the water. Beyond the pull of the tides and the power of the waves, she experiences a need to be as close with the element as possible. She removes her bathing suit and swims out into the forgiving water.