Symbolism In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening
In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, specific settings, and details further explain Edna’s day to day struggle in Creole society. The symbols are used as carriers to give an understanding of Edna’s awakening journey beyond the surface. The textual comparison and use of birds, Edna’s home life, and Edna’s infatuation with the ocean provide a deeper meaning as oppose to what the text could offer on its own. Each unique symbol is used to represent Edna’s current progress in her journey towards independence and happiness. Symbolism in Chopin’s novel elaborates on the female role in society and providing intentional comparison to leave the reader with an imprint on oppression of women.
The ocean was Chopin’s way of bringing freedom to Edna. On vacation in Grand Isle, Edna decides to swim far beyond what she typically does for the first time, “A feeling of exultation over took her… she grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman has swum before”. This scene is important to Edna’s character because her new-found capability to swim gave Edna her first genuine feeling of freedom, from here she is left to contemplate how empty she feels and the constriction she faces. Edna’s realization of her independence aids in her in later encounters throughout the work and is the driving factor in what determined Edna’s new lifestyle. Edna’s wish to “swim far out” is her desire to escape the societal expectations. Edna feels that the ocean had allowed her to express her emotions in a way she was unable to before and escape from boundaries and ideals placed on her. Edna soon embarks upon the idea that no matter what she does to free herself she will never be free of the shackles placed on her by the society she was born in, and the people in which she is connected to. The sea’s role in Edna’s development was to lead Edna to her physical freedom, when she drowned Edna had escaped her internal misery leaving her being beyond her body to be free as well. Chopin’s comparison to the sea shows us how overwhelming societal standards can be to women trying to amount to their potential.
Multiple bird imageries throughout the novel symbolize women confinement. In the society Edna exists in, women are confined by gender roles. The caged parrot is representative of Edna’s experiences in the sense that, the bird has no way to communicate or way to be understood by those around her. An example of this comparison is Mr. Pontellier’s inability to understand Edna and is also symbolic of how Edna is isolated. Another way to interpret caged birds in the Awakening is how caged birds are used as decoration. This is an interpretation on how women were viewed as ornamental items without any substance, standards or needs in the Victorian Era. Just as Edna isn’t much appreciated by her husband, and is only there to fulfill the duties of a wife and mother in the Creole society. “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings”, suggests the difficulty women would have to encounter to break society’s ideals and to be looked at as more than a possession, or object to be held by expectation. In the quote “A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling, disabled down, down to the water”. The bird is representative of the state Edna was in. Edna began strong on her path to finding herself and as she progressed towards the end she was wounded (due to the realization she couldn’t ever live the life she truly wanted) and could no longer fly, ultimately succumbing to the ocean just as the bird did.
The final symbol used in the Awakening is the symbolism the places that Edna had choses to reside in. The houses are a mirroring reflection of Edna’s mental state throughout her character progression. In Grand Isle is the embodiment of the societal expectation for Edna to care more for her family more than herself. The narrator expresses “In short Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother woman. The mother woman seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them — they were women who idealized their children, worshipped their husbands and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grown wings as ministering angels”. Unlike the majority of woman on the island, Edna isn’t tied with her duties as a mother or as a wife. Edna is confined by expectation placed upon her, while surrounded by woman who completely resembles the societal standard. The key house during the novel is Edna’s pigeons house. The pigeon house gave Edna comfort and freedom that the previous houses never provided for her. While in in the pigeon house Edna has a newfound strength, this is shown when Edna had kissed Arobin, previously at her old home, she felt reproach. When Edna engages with Arobin at the pigeon house Edna is no longer is filled with regret with her infidelity. The freedom she experiences allows her to recognize the control she can have over her life, this is Chopin’s way of showing the audience that mental state is also dependent physical surroundings and reminders.
Edna’s transformation from submissive, to a rebellious woman of the Creole society is portrayed through the many symbolic notes in The Awakening. Chopin uses the novel to criticize the societal views placed on woman throughout the Victorian Era. Chopin uses Edna as a vessel to express how women are confined and held to standards that are constricting and provide women with a context of female revolution.
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