The Awakening Essay, Research Paper
In ?The Awakening? by Kate Chopin, the emotional state of the central character
is often shown to the reader through the employment of literary techniques.
Characterization helps draw parallels and contrasts between secondary characters and
Edna Pontellier. Symbolism is used in order to outline Edna?s progression as a character.
At the very beginning of the book, there is constant reference to a caged bird. This
can be considered to be a reference to the ?caged? life that Edna leads as a wife and
mother in the late 19th century. The bird is described as speaking a common language and
?also a language which nobody understood, unless it was the mocking-bird that hung on
the other side of the door…? This is a reference to the trouble Edna had in making people
understand what she felt about her life and her family, since her views differed from the
standard. The mockingbird next door could be either Robert or Mademoiselle Reisz, the
individuals who served as confidants to Edna. The bird metaphor continues throughout
the book. At one point, Mademoiselle Reisz checks Edna?s shoulder blades to see if her
?wings were strong….The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and
prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised,
exhausted, fluttering back to earth.? Edna must be strong enough to survive her uprising
of sorts against traditional society. She would, however, rather be a wounded free bird
than remain caged. Another reference to birds is the name of Ednas temporary home, the
Pigeon House. Another important symbol is water. When Edna finally overcomes her
inability to swim, she feels free and empowered. She has difficulty realizing that she
cannot swim out as far as she would like to, i.e. she is not entirely self-dependent. It is
thus ironic that she ultimately frees herself completely by drowning. Her suicide is her
only option in order to not sacrifice herself. If she lived, she would have to give up her
soul, and just as importantly, her voice.
Characterization is important in ?The Awakening? because it shows important
contrasts between Edna and the array of characters that surround her. There are
constantly a pair of lovers surrounding her, always very self involved and obviously in
love. They serve to show her what her life, especially her marriage, is lacking. Mariequita
helps show Edna a carefree spirit she is lacking. Her reactions to these characters outline
her altering emotional state throughout the book. For example, her relief at her father?s
absence shows her feelings towards being abandoned by men. This is due to attachment
deprivation during childhood. Another example is the different references to the ?lady in
black? and Mademoiselle Reisz, who are perhaps the same character. At the beginning of
the story she is described as the ever present lady in black. This could show her feelings
of depression and death. When she is referred to as Mademoiselle Reisz, it is only when
Edna is in a positive state of mind. This occurs when she is being entertained by
Mademoiselle Reisz?s musical talents, and when she is visiting her to read Robert?s letters.
Also, Edna feels contrasting feelings of sympathy and jealousy towards Mariequita. She is
sympathetic when overcome with love and joy at being is Robert?s company (the section
on the boat), and is jealous when she is not in his presence (visiting the Lebrun
Characterization helps demonstrate Edna?s sharp mood swings and
manic-depressive tendencies. The reader begins to notice how her views towards certain
characters fluctuates seemingly inexplicably. The literary technique of symbolism shows
Ednas need to be free from the constraints of the life imposed upon her. She is a bird
seeking independence. Her freedom symbolically comes in the form of water.
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