Chopin's The Awakening is full of symbolism. Rather than hit the reader on the head with blunt literalism, Chopin uses symbols to relay subtle ideas. Within each narrative segment, Chopin provides a symbol that the reader must fully understand in order to appreciate the novel as a whole. I will attempt to dissect some of the major symbols and give possible explanations as to their importance within the text.
Art itself is a symbol of both freedom and failure. In her attempt to become an artist, Edna reaches the zenith of her awakening. She begins to truly understand pure art as a means of self-expression as well as self-assertion. In a similar way, Mlle. Reisz sees the path to becoming an artist as a test of individuality. Edna ultimately fails because her "wings are too weak." She knows what she wants, but she doesn't have the self-determination to realize her goal.
Birds are major symbolic images in the narrative. They symbolize the ability to communicate (the mockingbird and parrot) and entrapment of women (the two birds in cages; the desire for flight; the pigeon house). Flight is another symbol associated with birds, and acts as a stand in for awakening. The ability to spread your wings and fly is a symbolic theme that occurs often in the novel. Edna escapes her home, her husband, her life, by leaving for the pigeon house. Mlle. Reisz lectures Edna on the need for strong wings in artistic endeavors.
Clothing is also symbolic. Edna is fully dressed when first introduced; slowly over the course of the novel she removes her clothes. This symbolizes the shedding of the societal rules in her life and her growing awakening and stresses her physical and external...
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Works Cited and Consulted
Chopin, Kate. "The Awakening." The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Ed. Per Seyersted. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969. 881-1000.
Delbanco, Andrew. "The Half-Life of Edna Pontellier." New Essays on The Awakening. Ed. Wendy Martin. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988. 89-106.
Giorcelli, Cristina. "Edna's Wisdom: A Transitional and Numinous Merging." Martin 109-39.
Martin, Wendy, ed. New Essays on the Awakening. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.
Papke, Mary E. Verging on the Abyss: The Social Fiction of Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1990.
Showalter, Elaine. "Tradition and the Female Talent: The Awakening as a Solitary Book." Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969. 33-55.
Wilmore, Michael T. "Revolt Against Nature: The Problematic Symbolism of The Awakening." Martin 59-84.
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