Essay, Research Paper: Awakening By Kate Chopin Story

Literature: Kate Chopin

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Throughout Kate Chopin’s, The Awakening, numerous scenes of birth and renewal
are depicted. Various symbols placed throughout the book show Edna
Pontellier’s awakenings. For instance, many references are made to oceans and
water. It is in the water that Edna has her first rebirth, but it is also the
place where she chooses to die. Water symbolizes life, which is the reason that
Edna’s renewal takes place there, but it also symbolizes darkness and death.
Birds, which are featured frequently in the story, symbolize Edna, and in many
cases they foreshadow what’s to become of her, or they show her renewal of
life. The imagery of birds throughout the book is used to symbolize freedom,
which is exactly what Edna was trying to achieve from her husband, children, and
all the other people that antagonized her. Edna has struggled all summer to
learn to swim. She has been coached by the men, women, and children on Grand
Isle. Swimming provides Edna with strength and joy, and yet makes her feel just
like a child. “But that night she was like the little tottering, stumbling,
clutching child, who of a sudden realizes its powers, and walks for the first
time alone, boldly and with overconfidence. She could have shouted for joy. She
did shout for joy, as with a sweeping stroke or two she lifted her body to the
surface of the water” (47). This passage marks Edna’s rebirth, or renewal.
Here she is described just like a child learning to walk, as she swims for her
first time alone. This scene also foreshadows the ending, for here, in the
ocean, is where Edna’s first rebirth occurs, and in this same place she will
take her life. Birds are also major symbolic images in the story. Flight, which
is associated with birds, acts as a stand-in for awakening. The ability to
spread your wings and fly is a symbolic theme that occurs often in the novel.
Mademoiselle Reisz tells Edna "the bird that would soar above the level
plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings” (138). She uses birds
to forecast Edna's future and evaluate Edna's strength. In order to soar like a
bird, Edna must be strong, but Mademoiselle Reisz realizes that Edna is weak.
Reisz says, "it is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted,
fluttering back to earth" (138). Mademoiselle Reisz understands that Edna
is not like herself and cannot fight society. Later, when Edna realizes the
hopelessness of her situation, birds, once again, symbolically foreshadow her
fate. Upon reaching the beach on her final walk, Edna looks around and sees:
"A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering,
circling disabled down, down to the water" (189). This bird is the final
omen that reflects Mademoiselle Reisz's words: "it is sad to see the
weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth" (138). The bird,
disabled and weakened because of its broken wing, falls back to earth and
suffers defeat. Edna soon does the same when she kills herself because she does
not have "the courageous soul that dares and defies" (106). This bird
also symbolizes Edna's final failure. It is a "weakling" according to
Mademoiselle Reisz because it lacks strong wings that a bird must have in order
to "soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice" (138). In
the same way, Edna lacks the strength to overcome tradition. Therefore, she,
too, is a "weakling" and a failure. Edna is awakened in this death
scene because she finally realizes that she can’t overcome society’s
expectations of her. Thus, Edna felt, killing herself was the only way to escape
what was demanded of her. Throughout the book, Edna is merely expected to run
the house, care for the children and do her best to please her husband, Leonce
Pontellier, not unlike a bird in a cage. Nevertheless, she finds the role
unbearable. She cannot give her life, her identity, to others. Edna is willing
to live her life for herself and only herself. By committing suicide, Edna
escapes from the clutches of her husband and children. Therefore, Edna’s death
is considered a spiritual defeat. She realized she could not last in a world
where she had to live up to society’s expectations of simply being a
responsible mother and wife. Just as the injured bird fell to the ground, Edna
fell because she lacked the strength to overcome all the obstacles in her way.
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