May Edna Pontellier’s actions in the novel The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, ever be justifiable? Society accuses Edna of being selfish and unjustifiable in her behavior and actions. She focuses only upon liberates herself from boundaries that constrain her and achieves almost all that she desires. Her affair, treatment of others, and suicide was completely unreasonable. Although Edna consistently acted selfishly, she was never denied support from anyone who she was acquainted with.
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Edna had two young boys who she loved, yet she did not feel attached to them. Raoul, age four, and Etienne, age five, were treated in the opposite manner, “if one of the little Pontellier boys took a tumble whilst at play, he was not apt to rush crying to his mother’s arms for comfort; he would more likely pick himself up, wipe the water out of his eyes and the sand out of his mouth, and go on playing” (7). This shows the disconnection between Edna and her children and it is further emphasized when Chopin wrote, “in short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman” (8). This describes how Edna is not a woman who has motherly qualities, as further demonstrated by this excerpt:
She was fond of her children in an uneven, impulsive way. She would sometimes gather them passionately to her heart; she would sometimes forget them. The year before they had spent part of the summer with their grandmother Pontellier in Iberville. Feeling secure regarding their happiness and welfare, she did not miss them except with an occasional intense longing. Their absence was a sort of relief, though she did not admit this, even to herself. It seemed to free her of a responsibility which she had blindly assumed and for which Fate had not fitted her. (18)
The grandmother is worried about the Pontellier children, as they may be forgotten when Mr. Pontellier leaves; therefore, she has to take them away. Edna never should have had children if she knew she was not able or willing to take care of them. Edna herself acts in a very immature and improper way, as she simply gives her children to their nurse if she is not in a loving mood. This is certainly selfish and immoral to have her children brought up in this manner.
Edna acted even more selfishly when she and Robert LeBrun were deeply in love with one another. This was made clear throughout the book, especially when Mademoiselle Reisz is having a conversation with Edna regarding Robert’s letters. Mademoiselle Reisz says to Edna, “It’s because he loves you, poor fool” (80), and she questions her, “are you in love with Robert” (81)? She simply replies, “yes” (81). However, as Robert and Mr. Pontellier are gone, Edna discovers another person for whom she can share her passions with, Alcée Arobin. This relationship demonstrates how weak and selfish Edna really is. She is not in love with Arobin, as she still loves Robert, but she still cheats on Robert until he returns home. At their first encounter when he returns, she remains with Arobin, as Robert is not willing to say whether he loves her or not. However, as soon as Robert says that he loves her, Arobin completely disappears from Edna’s life. She is a married woman who cheats on all of her lovers because she is self-centered.
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Toward’s the end of the novel, Edna’s actions prove her selfishness even further. Her suicide and dismissal of her own children, husband, and lovers shows how she is far too self-centered to have any long term relationship. Right before committing suicide Edna thought about her husband, Raoul, and Etienne: “They were a part of her life. But they need not have thought that they could posses her, body and soul” (116). She has little concern over their wellbeing, but rather discovers a reason to commit suicide. Her final thought was about Robert, “He did not know; he did not understand. He would never understand” (116). She had not considered about breaking her dear lover’s heart, but rather how he had never understood her. Edna had abandoned every person who she had cared for and relied upon, without much thought.
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