Kate Chopin's novel The Awakening is full of symbolism. Symbols add meaning and depth to the text. Chopin underscores the expression "free as a bird" through the consistent use of aviary symbolism in The Awakening. Throughout the story she cleverly weaves images and descriptions of birds to express the psychological state of mind of her main character, Edna Pontellier.
Perhaps the most obvious example of this symbolism is in the first spoken sentences of the novel, which, strangely enough, are not uttered by a human, but rather screeched by a parrot. "Allez vous-en! Allez vous-en! Sapristi! That's all right!" (Chopin 1) are the words hollered by this maddened, caged bird. When translated into English, they are, "Go away! Go away! For heaven's sake!" These expressions aptly represent the forbidden thoughts racing through the mind of Edna Pontellier, the novel's heroine. She wants to go away, for she is bored with her mundane life. Tired of dealing with her insensitive husband and her ordinary children, she longs for something more exciting. Ironically, Edna probably should have taken the parrot's advice and escaped from her hellish world immediately. Yet, she did not, and because of this, she was forced to meet her tragic end. Plus, in addition to the words of warning, the image of this hostile, shrieking bird is a symbol in and of itself. For like the parrot, Edna is also trapped, not within a metal cage, but by the standards and traditions of society.
The next demonstration of the avian image comes in the form of a young man named Alcee Arobin, a man whose surname syllabicated slowly is pronounced "a - robin". This bird, the harbinger of spring, is able to fly freely. Ar...
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... is useful to consider this quote by Sandra Gilbert:
Porches and pianos, mothers and children, skirts and sunshades - all these are the props and properties of domesticity, the key elements of what in the nineteenth century was called "women's sphere," and it is in this sphere, on the edge of a blue gulf, that Edna Pontellier is securely caged when she first appears. . . she is confined in what is not only literally a "woman's sphere" but, symbolically speaking, the Woman's House. . . every object and figure [here] has not only a literal domestic function and a dreamlike symbolic radiance but a distinctively female symbolic significance" (47).
Works Cited and Consulted
Bloom, Harold, ed. Kate Chopin. Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening and Selected Stories. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.
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