Symbolism of the Sea in Chopin’s The Awakening

Symbolism of the Sea in Chopin’s The Awakening

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Symbolism of the Sea in Chopin’s The Awakening

“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.”

This short quotation from the end of chapter 6 of Kate Chopin’s the Awakening is crucial to understanding the text as a whole and is also a vital example of foreshadowing. In this part in the novel, Edna, the protagonist, has just refused to go for a swim with Robert. However, the very sight and sound of the sea entices her. The sea here is depicted as an invigorating object that gives Edna life. At the time of this novel, women were not viewed highly by their husbands. They were expected to conform to societal norms and remain subservient. They were not to question their husbands and were always expected to do as they were told. Thus, women of this time were not free. In this novel, it is the sea that makes Edna free. In the sea she loses all restraints and all reservations when she finally goes for a swim later in the novel. Being free in the sea and going for a swim is liberating to her, just like seeking out another man since she isn’t happy in her current marriage. In her marriage she can’t be the woman that all women want to be. While her husband is a good man, she still has to conform to his wishes. Thus she cannot be the person she truly wants to be. In order to be this person, Edna seeks out the company of Robert. By giving the sea these life-giving qualities, Chopin shows the sea as an emancipating force in Edna’s life. It sustains her and seduces her with the offers of freedom. The sea speaks to the soul because of what it offers and enfolds the body in its soft embrace for these same reasons.

The use of the sea is also a great job of foreshadowing and a valuable contrast.

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The sea both gives Edna feelings of life and ironically is the place she goes to die. By describing the sea in these terms early in the text, Chopin is setting the reader up for usage of the sea later. The sea symbolizes both life and death because it is the sea from which Edna gets these feelings of freedom and the sea where she goes to die; successful that she has become the woman she strove to be.

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