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The Importance of the Parrot in The Awakening
"Go away! Go away! For heaven’s sake! That’s all right!" (1) Chopin opens her poetic novella, The Awakening, not with the dialogue of a character, but with the ramblings of a brash parrot. Immediately, Chopin compels her readers to ponder what significance, if any, these seemingly random words will have in the following tale. Yet, it is not until the final pages that we recognize the bird’s true importance and meaning. The parrot, though seldom referred to within the text, comes to symbolize Edna’s role in society and the woman she becomes as she is spiritually awakened.
At first impression the parrot’s bold demeanor creates an image of eccentricity. His spirited exclamations give him an air of impertinence, defiance, and intelligence that one would not expect of such a bird. Chopin portrays Edna in the same light, showing that perhaps as the parrot may deviate from the norm, so does Edna, who digresses from the society in which she lives. She does not conform to the image of a typical woman in society, playing the roles of a devoted mother and wife. Edna ignores these standards by engaging in two extra-marital affairs and by placing her own life before those of her children. Her desire to live as she pleases lies in direct opposition to the duties she is expected to perform, and she refuses to put on this performance to satisfy society. As a result, Edna seems as brazen and audacious as the parrot that obviously does not mimic the sounds he hears and instead seems to create his own. Again squawking, "Go away! Go away!" at the bothersome piano playing of two girls, Chopin writes, "He was the only being present who possessed sufficient candor to admit that he was not listening to these gracious performances for the first time that summer." (23) Edna shows similar candor in her unwillingness to accept society’s burdening stereotypes. The seemingly intelligent bird "could speak a little Spanish, and also a language which nobody understood..." (1) Though the parrot’s remarks appear to fall on deaf ears, Edna is one who can identify with his presumable wisdom, as her existence too is misjudged. Both Edna and the parrot are depicted as extraordinary and misunderstood in their surroundings, yet they are not free:as the parrot must exist in a cage, so Edna is caged by the restrictions society places upon her.
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"Go away! Go away! For heaven’s sake! That’s all right!" (1) As Edna drowns herself to escape from a suffocating society, the parrot’s words seem to be have been a foreshadowing of her fate. Indeed he seems to be encouraging her to "go away" and leave a prison he knows all too well. ‘That’s all right!" he cries, reassuring Edna and justifying her exit. We perceive that, if he were able to, he might heed his own advice and fly from his cage as well.