The sea in The Awakening represents not only Edna’s self-awakening, evolution and growth, but also the combination of freedom and death. In her search for freedom, the sea plays a part in the realization that the only way to achieve freedom is through death: her true awakening. We go as far as to say that throughout the novel, Edna is aware of this dark truth, but only on a subconscious level, which is why she only sees the sea as place of self-expression and freedom, but nothing deeper until the very end. She is alone in this awareness, which really isn’t manifested until her one-on-one encounter with the sea and the abysses of solitude, even though she is quite the loner throughout the novel. These meetings with the sea show a progression in Edna’s life, from afraid and dependent, to confused and in transition, to confident and fully awakened to her inevitable fate, the truth, the answer and only way out.
This marks a loss of innocence and naïveté of sorts, her turning from a pretty selfish and capricious child to a kind of responsible, strong and illuminated adult. Edna’s awakening and full transition from childlike to knowing was one full of difficulty and obstacles to surmount. The sea is simply a symbol of that evolution: the two main encounters with it are completely representative of Edna Pontellier’s isolated shift from dissatisfied and confused to entirely free of any restriction. It helps her come to realize that she shouldn’t expect or hope for anything from the society she lived in, no matter what she attempted to gain freeness from, including love affairs with anyone, whether it be Alcée or Robert. The sea is the one and only thing guiding her real awakening, because it’s the only possible way to progressively gain complete independence, and, in the end, freedom through her death.