Kate Chopin wrote a short novel named ” The Awakening” in the 20th century, as being one of the first feminist authors that started writing at that time. Her ability as a writer was to raise life from a blank page. Even a later famous novelist, Willa Cather, was impressed by Chopin’s style in the novel “The Awakening”. .
In this essay, I intend to illustrate Kate Chopin’s approach to the symbol of birds throughout the novel. Birds signify, not only the freedom of flight but the perspective the vision and the individuality. The birds represent the soul of humans which have reached the perfection. Birds acquire a greater wisdom and knowledge than that of the humans. Birds have many abilities such as walking on earth, floating in the water and ascending into the air.
The main character is Edna Pontellier, who wishes to spread her wings and seek individuality. It resembles a bird. Through the symbols of birds, we see Edna’s emotions and the choices she took, good or bad, in her journey of self-discovery. Edna at first is as “A green and yellow parrot, which hung in a cage outside the door” (The awakening, page 5) but in the end, the image transforms into: “a bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water”. (The awakening, page 120)
In literature, the mockingbird symbolizes innocence, purity, honesty, which I see in Edna’s accomplishing the duty which her mother and wife roles assume. By making a parallel between Edna and the mockingbird, I’d like to point out that the author wanted us to see Edna’s changing, from the honest, innocent woman who is taking care of her family in the first part of the story, to the woman who loses interest in her mother and wife roles in the second part. Not only that her awakening takes a sexual connotation, but also a quest for creativity, which allowed her to try painting.
Mademoiselle Reisz is an exemplary for Edna, as she inspired her with her music and her words, that’s why Edna listens to her pieces of advice. Mademoiselle Reisz encouraged Edna to defy society’s expectations and roles and to act as a bird, even checking her ‘wings’ in a hug: “she put her arms around me and felt my shoulder blades, to see if my wings were strong, she said. ” (The Awakening, page 88)
After Mr. Pontellier, her husband, leaves home to go on a business trip, Edna made a drastic decision,as she was feeling not an individual but only a property person, to abandon him and home and move into what has been nicknamed the “pigeon house” (page 90),. Pigeons are connected to the symbol of house and home, and because of that she took her home “independence” in the same area she lived with her family. Edna’s achieves individuality through the separation from her husband and also from her family, and having an affair with another man. She chooses to be free than being prisoner in her marriage. The link that Edna and pigeons are the same, both have a tendency of being rebellious.
Pigeons actually symbolize determination and the ability to overcome whatever obstacles lie in a person’s path. Edna’s separation from marital restriction enables her to seek her own individuality, having an affair with another man. She prefers to define her role more actively rather than to be a passive object. The characteristics of pigeons and Edna are closely linked, both expressing rebellious attributes.
In the end, Chopin represents Edna’s failure to escape the society, using a bird which fell in the water: “a bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water”. The only way Edna could free herself from the ideals of the society was to end her life, so then she swims into the Gulf until is tired and dies.
“She went on and on. … Her arms and legs were growing tired.” “The shore was far behind her, and her strength was gone. She looked into the distance, and the old terror flamed up for an instant, then sank again. ” (The Awakening, page 121)
In conclusion, at the end of the novel, we remain with a big question which is if Edna’s suicide might be a cowardly surrender or a liberating triumph for her.
In my opinion, Edna is a weak character, with not much strength in living and pursuing her dreams, so she cowardly surrenders.
Throughout the book, Edna tried to find a way to free itself from constraints and limitations that have been put by society and its mental state or ignorance, but she was unable to do that. Thereby, she decides to fly away wherever she wanted, like a bird, but this led her to her suicide in the end.