How does Chopin depict Edna’s transformation in The Awakening through stylistic choices?

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Several aspects of Kate Chopin’s style in The Awakening directly contribute to the reader’s understanding of Edna ’s transformation. Although the reader does not learn it in advance, Edna dies at the end. This fact would have made it very difficult to use Edna as a first-person narrator—although authors...

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do sometimes turn the tables on their readers this way. Chopin apparently uses the conventional approach of having a third-person narrator. In this way, she can offer comments about Edna’s appearance that Edna would be unlikely to express, as well as to speculate on her motivations. This decision also gives Chopin a way to provide the husband’s perspective, which helps contextualize Edna’s dilemma. The reader can identify the narrator’s point of view with that of the dominant social order, as this narrator more often questions Edna’s feelings and opinions than supports them. Within that critique, Chopin also incorporatesforeshadowing of the tragedy to come.

In chapter 2, regarding Edna, the narrator describes her tendency to seem distracted or lost in thought.

She had a way of turning them [her eyes] swiftly upon an object and holding them there as if lost in some inward maze of contemplation or thought.

Here the phrase “inward maze” implies confusion or an unresolved problem, which proves to be a central theme.

After Léonce chastises Edna for inadequately attending to the boys, and she has a good cry by herself, the narrator again describes her internal state, now emphasizing its unfamiliarity and vagueness.

An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish. It was like a shadow, like a mist passing across her soul's summer day.

This “shadowy anguish” is referenced in chapter 6, after feelings for Robert begin to stir. While the earlier experience had occurred at night in the dark, the shift in her attitude and awareness happens during the day as she considers going bathing (swimming), and the narrator also uses light as a metaphor.

A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her—the light which, showing the way, forbids it.

At that early period it served but to bewilder her. It moved her to dreams, to thoughtfulness, to the shadowy anguish which had overcome her the midnight when she had abandoned herself to tears.

The emphasis remains on her confusion, but now the narrator also mentions dreams and thoughts. At this point, the critical tone of the narrator becomes stronger, as they wryly comment on the burden of having such thoughts. Chopin uses this critical stance as foreshadowing, with the narrator accurately predicting Edna’s tragic end.

But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult!

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