Use of Clothing as a Symbol in The Awakening
In the novel, The Awakening, Kate Chopin takes Edna Pontellier on a journey of self-discovery. In doing this, she uses many symbols to show the relationship between Edna and the world. Clothing, or rather, the lack thereof, displays this relationship well. As Edna progresses throughout the novel, she discards more and more layers of the confining ìclothingî that surrounds her body and soul. By taking off her clothing, one piece at a time, she disobeys the rules that society has set for her, and in doing this, she exerts her independence. In this summer voyage, Edna becomes a free woman.
In the Victorian society that Edna lives in, the proper attire for women requires them to wear very confining clothing. This clothing symbolizes the constraints on the social behavior of women in this age. It restricts Edna's body and impedes her freedom to move. At the beginning of the novel, fully dressed Edna wears all the proper clothing. However, when Edna and Adele walk together to the beach, Edna wears considerably less clothing than that of her companion. Adele wears a veil, gloves, and ruffles to protect her body. Edna wears a thinner, simple dress and removes her collar and unbuttons her dress at the throat once at the beach. She chooses not to cover herself as harshly as Adele. Adele portrays the picture of a perfect Victorian woman through her manner of dress. Edna's decision to free herself more than Adele symbolizes her growing rejection of Victorian society rules.
Edna becomes distraught when she discovers her friend, Robert, is leaving. She goes home and sheds her clothes for a more comfortable wrap. She casts off more layers of conventio...
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As a final profession of her freedom, Edna discards her last layer of clothing until she stands naked on the beach. She swims out into the ocean and drowns there. Her final act of independence required her to end her life. She shed the final constriction on her life when she stripped herself alone on the beach. She frees herself from social conventionalism and at last opens herself up to do something totally for her own reasons and rules.
Throughout the novel, as Edna sheds herself of the clothing and possessions that surround her, she becomes more liberated, free, her own woman. The clothing represents the society that confines her and the independence that stripping the clothing gives her enlightens her soul. Kate Chopin uses clothing as a way of conveying the social injustice imposed upon women in the Victorian age in which they were trapped.
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