What is difference between the beginning and the ending of The Awakening when considering Edna?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There is a massive change in Edna from the beginning of this story compared with the end. It is important to recognise that the start of the story commences with an image of a parrot trapped in a cage. This is of course symbolic of Edna's entrapment in her societal roles. This image of Edna being entrapped is developed when the first thing her husband says is derogatory, as he tells her off for getting sunburnt. The text says that he "looked at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property." Chopin is very clear to build up a picture of Edna as being treated like a prisoner and being denied the full expression of her humanity.

By the end of the tale, Edna has broken free from her oppressed state. She has left her husband and children, and set up home for herself, leading the kind of life she wants to lead. She has become awakened to her own identity and person. Even her choice at the end to commit suicide is important, because it shows she has become an actor in her own life. Rather than passively letting life happen to her, she is determining to make a change in her life herself, rather than wait for others to do so. Even at this point, she breaks with societal conventions, as is shown when she goes into the sea naked:

How strange and awful it seemed to stand naked under the sky! How delicious! She felt like some new-born creature, opening its eyes in a familiar world that it had never known.

Note the reference to rebirth and to awakening that comes at this point in the text. This signals that the process of awakening that Edna goes through is ongoing throughout the entire text. Edna at the end of the story is therefore radically different from the woman the reader is presented with at the beginning of the story. The setting is exactly the same, but Edna is a "new-born creature" by the end of the book seeing her world as it is for the very first time.

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