The Awakening Symbols

Any work of literature is going to be chock-full of symbols. And The Awakening by Kate Chopin is no different. In fact, symbols are incredibly important to the novel and help to establish the central themes.

For example, one of the most important symbols in The Awakening is the ocean. The ocean symbolizes both freedom and death. On the one hand, it’s a place where Edna can feel free and liberated from the constraints of society. She feels alive when she’s swimming in the ocean and often compares it to her own soul.

However, the ocean also symbolizes death because it’s where Edna ultimately drowns herself at the end of the novel. In this way, the ocean symbolizes both the possibilities of life and the inevitability of death.

Another important symbol in The Awakening is Edna’s wedding ring. At the beginning of the novel, Edna is very proud of her wedding ring and takes great care to make sure it’s always shining. However, as Edna starts to become more independent and individualistic, she starts to view her wedding ring as a symbol of her oppression. She eventually throws it into the ocean as a way of rejecting the role society has assigned to her.

There are many other symbols in The Awakening, but these are just a few of the most important ones. The symbols help to establish the themes of freedom and death that are so central to the novel.

Symbols are a powerful tool in all novels, allowing the story to feel more genuine to the reader. A symbol as basic as a bird might mean so much more than what you see. A symbol as complex as the sea, on the other hand, can have significantly less significance than you thought.

It is through your own perception that leads you to discover the actual meaning of each symbol. Symbols are words within which hidden messages must be investigated. In The Awakening, Kate Chopin employs carefully constructed symbols that represent her characters’ thoughts and futures to express her ideas.

The most prevalent symbols used in The Awakening are birds, the ocean, and houses. Birds first become a symbol in The Awakening when Edna is out swimming and she feels as if she could “fly away”(Chopin 22). This scene is described with very little detail which could be interpreted as foreshadowing Edna’s future suicide. The second time birds are mentioned is when Edna is at Madame Ratignolle’s house and she sees a bird in a cage that looked “miserable” to her (Chopin 59). The bird being caged up could be interpreted as a symbol of how Edna feels trapped in her life.

The last time birds are mentioned is when Edna kills herself and “the bird with the broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water”(Chopin 185). The bird trying to escape and failing could be interpreted as Edna’s final failed attempt at finding true freedom. Birds become a symbol of Edna’s desire for freedom and her ultimate demise.

The ocean is used as a symbol throughout The Awakening to show how Edna is changing. The first time the ocean is introduced it shows how happy Edna is with life. Chopin describes the ocean as having “no strong tide nor upheaval from within…the sea was peaceful as a child that has no memories and is unconscious of life”(Chopin 5). The second time the ocean is introduced it shows Edna beginning to change.

The water “gave off a strong, salty smell…the color was strange and bright…there was something stirring and frightening about it”(Chopin 67). The last time the ocean is introduced it is after Edna has killed herself. The water is described as being “fierce and implacable… cruel as a beast sometimes with one blow of its paw”(Chopin 186). The ocean becomes a symbol of how Edna is changing from an innocent girl, to someone who is discovering her true self, to someone who has lost all hope.

Birds serve as predictors of Edna’s actions and monitors of her development, reflecting her sentiments, throughout the novel. The book begins with a picture of a bird trapped and unable to communicate: “a green and yellow parrot, which hung in the cage outside the door… could speak a little Spanish, and also a language that no one understood.” Like the bird, Edna feels imprisoned by society.

The bird’s inability to communicate its feelings suggests Edna’s own difficulty in expressing herself. The parrot also foreshadows Edna’s failed escape to Grande Isle, as birds appear whenever she attempts to break free from the strictures of her life.

For example, when Edna first tries to swim out to sea, “a great brown pelican… soared overhead and dropped down upon the water where she was swimming” (39). The pelican’s dive recalls Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross and suggests that, like Christ, Edna may have to die in order to achieve spiritual rebirth.

The next day, as Edna again tries to swim out to sea, “a flock of small brown birds… flew in from the gulf” (44). The birds circle Edna as she struggles to reach shore, symbolically weighing her down and preventing her escape.

Later in the novel, after Edna has had an affair with Alcée Arobin and begun to assert her independence, a mockingbird serenades her late one night. The bird’s song represents both Edna’s sexual awakening and her burgeoning sense of self-awareness: “She was conscious of, but not distinctly aware of, a slow intoxication of the senses which made each successive wave seem like the waving of huge branches of trees.

The bird sang on and she was not sure whether it was in her heart or her ear” (98). The next day, as Edna stands on the balcony of her home, “a little wind began to blow which stirred the branches of the trees and brought out masses of heavy perfume from the shrubbery” (99). The breeze and the fragrance symbolize Edna’s own awakening to her sexuality and sensuality.

Throughout The Awakening, Chopin uses birds to symbolize Edna’s growing sense of awareness and her struggle to break free from the constraints of society. The bird images also suggest that, although Edna may long for freedom, she will never fully escape the limitations imposed on her by her culture.

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