Symbols in the Awakening


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Symbols in the Awakening

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory



Birds
Several types of birds appear repeatedly in The Awakening. We’ll break it down for you.

The parrot and the mockingbird
At the start of the book, the parrot shrieks and swears at Mr. Pontellier. Now, we’ll take a wild guess and say that the parrot represents Edna – or, more specifically, that it gives voice to Edna’s unspoken feelings. Also, it’s in a cage, which is a form of literal imprisonment that highlights Edna’s figurative imprisonment.

The mockingbird, also caged, likely represents Mademoiselle Reisz with its odd markings and the whistling notes it produces. Moreover, we learn at the start of the novel that the mockingbird is perhaps the only one who’s capable of understanding the parrot’s Spanish. It’s a stretch, but by the end of the novel, Mademoiselle Reisz is the only one capable of understanding Edna.

Caged birds in general are representative of women during the Victorian Era, who expected by society to have no other role besides that of wife and mother. It’s reasonable to think of the women as living out their lives in gilded cages – present for decoration, given every comfort, and banned from any real freedom.


Mademoiselle Reisz’s comment
She says to Edna that "the bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings." In other words, you need courage to defy society.


Bird with the broken wing
As Edna is about to walk into the ocean, she sees "a bird with a broken wing . . . beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling, disabled, down, down to the water." This bird could represent Edna’s failure to find freedom – her failure to "soar above the plain of tradition." The bird has a broken wing, yet Mademoiselle Reisz said it would need to have strong wings. Similarly, Edna clearly lacks those strong wings as she drowns in the sea.

Another interpretation is that Edna’s plunge into the water is a defiant rejection of Victorian womanhood and that the bird represents the destruction of that irksome ideal.

The Sea
On one hand the sea is a symbol of empowerment in The Awakening. In the sea, Edna learns to swim (and, by extension, learns that she does in fact have control over her own body). The sea also functions as a lover. Chopin writes: "The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace."

On the other hand, Edna drowns in the sea.

How are we supposed to read this apparent contradiction? Did Edna get (figuratively) too drunk off of empowerment and die? Or is this a deliberately circular choice by Edna, as in, she wanted her life to end where it truly began?

Cigars
Cigars appear over and over in The Awakening as a symbol of masculinity and traditional manhood. Victorian women were not allowed to smoke at all, and certainly not cigars. Interestingly, Kate Chopin herself defied this restriction by smoking often in public. She was ostracized for her behavior.


Symbols in the Awakening



Birds
In The Awakening, caged birds serve as reminders of Edna’s entrapment and also of the entrapment of Victorian women in general. Madame Lebrun’s parrot and mockingbird represent Edna and Madame Reisz, respectively. Like the birds, the women’s movements are limited (by society), and they are unable to communicate with the world around them. The novel’s “winged” women may only use their wings to protect and shield, never to fly. Edna’s attempts to escape her husband, children, and society manifest this arrested flight, as her efforts only land her in another cage: the pigeon house. While Edna views her new home as a sign of her independence, the pigeon house represents her inability to remove herself from her former life, as her move takes her just “two steps away.” Mademoiselle Reisz instructs Edna that she must have strong wings in order to survive the difficulties she will face if she plans to act on her love for Robert. She warns: “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.” Critics who argue that Edna’s suicide marks defeat, both individually and for women, point out the similar wording of the novel’s final example of bird imagery: “A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water.” If, however, the bird is not a symbol of Edna herself, but rather of Victorian womanhood in general, then its fall represents the fall of convention achieved by Edna’s suicide.

The Sea
The sea in The Awakening symbolizes freedom and escape. It is a vast expanse that Edna can brave only when she is solitary and only after she has discovered her own strength. When in the water, Edna is reminded of the depth of the universe and of her own position as a human being within that depth. The sensuous sound of the surf constantly beckons and seduces Edna throughout the novel. Water’s associations with cleansing and baptism make it a symbol of rebirth. The sea, thus, also serves as a reminder of the fact that Edna’s awakening is a rebirth of sorts. Appropriately, Edna ends her life in the sea: a space of infinite potential becomes a blank and enveloping void that carries both a promise and a threat. In its sublime vastness, the sea represents the strength, glory, and lonely horror of independence.

Symbols in the Awakening

Symbols in the Awakening

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Symbolism In The Awakening



The Awakening contains many symbolic features, such as the way Edna uses art, the birds (the parrot and the mockingbird), sleep, music, and the houses Edna Pontellier lives in, but perhaps two of the most significant symbols are the clothes in the novel, not only of Edna, but also the other characters, and the water, whether it be the ocean, the gulf, or the sea. These two symbols are possibly the most significant because of their direct relationship to Edna Pontellier.

Both the water and her clothes have the power to not only emphasize, but elp show exactly how and what Edna is feeling. Clothes appear to have significant meaning in The Awakening, enough so that they are mentioned at almost every description of the characters. Edna Pontellier starts the novel fully dressed and appropriately dressed for a woman of her responsibilities, however, at her final moment, she is naked on the beach. Other women in the story also represent their position and the way they feel in the way they dress. For example, Madmoiselle Reisz never changes her clothes.
This could possibly symbolize her physical detachment from anything around her, including nature and any suppressed feelings. In contrast, Ednas clothes represent her physical attachment to society. She sheds her clothes the way a snake sheds its skin when it is time for a new one and it does not fit into the old one any longer. Edna doesnt feel like she can fit into society any longer. Madmoiselle Reisz, on the other hand, does not seem to have any desire to be more than what she has been given in the society in which she lives.

Therefore, she does not change her clothes, because she does not feel the need for change in her life. Other characters, such as Madame Leburn always have new clothes to cover their bodies. This could, perhaps, represent the constant need to cover their sexuality as women in suppressed roles as wives and mothers. Ednas nakedness at the end of the novel symbolizes her freedom from any claims her children may have on her and shows how her lack of clothes is equal to her lack of responsibility, of her family and the 1890s society.
The Ocean is a clear symbol of freedom for Edna. The water is where Edna feels replenished and she begins to realize that she is not satisfied with her life and roles as wife and mother. This happens on the day she learns to swim, which is something she had wanted to accomplish all summer. By learning to swim, she is empowered and becomes more self-aware, of not only her sexuality, but also of who she is and not who society says she The water in The Awakening could be seen to symbolize Ednas rebirth into a more assertive woman.

Every time she enters the water, she gets stronger, until finally her strength is more powerful than her love for her children, or her life. At this point she goes so far out to sea, that the water takes back the strength it had geven her. Both the water and the clothes in the novel are very important symbols, both helping to emphasize Edna Pontelliers new life. She starts the novel as a very suppressed woman (fully clothed) and covered by society and its strict roles, and then ends naked as if she is escaping the restricted boundaries of her clothes and of society.

Symbols in the Awakening

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