In Kate Chopin's novel, The Awakening, Chopin uses the motif of the ocean to signify the awakening of Edna Pontellier. Chopin compares the life of Edna to the dangers and beauty of a seductive ocean. Edna's fascinations with the unknown wonders of the sea help influence the reader to understand the similarities between Edna's life and her relationship with the ocean. Starting with fear and danger of the water then moving to a huge symbolic victory over it, Chopin uses the ocean as a powerful force in Edna's awakening to the agony and complexity of her life.
Danger and beauty serve as Edna's first outlook on the ocean. Early in her development, Edna observes the ocean only from a distance. Although intrigued by the sea's beauty and enchantment, Edna shows her discomfort in experiencing the water. She felt a "certain ungovernable dread...when in the water, unless there was a hand near by that might reach out and reassure her." (27) Edna does not really understand her `dread' and totally depends on other people to encourage her to get into the water. At this stage of Edna's awakening, she feels insecure not only about the water, but concerning her life in general.
As her interest in the ocean rises and the fear lowers, Edna begins to feel a sensual connection to the sea and its wonders. As Edna is progressing in her life, her senses begin to come alive out of curiosity and desire to understand this mystery of nature. Edna is first drawn to the ocean and the sight "made a delicious picture that I wanted to just sit and look at." (16) The two combined senses of taste and sight seem to pull Edna in the direction of her fear. As she creeps closer to t...
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...e year before. "She felt like some new-born creature, opening its eyes in a familiar world that it had never know." (109) Edna feels like she has at last found the freedom to control her life and choose her own independence without another's helping hand.
From a mother, wife, and society woman, Edna progresses to a unique woman of her own, free and independent. By deciding to choose her own paths to take in life, breaking the rules and expectations of the people around her, Edna achieves total control of her destiny. The backdrop of Edna's journey of her awakening is the tantalizing whisper of the ocean. The ocean awakens Edna's senses, teaches her the thrill of taking a risk and offers her inspiration to "dare and defy" (109).
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening and Selected Short Stories of Kate Chopin. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.
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