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Essay Post

 :: 2 :: The Awakening

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Essay Post

Post  chiara on February 13th 2009, 2:01 pm

Chiara Clemente

Kate Chopin uses symbolism in The Awakening to augment the major themes of the novel: the entrapment of Edna Pontilier in the domestic sphere, her gradual shedding of her rigid gender role, and her spiritual and sexual self-discovery. Symbolism of the caged birds, the shedding of clothing, and the open water are introduced very early on in the novel and are used heavily by Chopin to foreshadow and subtly emphasize the major themes centralized around Edna “awakening”.
The metaphor of the caged birds explores two concepts. First, the difficulty that Edna and the other women of her time face in communicating their feelings, desires, ideas, views, etc. The feminist struggle by the turn of the century had not yet grown into an all-encompassing movement pushing women to and be openly expressive of their needs and wants. Edna’s situation is parallel to that of the birds because being a woman, society had placed a dam in front of her: making it socially unacceptable to communicate as men do caused a swelling desire in Edna to express her feelings, as shown by her intimate reveal of memories and emotions to a fellow woman in her bath house.
Chopin also uses the caged birds to accent the theme of entrapment. Like the birds in their cages, Edna is trapped by the cult of domesticity and its subsequent expectations. Used in conjunction with the theme of shedding clothing (Edna is first introduced fully clothed with layers and frill, but later in the novel she begins to wear more free flowing dresses) , the theme of caged birds is used to stress Edna’s restlessness and yearning desire to break free.
The symbolism of the open water is perhaps one of the most salient elements of The Awakening as it represents something that is limitless, unbounded, free. Chopin personifies the water, describing it in certain passages as free or restless in order to make it more resemble Edna. The setting of the novel is a resort town; Edna’s house is right on the beach. Each day, looking out at the vast expanse of the Gulf of Mexico, Edna is encouraged to reflect upon her situation. It is almost as if Edna aspires to be like the water. When Edna finally learns to swim, she learns by herself. Alone, far out from the shore (or so it seemed to her) Edna “dared to swim where no woman had swum before.” At that moment in the water, Edna feels both the exultation at having accomplished something by herself and the deep-gut fear that she is going to drown. It is in the water when Edna “awakens” to a new feeling of self-accomplishment and unbounded ness.
And so, Chopin employs extensive symbolism in her novel to reflect upon Edna’s situation and stress the major theme of her “awakening”. The caged birds, the shedding of clothing, and the open water are established as largely parallel to Edna and her desire to break free from the confinements of her domestic life.

chiara
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Re: Essay Post

Post  Atlantisbase on February 22nd 2009, 11:55 pm

It can be postulated that there are two types of symbols that regularly occur in literature, those that the author intended to include in the story and those that the literary critic rudely inserts into the story where the author had perhaps not even intended all because this or that individual happened to pick up on some minute little detail or coincidence and turned it into something with deep and profound meaning. Some novels have more symbols than others to begin with and some have seventy percent of their symbols thrust upon them. Take for example Kate Chopin’s The Awakening; a perfectly good book with plenty of built in symbols but also a book that tends to lend itself, rather easily it would seem, to the insertion of, shall we say, “false” symbols.

First take a symbol that was clearly intended by the author and manufactured by her for the purpose of being a symbol, namely the water and the idea of swimming and specifically the scene where Edna learns to swim. This is obviously an intended symbol as Chopin connects it directly to the idea of power, the ability of oneself to control one’s fate, an abstract thing. By describing what Edna is specifically thinking and feeling, particularly the line, “She wanted to swim far out, where no one had swum before.”, the moment becomes profound and has meaning in the course of the story. This becomes the point at which Edna recognizes that she has the ability to defy people, to choose which direction she wants her life to take. Her act of learning how to swim is a symbol for her realization of power and swimming out “far” into the ocean becomes a symbol for assertion of that power. Now you could claim that the water also therefore becomes a symbol but it is not the water that is the center of the metaphor; to create a symbol out of the water is to insert a symbol that was never there. Of course there would be water, she is swimming; water is a prerequisite for swimming, though granted just about any fluid will do.

On the other hand examine one of these “false” symbols that the reader has created where there many not actually be one. The clothing. Some will postulate that the clothing, over the course of the book, represents Edna’s change in thinking from a conservative, conforming wife to a liberal, self-asserting woman as well as being representative of the attitudes of the other characters. There is no direct indication that Chopin intended the choice of clothing of the characters to be such a reflection. Firstly, based on the attitudes of the day and the general trend most women would have worn the styles of clothing described by Chopin. The clothes of many of the characters are often described as being white, this is perfectly plausible; it is Louisiana in the middle of summer, the weather is most likely hot and humid and white clothes are cooler in such weather than dark clothes. Now does the style and manner of drape of the clothes change as the book progresses? Yes, but this is explainable if you consider that Edna is attempting to escape from the binding culture of her class which includes the constraining clothes. Thus the change is Chopin creating a character and a progression of the character that to the reader will appear plausible and believable.

The writer is creating the story and in the course of the story happens to create a “symbol”, she happens to create something that when taken as a whole becomes symbolic of part of the meaning of the story; but to presume that the writer intended from the start to employ this symbol, to presume that they had this detail planned out in their head, to presume that it was an intended symbol is a stretch. It is a leap, an assumption that cannot be safely made. Now is this to suggest that in the course of writing the story said writer did not become aware of the creation of such a large symbol and choose to embellish it? No, it simply means that we, the reader, have picked up on some minute detail and turning it into something huge and central to the essence of the book.

With this in mind we must ask ourselves how many of the so called symbols in literature have been created by the critics and how many were actually placed there by the author. Ultimately everything will be symbolic to someone somewhere so what was actually intended by the author as a symbol and what does it actually symbolize. This also raises the question, at what point in times does the discussion and creation of “false symbols” cause authors to either consciously or unconsciously use symbols? Do not look for symbols, let them make themselves apparent.


Last edited by Atlantisbase on March 25th 2009, 12:11 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Candice's Essay

Post  candice R on February 23rd 2009, 1:22 pm

Throughout the course of history it has always seemed as if the role of the female was written in stone. It is the woman’s sole purpose in life to get married, have children; care for those children, and devote themselves mind, body, and soul to their husbands. However through Kate Chopin’s groundbreaking novel The Awakening these roles are dissolved and the true liberated woman emerges.
While reading this novel, Chopin uses a variety of symbols to illustrate the development of the major character (Edna Pontellier) as she endeavors on a new journey to a state of true liberation. For instance one of the major symbols seen throughout the book was the use of water. By looking through the eyes of Edna Pontellier it is obvious that she sees water as a means for escape. “…Edna Pontellier, casting her eyes about had finally kept them at rest upon the sea. The day was clear and carried the gaze as far as the blue sky went; there were a few white clouds suspended idly over the horizon…”
Also Chopin used the symbol of learning to swim to convey Edna’s new found power and ability to do things that she thought she could never do. For example “…than night she was like the little tottering child, who all of a sudden realizes its power and walks for the first time alone, boldly and with overconfidence…as with a sweeping stroke she lifted her body to the surface of the water…. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before…” This act of learning how to swim was in a sense like a baptism; wherein before, she was a helpless woman who could not do for herself; and after emerged an independent individual ready to take on the world.
In conclusion, Kate Chopin was a genius in the way in which she took something as simple as using water and the art of learning to swim in order to show the growth of a woman in a male dominated society. Also by using these symbols in particular she was able to illustrate how a woman can morph from a helpless indivisual into an independent woman.

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