Symbol of Clothing

April 18, 2019 by Essay Writer

In the novel, The Awakening, Kate Chopin takes Edna Pontellier on a journey of self-discovery. In doing this, she uses many symbols to show the relationship between Edna and the world. Clothing, or rather, the lack thereof, displays this relationship well. As Edna progresses throughout the novel, she discards more and more layers of the confining ìclothingî that surrounds her body and soul. By taking off her clothing, one piece at a time, she disobeys the rules that society has set for her, and in doing this, she exerts her independence. In this summer voyage, Edna becomes a free woman.In the Victorian society that Edna lives in, the proper attire for women requires them to wear very confining clothing. This clothing symbolizes the constraints on the social behavior of women in this age. It restricts Edna’s body and impedes her freedom to move. At the beginning of the novel, fully dressed Edna wears all the proper clothing. However, when Edna and Adele walk together to the beach, Edna wears considerably less clothing than that of her companion. Adele wears a veil, gloves, and ruffles to protect her body. Edna wears a thinner, simple dress and removes her collar and unbuttons her dress at the throat once at the beach. She chooses not to cover herself as harshly as Adele. Adele portrays the picture of a perfect Victorian woman through her manner of dress. Edna’s decision to free herself more than Adele symbolizes her growing rejection of Victorian society rules. Edna becomes distraught when she discovers her friend, Robert, is leaving. She goes home and sheds her clothes for a more comfortable wrap. She casts off more layers of conventional Victorian clothing, thus discarding more societal rules. She does not like the idea of joining Mrs. Lebrun in her home because she must put on the restricting clothing once again. This means to her that she would have to give up some of her new found freedom.Edna’s marriage and the symbol of that marriage symboize another aspect of clothing that she feels she must dispose of. Edna becomes more and more distant from Leonce, her husband; the man she was expected to, but could not, love. She becomes angry with Leonce when she realizes he refers to her as his possession and fully believes it. He complains to Edna about the way she carries herself and their household and begs of her to act more the way a conventional woman would. Edna is not prepared for conventionality, and the final straw in dealing with her constricting husband finally snaps after his complaints. She throws her wedding ring to the ground as a symbol of discarding the man she did not love. In her eyes, her relationship with Leonce only stood to hold her back from the freedom she searched for, and shedding the ring liberated her from his conformist rules.As the novel continues, Edna discards more layers of her old self, revealing her new free soul. Edna refers to the social role of women in terms of clothing. She discards this ìclothingî more and more as the story continues. As the clothing disappears, her rebellion against society increases. She defies conventional feminine behavior. During this time of self-realization, she becomes close to Mademoiselle Reisz, a woman who also refused to confine herself to the predictable role of Victorian women. She gradually becomes more distant from Adele.The story progresses, as do Edna’s advances toward freedom. She decides to leave her home, which she no longer feels belongs to her. The materialistic house, not unlike the clothing she wears, has also become constricting. When shedding her house, she exerts her independence. She wants her own house to be responsible forÖthe upkeep, the payments. Being a part of Leonce’s house increases her feelings of being a possession of someone else and she wants to rid herself of those feelings. Perhaps the most important clothing she discards is her house. She exerts the most freedom yet in her decision to find a place of her own.As a final profession of her freedom, Edna discards her last layer of clothing until she stands naked on the beach. She swims out into the ocean and drowns there. Her final act of independence required her to end her life. She shed the final constriction on her life when she stripped herself alone on the beach. She frees herself from social conventionalism and at last opens herself up to do something totally for her own reasons and rules.Throughout the novel, as Edna sheds herself of the clothing and possessions that surround her, she becomes more liberated, free, her own woman. The clothing represents the society that confines her and the independence that stripping the clothing gives her enlightens her soul. Kate Chopin uses clothing as a way of conveying the social injustice imposed upon women in the Victorian age in which they were trapped.

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