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Could There Have Been An Alternative Ending For The Awakening?

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The Awakening alternative ending.’

It came as quite a shock to me to see this phrase in the list of search queries that had led visitors to my site; I think anyone who has read the book can emphasise – the ending is a crucial element to the impact of the text. Nevertheless, I’d like to explore this possibility of a difference, and to do that I believe it’s worth first considering the intent and purpose behind such a query.

The situation that first comes to mind is that of a student, perhaps a school student rather than university where, I presume, studies of the book would be less general and more about the female agency; in a general study, such a query or consideration would be possible. Either someone wants another’s opinion, or they are looking for inspiration with which to write an ending themselves.

This brings us to possibility number two – a search for a fabled ending. Alternate endings are hardly unheard of, consider Dickens’ original ending of Great Expectations and the recommendation that he change it to something more positive… and arguably more romantic!

Perhaps however, it’s more simple: a person, very affected by Chopin’s ending, who is looking for a different one. Such intent would be categorised as personal research and furthering one’s reading. Continued interest, albeit for a reason Chopin may have not agreed with.

So to the possibility of another ending, could there be one in terms of viability? Edna could always have chosen to turn back before she became too tired but in the context of her time, arguably also Chopin’s, it would have achieved these two things:

  1. It would have made people, both fictional and factual (think of the angry reviewers of the time) think things, life, were fine as they were. Chopin would have been commended for going along with the status quo and putting the woman with the bizarre thoughts – near hysteria! – back in her place. (In this vein it’s worth considering also the effect Edna’s choice would have had on Léonce and the children.)
  2. The novel would not have achieved its full purpose and, indeed, the good work done by Chopin in the lead up to the ending would have been obliterated.

So there could have been a second ending, sure, but we would not likely still be reading the book as much as we are; it would be but a similar story to many other books. We might be looking at Anna Karenina for everything else which of course does not have the same message, albeit that there’s a similarity between the texts.

Might Edna have been okay with going back, whether literally turning around and swimming home or never going to the sea in the first place, that final time? I think we can say that she would possibly have been content but not happy. Her children would have kept her at home perhaps – or might she have left them and Léonce for good, just moving on? – but there is too much about her that doesn’t fit the socially prescribed mold. Unfortunately in this situation her children would, as much as they might also please her, remind her of her restricted life. An Edna today might have travelled the world, solo. The independence she wanted was impossible in her society.

Could Edna have had a better relationship than the one she had with Léonce, one with more freedom? Probably. Something that has always interested me is the blend in Léonce of some less restrictive elements with the then-standard socially acceptable limits he placed on Edna. He was far from the worst but still strict. Chopin surely also felt the need for her ending to support her own views and life choices, and in both of these she is more independently minded than many. She started writing after the death of her husband and her marriage was not a bad one.

If the ending were different, it would have been better at the time, the critical reviews a lot more positive, likely completely different. We know that Chopin didn’t write any more novels precisely because of the reception of The Awakening. But to have written novels that were well received may have been to compromise her values. We might remember her differently.

Chopin’s famous short story, Désirée’s Baby, sported a very similar ending, with Désirée walking into the water – she ‘disappeared among the reeds and willows’, after her husband disowns her for giving birth to a child of mixed heritage. It’s obviously a type of ending that Chopin saw good symbolism in, a firm way to get her point across. (The short story was published 6 years prior to the novel.)

To sum, I don’t think we can really contemplate another ending. The ending is there for good reason. It may have been poorly received then, but it’s considered a triumph today. Edna chose the only freedom available to her. She was stuck in ways her fictional descendents wouldn’t be now.

Your thoughts?

 
 

Kelly

May 21, 2018, 9:39 pm

It’s been some years since I read this, but from what I can remember, I found it powerful and moving as written. I can’t imagine an alternate ending, as that would negate the forward-thinking Chopin was exhibiting in her writing. Then again, maybe I’m just seeing it with the 20/20 hindsight of a modern woman.

Charlie

May 24, 2018, 8:07 am

Kelly: No, I think most people would agree with you. Perhaps back then and maybe for a little more time, an alternative ending would have been well-received (and the original forgotten!) but now, I don’t think we could contemplate it except perhaps in terms of studying the effects.

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