The Awakening: Novel Summary: Part 30

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Chapter 30

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The dinner scene in this chapter has, according to Chopin scholar Sandra Gilbert, "been ignored by many critics," even though, in Gilbert's view, it offers the key to understanding The Awakening as "a female fiction that . . . propose[s] a feminist myth of Aphrodite/Venus as an alternative to the patriarchal myth of Jesus" (Sandra M. Gilbert, "The Second Coming of Aphrodite," Introduction, The Awakening and Selected Stories by Kate Chopin [New York: Penguin Books, 1984] pp. 19, 20). Aphrodite, of course, is the Greek goddess born from the sea; and, as Gilbert notes, Edna in this chapter achieves a kind of divine status as she presides over her own "last supper" (albeit with ten instead of an "even dozen" guests [as the mother-woman Madame Ratignolle is "unpresentable"-understandably so, given the degree to which Edna has abandoned that ideal of womanhood-and Madame Lebrun sends regrets at the last moment]; compare the Eucharistic overtones of the solitary meal taken in Chapter XIII): her last supper in the old house where she lived in accordance with les convenances; her last supper before she leaves her old life behind entirely.
Notably, then, Edna admits to her dinner guests that the day is her birthday; she is twenty-nine-approximately the same age, or so tradition holds, of Jesus at his "last supper." And as that enlightened Savior was to some degree isolated during his final meal, so is enlightened Edna-who, by her death, will "save" only herself-isolated. The narrator calls Edna "the regal woman, the one who rules, who looks on, who stands alone." Despite the congenial atmosphere of the dinner party, Edna again feels a despondent longing for "the unattainable," as though in this world, whether she lives by les convenances or not, she can never find true happiness, true fulfillment. The narrator is setting the stage for the inevitable, mythic conclusion: as did Jesus, so Edna must leave this world.
Near the evening's close, a strange incident occurs: Mrs. Highcamp drapes a floral garland and white, silk scarf over Victor. Another guest, Gouvernail, calls Victor "a graven image of Desire." Victor begins to sing to Edna: "Ah! si tu savais!" He sings on, despite Edna's protests, although he eventually stops once he realizes how truly upset the song makes her. Perhaps, given her feelings of isolation earlier in the evening, Edna is burdened by the fact that she finally does know-as Jesus knew at his last supper (see John 13:1; 17:16)-that she is not of this world.

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