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Essay: The Awakening – Kate Chopin

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
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  • Published: 5 November 2015*
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  • Words: 1,218 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 5 (approx)

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Birds as a Symbol in Different Settings
The Awakening, written by Kate Chopin, focuses around Edna’s ambition to seek individuality. Taking place in 1890s, Edna tries to detach herself from the oppressive social norms and seek self-discovery. In the novel, The Awakening, Chopin uses the motif of birds in the settings of the ocean and the Pigeon House to illustrate Edna’s awakening with the intent to provide social commentary about women’s repressed roles in society.
Chopin uses the setting of the ocean to illustrate Edna’s self-discovery and freedom. The motif of birds represents Edna during the stages of her awakenings. Towards the beginning of the novel, Edna reflects on the differences between herself and the other women of society. The ‘mother-woman’ represents the ideal woman figure during this time period. The ideal woman consists of one who puts aside her own wants for her families, using her ‘protecting wing’ to help secure her family. Edna awakens to the acknowledgment that she will never be pleased with her place in society. Although she shows love and compassion for her children, she is not willing to give up her own identity. Chopin uses this passage and the opinions of Edna to create social commentary directed to the women of this society. As Edna awakens to see the wrong with women’s place in society, she witnesses the women around her being comfortable in their controlled environment. This new perception allows Edna to continue pushing against society’s rules, which inevitably leads Edna to further awaken. Furthermore, Chopin personifies Edna as a bird to convey Edna’s wish to be free from her marriage. While listening to Mademoiselle Reisz playing the piano prior to learning how to swim, Edna has a daydream of a man standing on a beach. The image of the bird flying away from the man awakens desire within Edna. Representing boundless freedom, the ocean awakens Edna’s ambition to branch away from the restriction of her marriage. The man symbolizes the men in society and Edna’s want to not be confined to the restraint of a man. The personification of the bird represents Edna, as the bird directly flies away from any man, and thus any restriction or confinement. Edna’s realization to be free awakens her to become an individual and to no longer be held by the contract of marriage. Chopin uses this image to produce social commentary regarding men’s oppression of women in society. In contrast, Chopin uses the image of a falling bird to represent Edna’s defeat in escaping from the confines of society.As Edna walks into the Gulf, she realizes that the only way to escape from society’s ideals is to end her life. Whilst walking into the water, Edna sees in the distance. In the last scene of the novel, Chopin uses the symbolism of the broken wing of a bird to elude over Edna’s failures to escape from society. The image of the bird with the broken wing embodies Edna’s disillusionment as she learns that her ideals for freedom and individuality are not reality. As the bird falls, it spirals down in a circle, alluding to the fact that one of its wings has not been broken and therefore, it is still fighting to remain above the water. This is connected to Edna in that her last act of rebellion is to take absolute control and to end her life. When in the water, Edna is reminded of the infinite probability around her and of her own position within society. Irony is developed in the setting through juxtaposition of the opposing ideas that although the ocean is the place where Edna meets her death, it was the first place where she began her awakening. Chopin develops social commentary to emphasis how societal perception overpowers individual desire.
Chopin uses the setting of the Pigeon House and the motif of birds to depict Edna’s awakening. After Mr. Pontellier leaves to go on a business trip, Edna has the availability to move out and seek her own abode. Edna’s separation from marital restriction enables her to seek her own individuality. The shift in Edna’s tones is evident through the diction of ‘strength and expansion’, which emits a positive connotation. Edna’s awakening of passion is formed to such an extent that she now sees a bigger purpose for herself. The pigeon-house expands upon the motif of birds in that Edna’s freedom is enabled through the exemption of the pigeon-house. The
characteristics of pigeons and Edna are closely linked, both expressing rebellious attributes. Chopin creates social commentary through Edna’s rebellious act of moving away from her family. Chopin focuses on the fixed minds of the people surrounding Edna and the prejudiced beliefs of society as Edna searches for herself. Further on, the pigeon-house awakens Edna’s acknowledgement of society’s biased beliefs. Soon after she moves into the pigeon-house, Edna seeks sexual satisfaction with Alcee Arobin. When speaking about Mademoiselle Reisz, Edna states. The purpose of this passage is to illustrate Edna awareness of Alcee’s conformity with society. Edna’s mocking tone is evident in the diction of ‘a sad spectacle’, which reverses to Alcee’s acceptance of the regulation of society. Since Edna is searching for her independence, she pities Alcee and his blatant acceptance of the social norms. As Edna’s confidante, Mlle.Reisz had expressed to Edna the importance of maintaining the strength and bravery to ‘soar above the level of tradition’. This insistence pushes Edna to prevent falling among those who are not strong enough such as Alcee. Chopin develops social commentary through Alcee’s misunderstanding of Edna’s desires. Chopin uses the thoughts of Alcee to illuminate over society’s view of women. Alcee plays an essential role in that his confusion represents societies. Furthermore, although the pigeon-house allows Edna to seek independence, it also holds a false sense of reality. As Alcee and Edna leave the pigeon-house for a walk, Edna gives a detailed description of the house. The descriptive image of the pigeon-house is intended to represent a false sense of security. The ‘locked gate’ is a metaphor for a larger cage,which is only a from her original home. While Edna views her new home as a sign of her independence, the pigeon house represents her inability to remove herself from her former life, Choplin develops social commentary on the deceiving aspects of Edna’s freedom within the pigeon-house. Leaving her former home behind, Edna searched for a means to be free from the restrictions of her marriage, to seek her sexual desire and to pursue her individuality.
In conclusion, in the novel, The Awakening, Chopin uses the motif of birds in the settings of the ocean and the pigeon-house to illustrates Edna’s awakening with the intent to provide social commentary about women’s repressed roles in society. In The Awakening, although Edna seeks individuality and freedom, she is controlled by the conforms of society. Chopin uses the character of Edna to create social commentary on woman prejudices during the 1890s. Chopin ends the novel in the same setting where it began. Chopin does so to provide social commentary to emphasis how societal perception overpowers one’s desire.

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