How do Madame Lebrun's caged parrot and mockingbird suggest Edna's situation in The Awakening?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Kate Chopin's "The Awakening" is, in many ways, a social commentary as well as a novel. Using literary techniques such as juxtaposition, symbolism and metaphor, it depicts life for women in the Victorian era as restrictive and unfulfilling. Edna Pontellier is depicted as a woman whose life is largely limited and directed by the social patterns and laws of her time; her "awakening" describes her growing realization that her seemingly happy life of leisure, with a good husband and children, is actually very unfulfilling, and her desire for independence begins to reveal the numerous powers that have been subtly keeping her in check.

The birds that appear at the beginning of the novel are a familiar example of symbolism; a bird in a cage represents confinement and limitation of freedom. The bars of the cage might be alluded to a jail, and the fact that it is a bird inside, a creature which would otherwise be free to go anywhere it wants, even beyond human control because it can fly, represents a significant loss of freedom and independence. Thus they represent Edna; she is limited and "caged" by her marriage, her motherhood, and the pressure of her high-class life to stay in one place and act in a particular way.

Nevertheless, the birds allude to Edna's coming independence, in that they are shrieking so much as so loudly that it drives Leonce out of the house. The parrot shouts "Allez vous-en!" (Get out!) in French, which we might interpret as Edna's unspoken desire for Leonce to leave, or it might be interpreted as a message to Edna to get out of her cage. It is suggested that the mockingbird is somewhat more amenable, and also the only creature capable of understanding some of the parrot's phrases; this might allude to other women being able to understand Edna's feelings, or it might allude to Edna's more gentle instincts and the woman that society has molded her into.

So, in summary, the birds represent women in society, and Edna in particular; they want for nothing, but they are nevertheless limited, and do not have freedom. The cages themselves represent marriage and other forms of social pressure. The sounds the birds make suggest Edna's unspoken desires, or the desires of all women, to be free, as well as their "separate society" in which they can understand each other because of their shared experiences in their cages.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial