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"...reaching out for the unlimited in which to lose herself..."

In Kate Chopin's The Awakening (1899), oppressed-but-emerging wife Edna Pontellier has just learned to swim, in the Gulf of Mexico in southern Louisiana, during a midnight outing from a resort.

"How easy it is!" she thought. "It is nothing," she said aloud; "why did I not discover before that it was nothing. Think of the time I have lost splashing about like a baby!" She would not join the groups in their sports and bouts, but intoxicated with her newly conquered power, she swam out alone.

She turned her face seaward to gather in an impression of space and solitude, which the vast expanse of water, meeting and melting with the moonlit sky, conveyed to her excited fancy. As she swam she seemed to be reaching out for the unlimited in which to lose herself.

Once she turned and looked toward the shore, toward the people she had left there. She had not gone any great distance—that is, what would have been a great distance for an experienced swimmer. But to her unaccustomed vision the stretch of water behind her assumed the aspect of a barrier which her unaided strength would never be able to overcome.

A quick vision of death smote her soul, and for a second of time appalled and enfeebled her senses. But by an effort she rallied her staggering faculties and managed to regain the land.

She made no mention of her encounter with death and her flash of terror, except to say to her husband, "I thought I should have perished out there alone."

"You were not so very far, my dear; I was watching you," he told her.

That exchange at the end is so quietly devastating, especially the husband's relative indifference to his wife's distress. I also find it interesting that the author glosses over Edna's later struggles in the water; given the florid, verbose prose so typical of the 19th Century, I would have expected that passage to go on for several more, overwritten paragraphs. I admire Chopin's restraint.

November 30, 2014 in Books | Permalink

Comments

I feel the same way running long distances.

Posted by: Paul at Dec 1, 2014 4:52:40 AM