What are some allusions and their significance in the second half of The Awakening?
There is evidence of at least two possible allusions in the second part of Kate Chopin's novel, The Awakening.
In Chapter 28 – “…comprehend the significance of life, that monster made up of beauty and brutality” – This might be an allusion to Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley and printed anonymously in 1818. This may have been an image familiar to Chopin when she was writing this story in 1898 (especially in that the author of the famous novel was also a woman). Victor Frankenstein experienced the “significance of life” when he finally brought life to the creature. Creation was the “beauty,” but the reality of what he had done (acting like God to create life), as well as the monster’s violent murders, would refer to the “brutality” which accompanied Victor’s “accomplishment.”
In Chapter 39 – “Venus rising from the foam could have presented no more entrancing a spectacle than Mrs. Pontellier, blazing with beauty and diamonds at the head of the board…” – This is, of course, an allusion to Botticelli’s famous painting entitled, “The Birth of Venus,” the Roman goddess of beauty and love.
While the second allusion seems very obvious, and the first perhaps more unfathomable, remember that "art" speaks to everyone differently. There is no way to be sure that Chopin was or was not using this as a literary allusion. An allusion takes on significance based upon the knowledge and experience of the person interacting with that piece of art.
Certainly, this is seen with Shakespeare's great works, where scholars debate the meaning of a line, a character's purpose, or an entire play, without ever knowing who, if anyone, has the accurate interpretation.
Throughout the novel there are allusions to the music of Chopin, a Romantic composer whose music, as played by Reisz, inspires deep emotional responses in Edna. She is transported to an imaginary scene when she first hears the music, and she requests that Reisz play the song again at the scene later in the novel when she reads Robert's first letter to Reisz (but remember that no letters have been sent to Edna). Romantic music, like Romantic literature was created with an emphasis on emotion and imagination, which are clearly an underlying piece of Edna's awakening.
Robert's going to Mexico to make his fortune is an allusion to the historical truth that some men, rather going West like the previous generations, would go to Mexico to make financial future for themselves. It was considered a land of new opportunity.
Edna's learning to swim could be considered a baptism -- a rebirth into someone new. The book, How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster has an entire chapter entitled "If She Comes Up, It's Baptism." He discusses the idea of water as a means of rebirth. Edna's learning to swim represents her chnage from a traditional wife, into a more independent and free woman, or at the very least, a women who has proven to herself that she swim and literary keep herself afloat and removed from the land, and perhaps metaphorically, she can assert her independence from the constraints of the land (soceity.)