In "The Awakening," Kate Chopin emphasizes the sociopolitical issues by using symbolism and allusions. With the use of symbols and allusions, Chopin can reveal a woman coming to discover herself. In the narrative, within each segment, symbols and illusions are serving the meaning of the text and underlines a subtle point Chopin is trying to make. Understanding the symbols is vital to understanding the story and being able to appreciate it to the fullest extent.
Here is a run down of what society was like during the time of Edna. The cult of domesticity, also known as the 'cult of true womanhood', was a prevalent way of life with upper and middle class white women in the 19th century. There were four pentacles to the cult of domesticity. Piety was the act of being more religious and spiritual than men. Purity was being pure in the mind, body, and soul. Submission was the women allowing the man to dictate all the woman's decisions and actions. Last, Domesticity was the division between work and home - this was encouraged by the Industrial Revolution. Men were to go out into the world to earn a living. The woman, however, her domain was the home. The wife was expected to create a "haven in a heartless world" for her children and husband. This was also known as the 'woman's sphere.' It's in this sphere, on the edge of the blue Gulf; the Edna Pontillier is caged securely when she first appears. Not only is Edna in a literal sphere, but symbolically, the woman's house. Every object and figure isn't only a replica of domestic life and a dreamy symbolic radiance, but it's distinctively significant female symbolism.
Art becomes the symbol of both freedom and failure. Edna trying to become an artist is where her awakening reaches its peak. Edna sees art as a way of self-expression and self-assertion as well. Mademoiselle Reisz thinks of being an artist as a test of one's individuality. Edna fails simply because her wings are too weak.
Birds are of major symbolic significance. Birds symbolize the ability to communicate and the entrapment of women. Communication is symbolized by the parrot and the mockingbird - the speaker and the singer. Entrapment is symbolized by the two birds in cages, their desire for flight, and the pigeon houses. Flight is also another symbol that is associated with birds, and acts as a stand in for Edna's awakening. The ability to spread your wings and fly is a symbolic theme that occurs very often in the novel. Edna escapes her home, husband, life, by leaving for the pigeon house. Mademoiselle Reisz lectures Edna, once again, on the need for strong wings in artistic endeavors.
Clothes, in my opinion, is the most interesting of the symbols found in the awakening. Slowly, over the course of the novel, Edna begins to remove articles of her clothing. This is symbolizing the shedding of the societal rules in her life and her growing awakening. This stresses her physical and internal self. The reader can almost feel as a voyeur. When Edna finally commits suicide, she is naked. She has everything that has burdened her in finding her selfhood. But it's not only Edna symbolized in clothes. Adele becomes more 'careful' with her face in Chapter seven and begins wearing a veil. Both she and Madame Lebrun make clothes constantly to cover and hide their bodies. The woman in black and Mademoiselle Reisz fail to change their clothes, showing the distance from any physical attachment.
In chapter 30, before Edna commits suicide, she attends a dinner party, and at that dinner party I felt it has striking similarities to the last supper. Friends gathered around eating an abundance of food - then Edna escapes into the ocean to be free, much like Jesus, Except Jesus Christ dealt with the element of betrayal.
There are many houses presented to us in the novel. The one on the Grand Isle, the one in New Orleans, Pigeon House, the house Edna falls asleep in on Cheniere Caminada. The Grand Isle home and the one in New Orleans serve as cages for Edna. Edna is expected to be the perfect mother-woman on Grand Isle and to be the perfect socialite hostess in New Orleans. The other two serve as a place of implied freedom. On the island, Edna can sleep and dream. In the pigeon house, Edna can create a world of her own. Grand Isle in itself is a place for women, by women. Men only visit weekend, and they eventually go to places of their own - Kiles's hotel. Cheniere caminada is a place of escape for the women into a romantic, foreign, and new world. It's also similar to a garden, a Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden is where knowledge was gained according to the bible. It was a sin against man to gain this knowledge. New Orleans is the end all be all of the rules of society, and of realistic life and duties. New York and Mexico are the Grand isles of men, and both Leonce and Robert leave Edna for one of the other. The men did business at these locations.
Edna struggles all summer to learn how to swim. She was coached by men, women, and children on the Grand Isle. In the tenth chapter, Chopin used the concept of learning to swim as a symbol of empowerment for Edna. It provides her with strength and joy, which is also associated with 'Creoles.' Swimming comes with many concepts and ideas. The idea of getting in over one's head and staying afloat. Edna managed to do both.
Oh, the moon... a beautiful rock that is seen all over the world and is highly mythologized. There is a Greek goddess - her name is Selene. Selene is a strong, commanding goddess of the hunt. Edna connects with this Goddess. She becomes sexually aware of Robert for the first time. Moonlight symbolizes the struggle Edna has had with the ideas of sex-love and romantic love, Lust and love - the believed 'original' sin of many protestant bible thumpers. (lol) At the end of the tenth chapter, "strips of moonlight," are associated with strong sexual feelings, "the first-felt throbbings of desire" Edna is coming into her own, and trying to decipher the feelings she has - is it love or is it lust? Could this be the question Edna should have asked her self from the get-go. The marrying of Leonce, was it out of love or was it out of lust?
The ocean is a big one. Edna goes her to die, to live, to feel, to think. Edna remembers the Kentucky fields as an ocean, she learns to swim in the Gulf of Mexico, and she finally escapes to die in the sea. Water is a source of self-awareness. An outward and inward knowledge, Edna begins to have an obsession with her self and then she gains knowledge of the universe. In the beginning of the book, page 36 to be exact, the ocean curls away from her - leaves her. Then at the very end, before Edna commits suicide, the ocean is coiling around her ankles and draws her in.
The awakening is one of the most fascinating and empowering Novels I have ever read, ever. The symbolism is inspiring and pro-woman. You see the rise and fall of one woman who discovers what real happiness could be. I know most people don't sympathize with her because she is seen as spoiled, but I know exactly where she's coming from. I understand the shackles of being a female. Someone always looking out for you or knowing what's best for you... when they're not you. Society burdened women in the 19th century, for the sheer and utter purpose or religion and spreading the seed. Edna simply escapes the tyranny and lives.