The Soul and the Butterfly: A Comparison of Psyche and Edna

January 23, 2019 by Essay Writer

Within the School of Myth, many critics have associated Chopin’s Edna Pontellier with the mythical figure Psyche. The Greek word for “psyche” translates as “soul” or “butterfly.” Both words insinuate a change or an awakening. A soul continually learns, morphs, and adapts to its revelations and like the soul – or the butterfly, more amazing than ever – emerges from a cocoon after being in a dormant stage for an extended period of time. An online article describes the analogy beautifully:There is no illustration of the immortality of the soul so striking and beautiful as the butterfly, bursting on brilliant wings from the tomb in which it has lain, after a dull, groveling, caterpillar existence, to flutter in the blaze of day and feed on the most fragrant and delicate productions of the spring. Psyche, then, is the human soul, which is purified by sufferings and misfortunes, and is thus prepared for the enjoyment of true and pure happiness.1For the readers of The Awakening, we get a glimpse at an awakening which affects many levels (emotional and sexual) with Edna, a woman who once conformed to the two-dimensional way of seeing the world and herself. In comparison to Psyche, Edna’s butterfly-like soul frees itself from a confining cocoon through spouts of sleep and other external triggers such as music and acquaintanceship.In Greek mythology, Psyche’s tale consists of trial and triumph. She must succeed in each test that Aphrodite, her lover’s mother, gives her to receive acceptance and forgiveness for her folly. Though love is not Edna’s encompassing goal (rather it is identity that is her ambition), Edna goes through difficult times that cause disapproval from her husband. She moves out of the old house as a means to extricate herself from her own fomer self. She sheds her cocoon in place of a new one. She does not have any regard whether Mr. Pontellier approves or not, but carries through with the act to personally give herself acceptance.Sleep is another integral element with Psyche and Edna. The moments of awakening after rest are vital to the development of the two characters. Psyche falls into slumber while crying against her misfortune of being left on a mountaintop, but she finds herself more fortunate than before when she awakes; she now resides in a beautiful palace with an unidentified gentle and loving husband. Expecting to be lulled into a imaginative dream-like state when Mademoiselle Reisz plays the piano, Edna is jerked by an abrupt emotion forced upon her by the musical notes; “the very first chords which Mademoiselle Reisz struck upon the piano sent a keen tremor down Mrs. Pontellier’s spinal column” (34). Chopin describes her reaction as, “perhaps it was the first time she was ready, perhaps the first time her being was tempered to take an impress of the abiding truth” (34). She is shaken into reality and no longer indulges in the usual fantasy. Her flat character slowly becomes more three-dimensional as she awakens with new perspectives. She feels powerful emotions, sees things as they are, recognizes her sexual attraction towards Robert, and starts to form her own identity.Many believe that Chopin’s ending is similar to when the gods’ cup of ambrosia is given to Psyche, an act which awards her with immortality. Though suicide is typically viewed as a weak escape from life, Chopin wants her readers to see Edna’s death not as an erroneous act, but as a triumph and her final awakening; in that way, Edna relates to Psyche as one who emerges as an immortal butterfly. Her soul has reached the apex of realization. Chopin’s conclusion may be a resolution that is received with much apprehension, but when compared with Psyche’s more pleasant and optimistic ending, it gives the readers another idea of immortality.1. Quote is from Bulfinch’s Mythology: The Age of Fable which is requoted on the following website: CitedChopin, Kate. The Awakening and Selected Stories of Kate Chopin. Signet, 1995.

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