Freedom, for Edna, is release from the binding rules and stereotypes of convention, which the narrator compares to an ill-fitting garment. Freedom, for her, is also disengagement from obligation of any kind, including obligations to her husband and children. This desire for radical freedom is what is behind her obsession with the sea, a place of complete solitude and emptiness. As she loses her desire for a connection to others, she gets the sense that the people around her are “uncanny, half-human beings” in “an alien world.” She feels loosed from her place in the world, as though she is free to be no longer human. Life itself, with its peculiar and humiliating processes, comes to seem like an obligation when she watches her friend give birth.
Over the course of the novel Edna longs more and more deeply for freedom from, a negative liberty, but she has no clear idea of the freedom to, the impulse to seek satisfaction and achievement - perhaps because her small world gives her so few opportunities. In this way, desire for negative freedom becomes a desire for emptiness, for nothingness. Early on in the novel, convention had seemed to Edna like an uncomfortable outer garment; by the end, emotion itself is such a garment. Even her soul is something that another can possess, and she wants to be possessed in no way. When she dies, drowning alone in the sea, she finally feels naked, finally free.
Freedom and Emptiness ThemeTracker
Freedom and Emptiness Quotes in The Awakening
A feeling of exultation overtook her, as if some power of significant import had been given her to control the working of her body and her soul. She grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before.
A thousand emotions have swept through me tonight. I don’t understand half of them… I wonder if I shall ever be stirred again as Mademoiselle Reisz’s playing moved me tonight. I wonder if any night on earth will again be like this one. It is like a night in a dream. The people about me are like some uncanny, half-human beings.
She was blindly following whatever impulse moved her, as if she had placed herself in alien hands for direction, and freed her soul from responsibility.
Once she stopped, and taking off her wedding ring, flung it upon the carpet. When she saw it lying there, she stamped her heel upon it, striving to crush it. But the small boot heel did not make an indenture, not a mark upon the little glittering circlet.
She felt no interest in anything about her. The street, the children, the fruit vender, the flowers growing there under her eyes, were all part and parcel of an alien world which had suddenly become antagonistic.
The little glimpse of domestic harmony which had been offered her, gave her no regret, no longing. It was not a condition of life which fitted her, and she could see in it but an appalling and hopeless ennui. She was moved by a kind of commiseration for Madame Ratignolle,—a pity for that colorless existence which never uplifted its possessor beyond the region of blind contentment, in which no moment of anguish ever visited her soul, in which she would never have the taste of life’s delirium.
He could see plainly that she was not herself. That is, he could not see that she was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.
There were days when she was unhappy, she did not know why —when it did not seem worth while to be glad or sorry, to be alive or dead; when life appeared to her like a grotesque pandemonium and humanity like worms struggling blindly toward inevitable annihilation. She could not work on such a day.
He observed his hostess attentively from under his shaggy brows, and noted a subtle change which had transformed her from the listless woman he had known into a being who, for the moment, seemed palpitant with the forces of life. Her speech was warm and energetic. There was no repression in her glance or gesture. She reminded him of some beautiful, sleek animal waking up in the sun.
But as she sat there amid her guests, she felt the old ennui overtake her; the hopelessness which so often assailed her, which came upon her like an obsession, like something extraneous, independent of volition. … There came over her the acute longing which always summoned into her spiritual vision the presence of the beloved one.
There was with her a feeling of having descended in the social scale, with a corresponding sense of having risen in the spiritual. Every step which she took toward relieving herself from obligations added to her strength and expansion as an individual. She began to look with her own eye: to see and apprehend the deeper undercurrents of life.
I always feel so sorry for women who don’t like to walk; they miss so much—so many rare little glimpses of life; and we women learn so little of life on the whole.
You have been a very, very foolish boy, wasting your time dreaming of impossible things when you speak of Mr. Pontellier setting me free! I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose. If he were to say, ‘Here, Robert, take her and be happy; she is yours,’ I should laugh at you both.
The trouble is… that youth is given up to illusions. It seems to be a provision of Nature; a decoy to secure mothers for the race. And Nature takes no account of moral consequences, of arbitrary conditions which we create, and which we feel obliged to maintain at any cost.
There was no one thing in the world that she desired. There was no human being whom she wanted near her except Robert; and she even realized that the day would come when he, too, and the thought of him would melt out of her existence, leaving her alone. The children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her; who had overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul’s slavery for the rest of her days. But she knew a way to elude them.