Bird and Sea Symbolize Edna’s Awakening

April 8, 2019 by Essay Writer

The final, powerful scene of The Awakening by Kate Chopin provides a fitting end to Edna’s long struggle between expectation and desire. Edna’s traditional role of wife and mother holds her back from her wish to be a free woman. Both the sea and the birds in the novel are symbols of freedom in Edna’s mind, and she willingly embraces them. Through the change of these two major symbols, we can draw the conclusion that Edna’s death was a suicide driven by hopelessness. The symbol of the ocean plays a paramount role in Edna’s awakening. Seen early on as a “seductive” voice that “invit[es] the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation,” the sea and its limitless potential draw Edna into deep thought about her life (25). Despite her infatuation with the ocean, however, Edna is unable to swim at the beginning of the novel. After Edna begins her awakening by growing closer to Robert and hears the music that speaks to her soul, she is suddenly able to swim. This newfound ability is a sign that Edna is separating from the bound life that she despises. Before Edna started spending time with Robert, she was simply going through the motions of life. She obeyed her husband and acted as a devoted wife. When she is able to swim, however, she starts to explore the endless boundaries of the sea. Edna’s first step into the sea symbolizes her first step away from a life of conformity. Edna’s first encounter with the sea produces interesting results. When she first dives into the sea, she is overcome with a sense of freedom that she has never felt before: “She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before” (47). As Edna swims out, however, she realizes that she is out too far and is overcome with “a quick vision of death” (48). This scene makes it clear that, while Edna has begun to change, she is still not ready to completely separate herself from her traditional role. The novel’s second major symbol is the bird, a colorful caged parrot introduced in the opening scene. The parrot “could speak a little Spanish, and also a language which nobody understood” (5). This parrot could easily be seen as Edna before her awakening. Edna has ideas about freedom that neither she nor anyone else understands, just as the parrot cannot be understood. The similarities become more obvious when Leonce’s reacts to the parrot – he simply leaves the room when he grows tired of the parrot’s talk. One of Edna’s major complaints is that her husband views her as a traditional woman who should care for children and cater to his needs. Leonce makes no effort to understand either the parrot or his wife; his habit of leaving the room when he tires of the parrot also suggests that he would reject Edna if she attempted to explain herself to him.The second mention of a bird in the novel comes when the adults at the resort are seated in a room listening to Mademoiselle Reisz play the piano. Edna thinks back to a time that Madame Ratignolle played her a song on the piano. The song, which Edna spontaneously named Solitude, brought a unique image of a man standing next to a rock on the seashore. The man was naked and watching a bird fly away over the endless ocean. This image in Edna’s mind once again attaches the bird to her own self. The bird symbolizes Edna flying away from her husband and her children and living a life of freedom.After Edna’s stay at the resort, she soon heads back to her home in the city and takes a break from the sea until the end of the novel. After a lengthy period of time at home, Robert comes back and finds that Edna has changed. Edna is now completely segregated from her old life and role. She no longer feels any attachment to Leonce (made evident by her romantic escapades with Arobin), and is ready to fully embrace her love for Robert when he returns. Robert is reluctant, however, and wonders how being with a married woman would affect his social position. Robert leaves a note that reads “I love you. Good-by – because I love you” (185), In Edna’s mind, the note clearly reveals that he does not love her enough to sacrifice his social position. The final scene, where the two symbols come together, answers the question of whether or not Edna is fulfilled. After receiving Robert’s note, Edna heads to the resort with much on her mind. At this point, Edna has realized that no man is right for her. Despite her love for Robert, Edna recognized that “the day would come when he, too, and the thought of him would melt out of her existence” (189). With these thoughts in her head, Edna approaches the beach and encounters both sea and bird. The ocean calls to her with the same seductive voice it had earlier in the novel, and this time Edna is ready. She also finds a bird with a broken wing that was “beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling, disabled down, down to the water” (189). This bird shows a small amount of failure in Edna’s ambitions. Even though Edna ultimately triumphs with her suicide, the bird the broken wing symbolizes that Edna failed to overcome her social expectations while she was still alive. In order to separate herself from the men in her life and her miserable marriage, she is forced to resort to suicide instead of soaring over the boundaries and living a free life. Edna’s fulfillment becomes clear when she steps to the shore of the sea. She strips down all of her clothes, which symbolize her marriage, her role as a wife, and the men who could not satisfy her. She casts aside all of her fears in this act and steps into the water with confidence. As she is swimming out, she thinks of her husband and children and laments that they thought they could possess her “body and soul” (190). Unlike her previous swim, however, Edna is not afraid. She knows that she is swimming too far out and quickly regains her composure after she looks back to the shoreline one time. This confident swim and ultimate death show that Edna’s death was a suicide, and the sacrifice of her body so that no man could possess her brings her the freedom that she has long desired. Sea and bird inspire Edna, reflect her changing mood and beliefs, and ultimately contribute to the death she desires.

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