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From this powerless starting point, Edna will experience a series of discoveries about her world and her self that inspire her to experiment and explore, but leave her ultimately defeated. When Robert leaves and she begins to understand her passion for him, she similarly bites her handkerchief.
Vacationing at Grand Isle on the Gulf of Mexico, she undergoes life-changing transformations. She sticks her pointed nails into Arobin’s palm, and she reminds him of “some beautiful, sleek animal (if you only knew) all seem to converge in the final scene of the novel.
Hélène Cixous’ famous critique of the western binary system of gender definition (and conceptualizations that issue from it) provides an interesting framework with which to look at the novel. SUNY-New Paltz graduate student Marissa Caston made an important connection between and Cixous’ thoughts on mothering with this compelling, if dated quote from “The Laugh of the Medusa”: In women there is always more or less of the mother who makes everything all right, who nourishes, and who stand up against separation; a force that will not be cut off but will knock the wind out of the codes. She explains to him at the story’s end, “perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.”The kind doctor encourages her to confide in him saying, “I know I would understand, and I tell you there are not many who would – not many, my dear.” If only she had given this male ally a chance, and shared her dilemma with him.
Chopin problematizes traditional roles and expectations for men and women by illustrating the dilemmas that arise when one troubles the waters by behaving in non-conformist ways. We can look at Edna specifically in her role as a mother. Nevertheless, she no longer trusts in any sort of permanence in any relationship. Mandalet, well acquainted with human affairs of the heart, seems to understand Edna and may possibly have led her to some alternate solution than suicide.
The novel does not put forth a woman who can be both an artist and a mother.
She encourages Edna to sketch, to cultivate her own creativity.
She refuses to attend a family wedding and remembers her own as an “accident,” a revolt against her father and sister’s wishes. Think about Edna when we first meet her, and as she develops through the course of the novel. Edna credits Robert with her that summer at Grand Isle.
Back in New Orleans, she stops holding her Tuesday evening “at-homes;” she stomps on her wedding ring; and she moves out of her house into a smaller space of her own. Robert Lebrun sees Edna as a person and provides a more equal meeting of the minds than her marriage can.
The pianist Mademoiselle (Miss) Reisz models the independent woman as artist, utterly unconcerned with personal appearance or public scrutiny.
In a somewhat mechanical manner, various characters demonstrate or activate particular aspects of Edna’s awakening.