In "The Awakening", the protagonist Edna Pontellier undergoes a metamorphosis. She lives in conservative society, a society that restricts sexuality, especially for women of the time. Edna is bound by the confines of a loveless marriage, unfulfilled, unhappy, and closed in like a caged bird. During her summer at Grand Isle she is confronted with herself in her truest nature, and finds herself swept away by passion and love for someone she cannot have, Robert Lebrun. The imagery of the ocean at Grand Isle and its attributes symbolize a force calling her to confront her internal struggles, and find freedom.
Chopin uses the imagery of the ocean to represent the innate force within her soul that is calling to her. "The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in a maze of inward contemplation."
(p.14) Through nature and its power, Edna, begins to find freedom in her soul and then returns to a life in the city where reside the conflicts that surround her.
Edna grew up on a Mississippi plantation, where life was simple, happy, and peaceful. The images of nature, which serve as a symbol for freedom of the soul, appear when she speaks of this existence. In the novel, she remembers a simpler life when she was a child, engulfed in nature and free: "The hot wind beating in my face made me think - without any connection that I can trace - of a summer day in Kentucky, of a meadow that seemed as big as the ocean to the very little girl walking through the grass, which was higher than her waist. She threw out her arms as if swimming when she walked, beating the...