Publication Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (MA)

Committee Member

Murphy, Jonathan W.

Committee Member

Blackwell, Deborah

Committee Member

Klein, Ula


In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening protagonist Edna Pontellier is a white, upper-class, southern American woman who seems to have it all: wealth, a loving husband, and beautifulchildren. She does not, however, have a sense of self, for she is not content with living a domestic life. What she does have is a close proximity to the sea, and the sea awakens Edna to new prospects for her life because each time that she returns from being in the sea’s transformative waters, she feels empowered to rebel against the patriarchy in her nineteenth-century Creole society in Louisiana. Not only does the sea embolden Edna to take more risks, but the water from her own tears also acts as a cathartic factor in compelling her to reevaluate her identity as a person. The stringent patriarchal society in which she lives, however, is a significant roadblock in her path toward self-fulfillment. Wives are the property of their husbands in this era, and a life outside the domestic sphere is unthinkable for a woman in Edna’s position. Society notwithstanding, her own inner battles with her society’s needs for propriety and her own needs for fulfillment clash as Nietzsche’s theory of the Apolline and Dionysian proves. Furthermore, because Edna is a symbol of how marginalized women from any segment of the social hierarchy felt, her journey in seeking her identity is analyzed from a feminist theoretical perspective in addition to the analysis of two female characters on opposite sides of the patriarchal spectrum. Examining Edna’s endeavor to achieve a sense of autonomy, though a defiance to her society’s norms, illustrates the message that women must have a choice in the path their lives will take, or they will do whatever it takes to achieve it.