Symbolic Meaning of Edna’s Arms and Teeth in Chopin’s The Awakening

614 Words2 Pages

Symbolic Meaning of Edna’s Arms and Teeth in Chopin’s The Awakening

Although characters’ personalities are described vividly in The Awakening through action, dialogue, and descriptions of clothing, little is presented of the characters physically. While Edna is alone in Madame Antoine’s house, resting, two moments occur in which specific aspects of her body are highlighted. Prior to this scene, it is known only that she is considered pretty and that her hair and eyes are a similar yellow-brown color. At Madame Antoine’s house, however, where Edna loses sense of time while resting, first her arms and then her teeth demonstrate her peculiar strengths.

It is problematic to consider Edna as strong so soon after having nearly swooned in the small island church. Although we know that she had slept little the night before and that her invitation to Robert was her first conscious move into a new sort of consciousness, her apparent moment of epiphany is accompanied by an all too typical display of feminine weakness. Moments later, lying in Madame Antoine’s bed, Edna is revealed as contradictorily strong. While stretching her “strong limbs that ached a little” Edna pauses and notices her arms. “She looked at her round arms as she held them straight up and rubbed them one after the other, observing closely, as if it were something she saw for the first time, the fine, firm quality and texture of her flesh” (58). In this description, her arms appear detached from the rest of her body. She discovers that she has strength—not of spirit or mind, which is what the rest of the narrative focuses on, but of body.

After she awakens, her attention is drawn away from her self personally, but the description of her returns to this physical strength when she finds the snack Madame Antoine had left for her. “Edna bit a piece from the brown loaf, tearing it with her strong, white teeth” (59). Because there is no other description in the paragraph, her teeth here stand out as odd. The action of biting the loaf rather than cutting or tearing it with her hands exhibits her characteristic carelessness, but also a bit of viciousness that is surprising. The teeth represent her latent strength here, in action rather than in rest, as she had seen her arms.

It is unclear to me what significance, if any, there might be to these images of her arms and her teeth.

Open Document