What is the significance of Edna choosing suicide in the end?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kate Chopin'sThe Awakeningends with Edna Pontellier's suicide after a long period of self-realization. This self-realization leads her to conclude that life, as she has come to know it, does not fit her mindset any longer. Additionally, she also realizes that society's expectations of her do not correspond to the way in which she views herself, as a member of it.

Rather than spending the rest of her life in the droll boredom of a loveless marriage, and sacrificing herself under a frail instinct for motherhood, she takes the initiative of exploring her true emotions. To her disadvantage, these emotions can only be explored by leaving behind her duties as a wife and mother: by engaging in a love affair, and by removing herself physically and mentally from her family's company.

She had said over and over to herself: “To-day it is Arobin; to-morrow it will be some one else. It makes no difference to me, it doesn't matter about Léonce Pontellier—but Raoul and Etienne!” She understood now clearly what she had meant long ago when she said to Adéle Ratignolle that she would give up the unessential, but she would never sacrifice herself for her children.

However, as we learn more about Edna's inner conflicts, we realize that, perhaps, there is no other solution for her, but death. The reason for this is simple: life no longer fits her. She has experienced the emotions that she has always been curious about, yet, the emptiness in her life has carved a hole so deep that nothing can really replenish it.

Perhaps, she chose to get to know herself too late in life. Or perhaps, her nature is merely to want and never be satisfied. That part of Edna will remain a riddle. Yet, we can rest assured that Edna does want a change; one that she can neither get, nor even visualize. Hence, as she continues to configure who she really is, one thing that she completely decides upon is that nothing will really ever "do".

Despondency had come upon her [...]and had never lifted. There was no one thing in the world that she desired. There was no human being whom she wanted near her except Robert; and she even realized that the day would come when he, too, and the thought of him would melt out of her existence, leaving her alone.

With this quote we realize that there is no solution for her anymore. Edna has officially given up; for she has completely forfeited the future, considering that she will not be in charge of it. The best way to explain this is when the novel reads

She thought of Léonce and the children. They were a part of her life. But they need not have thought that they could possess her, body and soul.

This statement completely re-emphasizes the fact that Edna has become someone else, completely possessed by a sense of self-sufficiency but disfranchised by society; she is someone who desperately needs to re-do everything over, in order to meet herself again. Since this is something that cannot be done, there is no other choice but to end it all, and to return to "the beginning". This is why she, symbolically, gives herself back to nature by swimming away until she loses all her strength, and drowns. This is a baptismal echo of a re-birth.