"The Awakening" by Kate Chopin - Analysis and symbolism

Essay by madcowminzHigh School, 11th gradeA+, January 2006

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"The Awakening" by Kate Chopin, provocatively illustrates the sexual and emotional awakening of the female protagonist, Edna Pontellier. Although it was publically scorned when it was first published in 1899 for its racy content, it is now considered one of the strongest feminist novels of American Literature. The novel successfully highlights the issues of feminism through Chopin's criticism of the patriarchal society that drowns Edna, despite her struggle to stay afloat.

Edna's distinct difference from typical Creole women are metaphorically shown through the birds introduced at the beginning of the novel. The caged parrot that belongs to Madame Lebrun speaks several languages including "a language which nobody understood, unless it was the mocking-bird that hung on the other side of the door" (p1). The parrot easily identifies with Edna, who also speaks differently, as she is an American woman married into a Creole society. She seeks a mockingbird-type companion who can understand her unknown language.

It is apparent when we meet Mademoiselle Reisz, that she's the mockingbird that will inspire Edna's need for independence. Mademoiselle Reisz serves as a model of what Edna wishes to become. She is unmarried, childless, and devoted her life to her passion of music. The two birds share an experience of confinement, and being under someone else's possession.

Edna's first swim is one of the most important steps in the process of her awakening. She had attempted to learn to swim all summer, but was afraid of abandoning herself into such a vast ocean. Chopin compares her to a "little tottering, stumbling, clutching child, who of a sudden realizes its powers, and walks for the first time alone" (p37). Although she is courageous and defies expectations by venturing out into the ocean alone, she still retains a childlike fear of self reliance,