Kate Chopin’s The Awakening Many different symbols were utilized in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening to illustrate the underlying themes and internal conflict of the characters. One constant and re-emerging symbol is the sea. 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 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 (25).
In the novel, the ocean symbolizes Edna’s awakening to a life filled with freedom and independence. On a hot summer evening Robert and Edna go bathing. Although Edna does not wish to go and initially declines his offer, something inside is compelling her to go down to the water. It is there in the seductive ocean that Edna’s awakening begins. A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her [she] was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her (25).
That warm ocean environment is in direct contrast to the responsibilities and rules of the cold, hard city. And it is there in that relaxed and forgiving atmosphere that Edna can explore her new found freedoms. While relaxing on the beach with Mrs. Ratignolle, the sight of the endless ocean brings back memories from Edna’s childhood. She suddenly recalls a summer day in Kentucky and a meadow that seemed as big as the ocean to the very little girland I felt as if I must walk on forever without coming to the end of it. I don’t remember whether I was frightened or pleased (30). A strong connection between the Kentucky meadow, and the ocean before her, links her present experience to her childhood.
This rebirth takes her back to a time of innocence and curiosity that allows her to explore life through new eyes. Edna is filled with swelling emotions and reveals Sometimes I feel this summer as if I were walking through the green meadow again. Idly, aimlessly, unthinking, and unguided (30). Edna’s recollection of this event allows her to more clearly recognize her internal turmoil. The link between Edna’s awakening and the ocean becomes even clearer when after several attempts she finally learns to swim.
The first time she ventures out into the ocean alone is the first step toward her independence. She panics when she realizes how far she has gone alone and fears drowning. This incident represents Edna gaining control over her body and becoming more aware of her full potential. The ocean helps her recognize that her body is her own and she awakens to her physical, mental, and emotional capabilities. But that night she was like the little tottering, stumbling, clutching child, who of a sudden realizes its powers, and walks for the first time alone, boldly and with overconfidence. (47).
Edna’s sudden terror in the middle of the ocean signifies that she may not be able to venture out as far as she wants to and may have to turn back. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum beforeA quick vision of death smote her soul, and for a second of time appalled and enfeebled her senses (48). Much like her adventure in the Kentucky bluegrass meadow Edna is perplexed by her feelings. A mixture of pride, fear, and uncertainty engulfs her. Robert leaving Edna with Good-by-because I love you (185) opens Edna’s eyes to the fact that she is still not entirely her own person.
Mr. Pontellier and society still have control over many of Edna’s decisions and much of her life. When Edna decides to claim her life she is asserting that her life is hers to have and to destroy. She wants to prove to everyone including herself that she is her own person and can choose her own fate. It is now that the ocean plays the biggest part in Edna’s awakening.
The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in abysses of solitude (189). Edna swims out into the depths of the ocean, naked, returning to the innocence of her childhood. She felt like some new-born creature (189). As Edna swims on to her freedom, She did not look backbut went on and on, thinking of the bluegrass meadowbelieving that it had no beginning and no end (190). It is there in the ocean that she first realizes her physical, mental, and emotional potential.
It is only natural that the water, which has seduced her with its sound reclaims her. Throughout the story the ocean represented Edna’s constant struggle for self-realization and independence. From her first flow of emotion on the beach to her last breath of life in the sea, the ocean beckons her. The voice of the sea lures her onward in her journey toward liberation and empowerment. English Essays.