What are the main images and symbols in Chopin's The Awakening?
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One of the major images and symbols in the novel The Awakening is at the very end when Edna drowns herself. As she goes out into the water, "the foamy wavelets curled up to her white feet, and coiled like serpents about her ankles." The irony of the scene is that Edna has learned how to swim, so here she is certainly exhibiting an act of agency by swimming far out into the water that used to scare her. Now, she is not scared and as she swims she recalls all the troubles and misunderstandings of her life. Her drowning symbolically represents her freeing herself from what she felt was a life of restriction. Here in the water, she experiences that which her life did not allow.
There are so many it is difficult to choose! One example that you can trace through the novel is birds. The novel starts with the symbol of a caged bird, and references birds in several other chapters as well. The caged bird is a clear symbol for Edna as she feels caged in her roles of wife and mother and in the expectations that the Creole society has imposed on her. Later in the novel Reisz questions whether Edna has strong enough wings to fly above the social conventions of the time to be truly free of the rules and norms of the day. In the end, Edna sees a bird with a broken wing, just as she is not strong enough (or willing enough) to struggle on this society. She lets herself drown in the ocean much the bird has the taste of freedom of flying, but is too weak to go for long.
There are many symbols in "The Awakening". Once of the most important ones is the birds that are mentioned, specifically, the parrot and the mockingbird. 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.
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