Many different symbols were utilized in Kate Chopin's The Awakening to illustrate the underlying themes and internal conflict of the characters. One constant and re-emerging symbol is the sea.
The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation. The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace (Chopin 25).
In the novel, “the ocean symbolizes Edna's "awakening" to a life filled with freedom and independence” (Nickerson). On a hot summer evening Robert and Edna go bathing. Although Edna does not wish to go and initially declines his offer, something inside is compelling her to go down to the water. It is there in the seductive ocean that Edna's awakening begins.
A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her... [she] was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her (Chopin 25).
That warm ocean environment is in direct contrast to the responsibilities and rules of the cold, hard city. And it is there in that relaxed and forgiving atmosphere that Edna can explore her new found freedoms.
While relaxing on the beach with Mrs. Ratignolle, the sight of the endless ocean brings back memories from Edna's childhood. She suddenly recalls a summer day in Kentucky and "a meadow that seemed as big as the ocean to the very little girl...and I felt as if I must walk on forever without coming to th...
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... on, thinking of the bluegrass meadow...believing that it had no beginning and no end" (Chopin 190). It is there in the ocean that she first realizes her physical, mental, and emotional potential. It is only natural that the water, which has seduced her with its sound reclaims her.
Throughout the story the ocean represented Edna's constant struggle for self-realization and independence. From her first flow of emotion on the beach to her last breath of life in the sea, the ocean beckons her. The voice of the sea lures her onward in her journey toward liberation and empowerment.
Bloom, Harold. Kate Chopin. New York : Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. 1993: Bedford Books, New York.
Nickerson, Meagan. "Romanticism in The Awakening", The Kate Chopin Project. America On-line. February 2000.
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