The Awakening

The Awakening

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In The Awakening Kate Chopin uses several symbols and motifs to reveal greater themes throughout the book. The protagonist, Edna Pontellier, goes through a series of “awakenings” in which she discovers her independence and longing for a life which is less conformed. Yet Edna ultimately finds that independence and solitude come hand in hand, and that the expectations of women in the 1800’s conflict with her desire to be an individual. Several events and characters influence Edna’s awakening such as Robert Lebrun, Adele Ratignolle and even her several visits to Grand Isle. Yet there is one character who seems to be the most influential in Edna’s development and that is Mademoiselle Reisz.
     Mademoiselle Reisz is an unconventional and somewhat unpopular older woman but also an excellent pianist. She is unmarried, childless, and homely, devoting all her time to her music. Even her living style reveals her character; an apartment above everyone else, with a view, but often disagreeable and cold. Mademoiselle Reisz serves as a muse for Edna representing independence and freedom, and she is thus also a foil for Adele who represents everything an acceptable woman would have been in the nineteenth century. Even though neither Edna nor Mademoiselle Reisz can really claim to have been very fond of each other, Edna seeks her companionship as she begins to pursue her independence and is attracted to Mademoiselle because of her blunt manner. Mademoiselle Reisz is the only character who knows of Edna’s feelings for Robert and therefore serves as an important link between the two characters. Mademoiselle Reisz also realizes that Edna is the only guest who seems really touched by her music, made obvious in a passage in which Edna first hears her play “Perhaps it was the first time she was ready, perhaps the first time her being was tempered to take an impress of the abiding truth... she saw no pictures of solitude, of hope, of longing, or of despair” (chap.9 pg. 33). In this light Mademoiselle Reisz serves as a true confidant for Edna and these details bring these two contrasting personalities together.
     As Edna becomes increasingly aware of her sexuality and need to be independent she realizes that Mademoiselle Reisz is the epitome of artistry and female independence, one who lives in eccentric isolation. Mademoiselle Reisz tells Edna that she must be brave is she wishes to be an artist, that artists must have a courageous and defiant soul, “Courageous, ma foi! The brave soul.

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The soul that dares and defies” (chap.11). As a pianist Mademoiselle Reisz is very in touch with her own artistic emotions, but on a more orthodox level she is also in touch with Robert, and is the only one to whom he speaks of his love for Edna. She also seeks out Edna after Robert’s departure to Mexico, and their conversation beside the shore renders a friendship that continues upon their return to New Orleans.
     In yet another way Mademoiselle represents the woman that Edna could have become had she not ended her own life. Had she continued to live independently of Leonce and her children she may have been all the things Mademoiselle Reisz was, self-sufficient and ruled only by her passions and love for art, rather than what the society around her expected so mercilessly.
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