The Awakening: Novel Summary: Part 39

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Edna returns to Grand Isle, where she surprises Victor and Mariequita with her appearance; at first, the narrator tells us, they think she is "an apparition." She asks when dinner will be served, and whether the menu will include fish. Given the establishment of Edna as a "Christ figure" in Chapter XXX, readers may remember that Christ's disciples, on seeing him ask for fish, thought he was a ghost-but after his resurrection (Luke 24:37-43). This possible biblical allusion thus introduces ambiguity about the event that is about to follow: is Edna's action a death or a resurrection, an apotheosis, an entrance to new life?
As she walks toward the beach, Edna reflects on her realization the night Robert had finally left her: "She understood now clearly what she had meant long ago when she said to Ad�le Ratignolle that she would give up the unessential, but she would never sacrifice herself for her children." Edna views her children as "antagonists who had overcome her . . . . [and] sought to drag her into the soul's slavery for the rest of her days." She realizes she wants no human being near her except Robert, but she also realizes that he, too, would someday be gone. She sees no fate for herself but solitude.
And so Edna at last fully answers the call of the sea, which invites "the soul to wander in abysses of solitude." Naked, she enters the water, without looking back. As she ventures out deeper and deeper, she thinks of the people in her life who simply do not understand . . . who do not know ("Ah! si tu savais!"). Her husband and children, while a part of her, do not know that they cannot claim her as their possession. Mademoiselle Reisz does not know that Edna does, in fact, possess "the courageous soul" an artist must have. Robert does not know the nature of her love. Perhaps only Mandelet would have known, but now it is too late to go and see him. Edna presses on into the Gulf, and she begins to experience the sights and sounds of her childhood, when the "illusions" of youth-of which she had spoken with Mandelet-were, in fact, reality.

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