"I would give up the unessential [for my children]; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself. I can't make it more clear, it's only something which I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me.”The last classic I read, This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald, didn’t make me think, mainly because I didn’t understand it. The opposite is true with The Awakening, and I was surprised by its utter readability. I’ve always had this impression that lyrical prose is hard to understand, but The Awakening managed to be lyrical while remaining easy to comprehend.
Edna Pontellier—the protagonist—leaves her family, rebels at the thought of being her husband’s possession, and even has an adulterous affair. Her thoughts and ideas seem so modern, so out of place in 1899.
She’s not a “motherly” kind of woman, unlike her friend Madame Ratignolle who, I think, serves as Edna’s foil. Madame Ratignolle is the epitome of a “motherly” woman. She devotes her life to her children, and has a baby every two years. Maybe I’ll understand Madame Ratignolle better someday when I get married and have kids. Right now, though, I understand Edna’s chafing at the thought of giving herself up to her children more. At nineteen, I can’t imagine giving up myself so wholly to another person, even to my own child.
The ending raised a lot of questions in my mind, and I ended up thinking about my role as a woman in today’s society. I live in the Philippines, a very conservative Catholic country, where, whether I like it or not, certain expectations are thrust upon me because of my gender. For example, around here, most women are expected to marry before the age of thirty. The idea sounds very archaic, but my mother and my aunts still point out twenty-nine-year-old spinsters on certain occasions.
And our protagonist’s fate? It’s up to the reader to decide, in the end, if Edna is truly brave or simply a selfish coward. I, for one, think she was brave.