The Awakening by Kate Chopin

March 17, 2008
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The 1890's were full of innovating inventions, exciting experiments, and dazzling discoveries. Frank and Charles Duryea build the first gas-powered automobile in the United States in 1982, which created the first “Ford” car model. (Grant) Woodville Latham invented the first moving picture projector in 1895, which began the motion picture revolution. (Grant) Jack London discovered gold in Canada, which began the Great American Gold Rush in 1896. (Grant) All these ingenious people were commemorated for their findings and placed high on the American Society pedestal. There is just one problem with theses great accomplishments; they were all accomplished by men! Because society at the time was brainwashed into thinking that men were the “superior being”, women were almost never congratulated in society unless it pertained to cleaning the kitchen properly or cooking a tasty meal. Women's voices' were rarely heard, including voting for the President of the United States. However, one author emerged as a controversial radical, writing of women not following the stereotypical “female duties”. Kate Chopin, although criticized at the time for her novel The Awakening, modeled a different lifestyle for women, especially the main character Edna. It is quiet possible that Kate Chopin symbolized Edna as the beginning of a new movement, a movement for women's suffrage.
The Novel, The Awakening, models the time period around the late 1890's. The novel begins while the characters vacation in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Edna Pontellier, the main character, and her husband Leonce, vacation at Grand Isle during the summer. The couple have two young children and are considered a well-off Creole family. “[Edna] face was captivating by reason of a certain frankness of expression and a contradictory subtle play of features. Her manner was engaging.” (46) Chopin's choice of words used to describe Edna was not many of the typical features women carried. She implies Edna was not dull, and her expression illustrated a deeper meaning than the normal housewife. Edna is conceived as somewhat different right in the beginning of the novel. Right of the bat she is introduced while conversing with Robert, a young, engaging Creole. Chopin even goes so far as to give the reader a confused feeling when Edna converses with other women in an enticing fashion. Because this novel was written during a time where anything a slight bit controversial was heavily shunned, Chopin is very discrete with her wording and utilizes similes and metaphors to get her point across. Edna's daily routine's differed form the other Creole women. She was not pleasing to her husband, her mothering skills were not up to par, and her normal working schedule was beginning to bore her. "He reproached his wife with her inattention, her habitual neglect of the children. If it was not a mother's place to look after children, whose on earth was it?" (48) Edna's husband comments on the fact that she is not the ideal housewife, never doing as he pleases. Edna felt as if she was born in the wrong era, not fitting in with the typical women. She craved for independence. The expectations of the housewife was killing her emotionally, she felt the need for her own individual expression.
There are many instants were Edna breaks the mold of the housewife and starts to experience a renaissance of who she really desires to be. Water is a key element that Edna finds part of her awakening experience. The first time entering the water, Edna was nervous to leave her comfort zone, but gradually feels a rebirth of her soul, like nothing could do her any wrong while swimming in the water. "The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clearing, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in the abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation. The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace." (57) The water, symbolizing escape and freedom, can compare to the 19th century women restlessly trying to “escape” the mold, and rebirth themselves. Not only does Chopin use water to symbolize clarity, but uses it to show that women could easily find their escape if they looked hard enough. While in the water, Edna feels like a tiny particle in the universe of the sea she is lying in. Unfortunately, toward the end of the novel, Edna relies on the sea too much and feels that ending her life there would bring her total peace. This could be interpreted as women being able to find their own “water” but not relying on it so much that it takes away the soul that has been found. So many interpretations have been discovered pertaining to the meaning of The Awakening so it is hard to pin point one exact meaning, but if imagination is used, inspiration can be found anyway it is looked at.
Another interesting and insightful symbol that related to the women's right movement were the birds that carefully contributed sounds and appearance throughout the novel. Not even twenty words into the novel, a yellow parrot repeats “Allez vous-en! Allez vous-en! Sapristi!” (43) The bird, rarely understood by the characters in the novel, yells “get out, get out!” Chopin's usage of the annoying bird symbolizes the women who were trapped in cages, eager to “get out”. These birds, not understood by humans coincide with the women not being understood and respected by the men of the society. The cages restrain the women from using their wings and flying away, like what Edna did in the end. As Edna becomes feed up with the life and the life of her children and husband, Edna breaks away from her cage and settles in to a smaller one, but enjoys the quiet peacefulness.
Carefully reading in-between the lines, the reader is allowed to take in the actual meaning of some of Chopin's symbols pertaining to the awakening of women's rights. Although women still had to suffer long after the book was published, the book gave insight on why women need equal rights and ways to obtain these rights. From Edna's appearance to water to birds, Chopin's detailed diction and meaning shows she had her believes about women's rights or lack there of.

Bibliography Spring, 2000. "The American 1890s: A Chronology" Dr. William Grant, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, USA

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