Symbolism in Kate Chopin's "The Awakening"

Essay by atticus88High School, 11th grade August 2005

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Kate Chopin's The Awakening is a literary work full of symbolism. Birds, clothes, houses and other narrative elements are powerful symbols which add meaning to the novel and to the characters. I will analyze the most relevant symbols presented in Chopin's literary work.


The images related to birds are the major symbolic images in the narrative from the very beginning of the novel:

"A green and yellow parrot, which hung in a cage outside the door, kept repeating over and over:

`Allez vous-en! Allez vous-en! Sapristi! That's all right!'" (pp3)

In The Awakening, caged birds serve as reminders of Edna's entrapment. She is caged in the roles as wife and mother; she is never expected to think for herself. Moreover, the caged birds symbolize the entrapment of the Victorian women in general. Like the parrot, the women's movements are limited by the rules of society.

In this first chapter, the parrot speaks in "a language which nobody understood" (pp3).

The parrot is not able to communicate its feelings just like Edna whose feelings are difficult to understand, incomprehensible to the members of Creole society.

In contrast to caged birds, Chopin uses wild birds and the idea of flight as symbols of freedom. This symbol is shown in a vision of a bird experienced by Edna while Mademoiselle Reisz is playing the piano.

"When she heard it there came before her imagination the figure of a man standing beside a desolate rock on the seashore. He was naked. His attitude was one of hopeless resignation as he looked toward a distant bird winging its flight away from him." (pp26-27)

In this vision Edna is showing her desire for freedom, desire for escaping from her roles as wife and mother, from her husband Léonce who keeps her in a...