Daniels 1 Joshua Daniels Mrs. Lyons Pre

Daniels 1
Joshua Daniels
Mrs. Lyons
Pre-IB English II
August 11, 2012
Symbolism and Themes in The Awakening
When it was released in 1898, The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, was tendencious and
controversial. Many who lived in the late 19th century disagreed with its freethinking and
feminist ideology. As a child, Chopin lived surrounded by several single, independent women.
They imbued her with ideas about women's rights and responsibilities that were, at the time,
considersd radical. Chopin, in turn, relied heavily on these ideas while writing and they play an
important part in her books. Due to their radical and unconventional nature, The Awakening and
Chopin's other works offer the reader a unique perspective into 19th century culture through her
use of literary techniques, such as symbolism and theming.
The Awakening is full of symbolism and metaphors. Several more prevalent examples
include birds, swimming, and art. Birds appear during several key scenes during the story. The
mockingbird and parrot provide a parallel for Edna’s life at the beginning of the story, while the
bird with the broken wing at the end of the story juxtaposes with them to show how Edna has
changed. In the beginning, Edna is restrained by her marriage and the responsibility she has to
her children, like the birds are in their cages. The birds are happy and healthy, the mockingbird
“whistling his fluty tune” (1). in the same way, Edna is also happy and healthy. By the end of
the story, this has been reversed. Edna is now free and independent, but is broken emotionally.
This is a direct parallel to the “bird with a broken wing” (154).
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Another reoccurring symbol is that of swimming. Swimming is often used as physical
metaphor for Edna’s emotional freedom and independence. The trip to the beach in which she
learned to swim is the event that arguably begins Edna’s awakening and all of her problems.
That is the first major experience Edna and Robert have together. Her love of swimming for the
first time can be interpreted to represent her love of the freedom she experiences for the first time
with Robert. The swimming metaphor appears again at the end of the novel. Her physical death,
that of swimming too far out to sea and drowning is a metaphor for her emotional death. She is
broken emotionally by the fact that she tries for too much freedom and is too independent. She
cuts herself off from her friends and family in an attempt to become self-reliant, but ends up
taking it too far.
The most obvious symbol that appears in The Awakening art being a metaphor for selfsufficiency. Mademoiselle Reisz is one of the most independent characters in the story. She is
also adept at expressing herself through art, in her case music. Edna comments that “the very
passions themselves were aroused within her” by Mademoiselle Reisz’s music (35). Adele
serves as a foil for Mademoiselle Reisz. Adele lives only for her family, and while she shows
appreciation for the arts, she never is described as being particularly artistic herself. Thus, when
Edna decides to take up painting and drawing, one can infer that she is not only experimenting
with art, but also with the characteristics that are seen to go along with it. Those of
independence and self-sufficiency.
The Awakening has several overarching themes, most of them centered of independence
and self expression. The overall message of the book is that independence without direction and
support can often be as damaging, sometimes even more so, than a complete lack of freedom.
Throughout the book Edna believes that the only way to achieve freedom is by cutting herself off
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from her friends and family. She doesn't recognize the fact that one can be independent and selfsufficient while still having meaningful relationships and relying on them for support. The
reverse is also another prominent theme.
Illustrated in The Awakening is, not only the danger of cutting oneself off, but also the
inherent dangers of inaction. When Leonce, noticing the change in Edna, takes his concerns to
Doctor Mandelet. The doctor tells him to “[not] bother her,” advice which he follows (89). If he
had intervened and tried to provide support and a foundation for her, she may have been able to
reorient herself and break out of her depression. The reader is reminded that distancing like that
can be solved not only the person pulling away but also by the person they are pulling away
The Awakening is a groundbreaking novel that, through its radical, unconventional
subject matter, can offer a unique perspective into the culture of the 19th century south. There
are many uses of metaphor and symbolism in The Awakening that help to reinforce the ideas
presented. These include birds representing Edna’s development as a character, swimming and
the sea as a metaphor for freedom and the dangers that lie within, and art being a parallel to selfreliance and self-expression. Also in The Awakening one sees a number of underlying themes
and messages that permeate the story. Most are some variation on the subject of independence.
The two most obvious ones are about both the danger of trying to be overly independent as well
as the danger of allowing others to do the same. Chopin uses these devices, as well as others, to
present a side of Victorian women that was, at the time, unseen. It was one of the first stepping
stones on the road to gender equality and will be used for years to remind readers of the
difficulties that must come at the beginning and throughout such monumental social changes as
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