Throughout her novel, The Awakening, Kate Chopin uses symbolism and imagery to portray the main character's emergence into a state of spiritual awareness. The image that appears the most throughout the novel is that of the sea. “Chopin uses the sea to symbolize freedom, freedom from others and freedom to be one's self” (Martin 58). The protagonist, Edna Pontellier, wants that freedom, and with images of the sea, Chopin shows Edna's awakening desire to be free and her ultimate achievement of that freedom.
Edna's awakening begins with her vacation to the beach. There, she meets Robert Lebrun and develops an intense infatuation for him, an infatuation similar to those which she had in her youth and gave up when she married. The passionate feelings beginning to overwhelm her are both confusing and exciting. They lead to Edna beginning to ponder what her life is like and what she is like as a person. The spell of the sea influences these feelings which invite "the soul . . . to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation" (Chopin 57). Edna begins to fall under the sea's spell and begins to evaluate her feelings about the life that she has.
During the summer of Edna's awakening, the sea's influence increases as she learns how to swim, an event which holds much more significance that her fellow vacationers realize. “To her friends, she has accomplished a simple feat; to Edna, she has accomplished a miracle” (Showalter 114). She has found a peace and tranquility in swimming which gives her the feeling of freedom. The narrator tells us that as she swims, "she seem[s] to be reaching out for the unlimited in which to lose herself" (Chopin 74). She sees the freedom t...
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...ms out into the ocean for the final time, she finds her ultimate freedom.
In the end, the sea symbolizes freedom for Edna. It will never treat her as a possession like her husband has for so many years. It will not demand all of her time and attention as her children do. It will never abandon her as Robert does. It will enfold her "in its soft, close embrace" (Chopin 176) and allow her to experience the vast array of feelings that her life has forbidden her to do. The sea will allow her to be free.
Works Cited and Consulted
Chopin, Kate. "The Awakening." 1899. The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Ed. Per Seyersted. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969. 881-1000.
Martin, Wendy, ed. New Essays on the Awakening. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.
Showalter, Elaine. "Tradition and the Female Talent: The Awakening as a Solitary Book." 1993
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