How does the novel The Awakening employ foil and symbolism to convey the theme of the novel?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Foil and symbolism are used quite powerfully as literary techniques to emphasize on the theme of incongruity and non-conformity in Kate Chopin's novel The Awakening.

Edna Pontellier, our main character, is a woman whose inner passion is too great to be understood by a society in which women only get two choices: Attach and submit, or lose themselves completely. Edna belongs to the first category. As a married woman with children, she has already submitted to the social conventions of marriage and family, which are dissonant to the Edna Pontellier that slowly "awakens" throughout the novel.

The manner in which Chopin uses foil is by contrasting Edna significantly with the woman with whom she communicates on a daily basis. Adèle, and Mlle. Reisz represent the two sides of Edna that she both dreads and loves. Adèle represents the extremely submissive woman whose life is completely devoted to others.  Mlle. Reisz is the unhappy artist who gives up love in favor of music, but lives for her craft. In her constant search of self, Edna realizes that she does not fit any of those two types of women. This is when we, as readers, realize that Edna's awakening will be quite surprising, even to her.

Symbolism is rampant in the novel. We know that nature is the primary symbol in the form of the ocean, to which Edna ultimately gives herself. This, she does as a way to belong back to the Universe once she realizes that the life that she lives is not what she is about. The sea is the witness of Edna's changes and awakenings. As the source of life, it is Edna's primary motivator to change when she learns to swim and conquers her fears. It is the sea which gives Edna her safety and security and, for this reason, she submits to it forever as if she were to be reborn again.


The water of the Gulf stretched out before her, gleaming with the million lights of the sun. The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in abysses of solitude. All along the white beach, up and down, there was no living thing in sight. A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water.....

How strange and awful it seemed to stand naked under the sky! how delicious! She felt like some new-born creature, opening its eyes in a familiar world that it had never known.

Therefore, symbolism and foil are used in many ways to reinstate the theme of change and non-conformity inThe Awakening.