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The Critics View of Edna Pontellier’s Suicide in The Awakening

The Critics View of Edna’s Suicide in The Awakening

There are many ways of looking at Edna’s Suicide in The Awakening, and each offers a different perspective. It is not necessary for the reader to like the ending of the novel, but the reader should come to understand it in relation to the story it ends. The fact that readers do not like the ending, that they struggle to make sense of it, is reflected in the body of criticism on the novel: almost all scholars attempt to explain the suicide. Some of the explanations make more sense than others. By reading them the reader will come to a fuller understanding of the end of the novel (and in the process the entire novel) and hopefully make the ending less disappointing.

Joseph Urgo reads the novel in terms of Edna learning to narrate her own story. He maintains that by the end of the novel she has discovered that her story is “unacceptable in her culture” (23) and in order to get along in that culture she must be silent. Edna rejects this muting of her voice and would, Urgo maintains, rather “extinguish her life than edit her tale” (23). To save herself from an ending others would write or an ending that would compromise what she has fought to obtain, she has to write her own end and remove herself from the tale. As she swims out, the voices of her children come to pull at her like little “antagonists,” and there are others on shore who would also hold her down: Robert, Adele, Arobin, and Leonce. Edna finds a way to elude them all, and narrates in her suicide the conclusion to her tale. In this type of reading, her suicide can be understood in terms of societal pressure. What is the result of silencing a person’s voice? Urgo maintains, on a symbolic level…

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…g Sea’: Freedom and Drowning in Eliot, Chopin, and Drabble.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 12 (1993): 315-32.

Malzahn, Manfred. “The Strange Demise of Edna Pontellier.” Southern Literary Journal 23.2 (1992): 31-39.

Roscher, Marina L. “The suicide of Edna Pontellier: An Ambiguous Ending?” Southern Studies 23 (1984): 289-98.

Showalter, Elaine. Sister’s Choice: Tradition and Change in American Women’s Writing. Oxford: Claredon Press, 1991.

Skaggs, Peggy. “Three Tragic Figures in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.” Louisiana Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of the South 4 (1974): 345-64.

Spangler, George M. “Kate Chopin’s The Awakening: A Partial Dissent.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 3 (1970): 249-55.

Urgo, Joseph R. “A Prologue to Rebellion: The Awakening and the Habit of Self-expression.” The Southern Literary Journal 20.1 (1987): 22-32.

Local Color and the Stories of Alice Dunbar-Nelson and Kate Chopin

Local Color and the Stories of Alice Dunbar-Nelson and Kate Chopin

Blending the best elements from the French-Acadian culture and from the Old South, the Creole culture of Louisiana is one the richest and most fascinating areas for study. Kate Chopin and Alice Dunbar-Nelson are both writers who have brought this place and the people who live there to life through their writing. Because of their strong literary ties to Louisiana and the Creole culture, Dunbar-Nelson and Chopin have both, at times, been classified as “local-color” writers, a term not always welcomed by authors and one that is not always meant to be kind by critics. In her essay “Varieties of Local Color,” Merrill Maguire Skaggs notes that “the local-color label has occasionally been used to denigrate the exceptional fiction of several twentieth-century women” (219). The derrogitory classification as “local color” writers has at times ensnared Chopin, Dunbar-Nelson and other nineteenth-century writers, both male and female. The local-color label can (and often is) taken to mean that the work has only a narrow appeal as a “novelty” piece about the eccentricities of a particular place. What the critics fail to realize, however, is that local-color writers, good local- color writers like Chopin and Dunbar-Nelson, use their fiction not just to record the lives of people in an area, but to show how people in these places encounter issues that have universal value and react to them according to their own values and environment. Some of the local-color short stories of Chopin and Dunbar-Nelson have the biting undercurrent of naturalism, some are more idyllic in their portrayal of Creole life, but all have a story to tell to the perceptive reader.

The stories Kate Chopin tells come from the customs and people she observed during the time she spent in Cloutierville, near her husband’s family plantation (Rowe 230). The endurance of Chopin’s work is a tribute to her understanding of the local-color genre. Jim Miller expresses what Chopin must have known: “place is not simply natural terrain, but locale plus the human element” (15).

“Love on the Bon-Dieu” is an excellent example of how Chopin uses the places and people of south Louisiana to tell a story. “Love on the Bon-Dieu” is an old fashioned love story, set in the Creole culture where there is a consciousness of class status, a holdover from the pre-Civil War days when Creole aristocrats controlled large plantations.

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