Edna Pontellier, the free-spirited, yet bogged-down main character of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, is like me in many respects. Her marriage, an eternally binding agreement, is much like my relationship with my father, who gave me life and lovingly reared me alongside my mother. Mrs. Pontellier and I both feel restricted, like our independence and our passions have been diluted and nearly taken from us, and in response to our respective “awakenings” we became nearly detrimentally free. Her story helped me notice at just the right time the consequences of my individualism, and I pulled back in order to salvage my relationship with my father.
At a very young age, my dad conversed with me about current issues, politics, and religion, partly because he had so few people with whom to have these mature conversations. I was most interested in religion. It sparked my imagination, and I would spend time reading and philosophizing even apart from my father.
At one point, I confidently described myself as he described himself: a conservative Christian. However, when I went to high school, I was exposed to a multitude of different beliefs via science classes, literature, and classmates, and that absolute security started to shake. I was swimming in a sea of freedom and diversity, and it was such a beautiful thing! This sea beckoned me, as the literal sea did to Edna in The Awakening. She was exposed to new lovers; I was exposed to new ways of thinking, from Buddhism to Mormonism. I kept myself open to everything.
All this time, however, my father continued to tell me about how evil anyone who wasn’t a “true Christian” was, so I couldn’t bring myself to tell him of my spiritual journey. Still, I grew frustrated, openly calling him close-minded and hateful. He appeared to become depressed and lonely. His words struck me deep down in my still insecure soul: “When did I lose you? Where did my daughter go?” This was the time I began reading The Awakening. Edna’s story made me realize my once healthy bond with my dad was gasping for air in my beautiful, vast sea of freedom, just like she did. But what was I supposed to do? I couldn’t completely abandon my spirituality. I was already awake in this beautiful world; was I supposed to close my eyes?
According to Kate Chopin, individualism and cold solitude go hand in hand, and I have found this to be partially true. However, one thing I have discovered on my independent spiritual journey is, ironically, the importance of familial love. I don’t want to live in a depraved, lonely home; I don’t want to drown in the sea of solitary emptiness Edna was killed in; I want to give and receive love in any and every form. I have settled, therefore, on listening to my father’s rants, giving him the highest respect and love, in hopes that I can mend our rickety relationship. That way, I can harvest the benefits of individualism as well, alone, but not lonely.
Mrs. Pontellier’s awakening and subsequent death by drowning taught me a very important lesson about the consequences of individuality and played an important role in my own “awakening”. It helped me discover that love presides over individual spirituality, especially when independence forcibly drives one into loneliness. Still, perhaps unlike Chopin may have expected, I am able to continue my growth as a person independent of my father.
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