Essay title: The Awakening
A New Beginning Kate Chopin’s novella The Awakening tells the story of Edna Pontellier, a woman who throughout the novella tries to find herself. Edna begins the story in the role of the typical mother-woman distinctive of Creole society but as the novelette furthers so does the distance she puts between herself and society. Edna’s search for independence and a way to stray from society’s rules and ways of life is depicted through symbolism with birds, clothing, and Edna’s process of learning to swim. Chopin mentions birds in a subtle way at many points in the plot and if looked at closely enough they are always linked back to Edna and her journey of her awakening. In the first pages of the novella, Chopin reveals Madame Lebrun’s “green and yellow parrot, which hung in a cage” (Chopin 1). The caged bird at the beginning of the novella points out Edna’s subconscious feeling of being entrapped as a woman in the ideal of a mother-woman in Creole society. The parrot “could speak a little Spanish, and also a language which nobody understood” (1). The parrot’s lack of a way to communicate because of the unknown language depicts Edna’s inability to speak her true feelings and thoughts.
It is for this reason that nobody understands her and what she is going through. A little further into the story, Madame Reisz plays a ballad on the piano. The name of which “was something else, but Edna called it ‘Solitude.’ When she heard it there came before her imagination the figure of a man standing on a desolate rock on the seashore…His attitude was one of hopeless resignation as he looked toward a distant bird winging its flight away from him” (25). The bird in the distance symbolizes Edna’s desire of freedom and the man in the vision shows the longing for the freedom that is so far out of reach. At the end of the story, Chopin shows “a bird with a broken wing…beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water” while Edna is swimming in the ocean at the Grand Isle shortly before she drowns (115).
- Thesis Statement
- Structure and Outline
- Voice and Grammar
The bird stands for the inability to stray from the norms of society and become independent without inevitably falling from being incapable of doing everything by herself. The different birds all have different meanings for Edna but they all show the progression of her awakening. Another way that Chopin represents Edna’s journey to her ultimate awakening is through the mention of clothes.
Clothes as a rule are symbols of the rules and expectations of society. Society conventionally expects the women to at all times be properly dressed and covered up just as Edna is when she is “wearing a cool muslin…also a white linen collar and a big straw hat” even while walking on the beach with Adéle Ratignolle (14). The proper clothing that Edna wears represents her fulfillment of the expectation of society for a woman and wife. At the very end of the story “when she was there beside the sea, absolutely alone, she cast the unpleasant, pricking garments from her, and for the first time in her life she stood naked in the open air, at the mercy of the sun, the breeze that beat upon her, and the waves that invited her” (115).
The shedding of Edna’s clothing signifies her shedding of everything she has known. She is spiritually reborn just as she was born physically: naked. Another symbol that Chopin continuously relates back to throughout the plot is the progression of.