The title of Kate Chopin’s novella, The Awakening, suggests birth, rebirth, and life, and indeed, the main character, Edna Pontellier, experiences a slow but increasingly powerful emotional and physical awakening as she comes to know herself. The scenes in “The Awakening" by Kate Chopin during which the already complex character of Edna (full character analysis) learns more about herself are powerful and significant and are metaphors for life and death as well as presented as direct representations. Through her understanding of new ideas and a closer connection with who she is, she begins to understand what friendship, creativity, and freedom are, and how they can enrich one’s existence dramatically, infusing it with a lust for life that is characterized by intensity, expression, and connection with oneself and others.
Despite all of the positive aspects of the awakening Edna experiences, there are several metaphors and metaphorical allusions to death, which remains on of the most powerful presences in this classic tale of a woman’s journey to know herself. In Chopin’s hands, death, either as a metaphor in “The Awakening" or through its actual existence, is always just a step away, becomes a metaphor for impossibility in The Awakening, symbolizing a variety of losses and frustrated desires, both tangible and abstract. Edna, unable to step off of what she terms in one of the important quotes from “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin as the “treadmill of life which has been portioned out to us," decides to forego life altogether, cutting off all possibilities for living any of her dreams (39).
When the reader first meets Edna Pontellier, he or she gets the sense that Edna is living a life of the walking dead and she is thus, in many ways, a metaphor in herself. Throughout “The Awakening" Kate Chopin is adept at creating such characters to underscore the limitations imposed upon women by society and to explain how such constrictions prevent women from knowing themselves, forging deep and authentic relationships with others, and connecting to and expressing their creativity and their sexuality. The metaphor of the walking dead then extends to encompass larger issues about how women walked through their lives during the time period in which Chopin was writing. Women in the stories of Chopin, especially those with a sensitive or creative spirit such as that possessed by Edna, were effectively dead because they were forced to turn off their emotions and exist for family and husband.
Although Edna is described by the narrator as having a “manner [that] was engaging," she is also portrayed as slightly naïve and listless and the metaphor of her being a child is, for the first time of many, raised. (4). She is married, but she does not seem to have a satisfying relationship with her husband. For his part, her husband, Leonce, is annoyed that she “evince[s] so little interest in things which concerned him and value[s] so little his conversation" (6). Edna does not appear to be desperately unhappy in her marriage; however, she does appear to be distant and bored, largely because her husband is away so often. Although it is not marked by deep conflict, their marriage is dying slowly, and will continue to do so as Edna metaphorically awakens to herself and realizes how satisfying true love and companionship can be. This is just one of the many deaths in The Awakening.