The Awakening

The Awakening The boundaries which divide Life and Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where one ends, and where the other begins? Edgar Allan Poe, The Premature Burial (Bartlett, 642). To venture into the world of Edgar Allan Poe is to embark on a journey to a land filled with perversities of the mind, soul, and body. The joyless existence carved out by his writings is one of lost love, mental anguish, and the premature withering of his subjects. Poe wrote in a style that characterized the sufferings he endured throughout in his pitiful life. From the death of his parents while he was still a child, to the repeated frailty of his love life, to the neuroses of his later years, his life was a ceaseless continuum of one mind-warping tragedy after another.

From the very dawning of his existence, Edgar Allan Poe lived a life of hardship; a quality which was reflected in his writings. Poe was born the son of a pair of traveling actors. His father, David, was at best a mediocre actor who soon deserted his wife and son. His mother Elizabeth, on the contrary, was a charming woman and talented actress. His life, no doubt, would have been much different were it not for the fact that she died of tuberculosis in 1811 when Poe was not quite three. This event scarred him for life, for he would always remember his mother vomiting blood and being carried away from him forever by sinister men dressed in black. (Asselineau, 409).

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After the traumatic passing of his parents, Poe was placed into the custody of John and Frances Allan – hence his middle name. The childless couple reared him as their own son, even though they would never officially Philosophy Essays.

The awakening

The Awakening is a story full of symbolism and imagery that can have many different meanings to the many who have read it. I have read several different theories on Kate Chopin’s meaning and though some are vastly different, they all seem to make sense. It has been said that Kate Chopin might have been ambiguous just for this reason. At some point, almost everyone struggles with knowing or not knowing their purpose in life, and therefore it seems, that on some level, most who read the story about Edna Pontellier can relate to her in some way. I believe that those who have theorized about this story, have done so based upon their own struggles with the same issue. To me, life is all about self discovery and what one does upon their self discovery. Each time that I read this story, I can feel the pain and the turmoil that Edna experiences before and after her awakening.
The ocean is the center and foundation of this story. The ocean is also part of the scenery and the background, without the ocean, there would be no story. Not only is the ocean the center and the foundation, it is also a symbol of many things in this story. To me, the ocean in this story takes on human characteristics in that to me, it symbolizes a seducer or seductress. The ocean also becomes an escape from reality and symbolizes life itself. The ocean is important because it is what helps bring Edna into her awakening and that is good, in the sense that it helps Edna into finding herself. However, the ocean is evil in that it is responsible for Edna’s demise.
I believe that in the beginning of this story, Edna has not yet discovered who she is or what she really wants out of life. Edna has come to the Grand Isle as a dutiful wife and mother who grew up in an oppressive, unloving and un-nurturing home without her mother. Edna’s marriage is not a loving one, neither she, nor her husband have an emotional connection to each other. Edna goes about her life as a mother and wife in a mechanical fashion, she doesn’t have the mind for it and it’s obvious that her current position where she wants to be although at first she doesn’t see it yet. Edna most likely has never experienced any sort of love or connection with anyone. She doesn’t seem to think very highly about her husband, father, or sisters. Her love for her children is flighty at best. It’s as if she’s been locked in a cage most of her life and has received very little attention leaving her love starved and lonely. I think that she is probably too ripe for her awakening by the time that it happens, which is why her awakening becomes so tumultuous for her. It’s as if she’s been in her cage so long, that once she is released, the results are almost too much to bear.
Edna’s awakening begins with the ocean and I feel that the way Kate Chopin describes the ocean in the beginning of the and throughout the story makes the ocean seem like a seducer or seductress, enticing Edna and awakening her imagination, creativity, spirituality and sexuality. For example, when Edna begins to feel to anguish of her oppression “the everlasting voice of the sea, that was not uplifted at that soft hour broke like a mournful lullaby upon the night.” she begins to cry a flood of tears, which to me makes her seem like a lost and lonely child. I say child because Edna’s emotional, spiritual, and even sexual growth has been stunted or gone untapped. However, later on as Edna begins to make real connections with other people such as Madame Ratingnolle and Robert, she begins to pay closer attention to the ocean, and again there is another incident in which the ocean’s seductive character emerges: “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.”
If one takes a close look at that passage itself, it almost sums up the entire story. As the ocean “never ceases” to seduce Edna into her awakening she begins to isolate herself from society ( “to wander in the abysses of solitude”) and begins to lose herself in “mazes of inward contemplation.”
On one hand the ocean is a good thing, because Edna isn’t aware of herself and who she is at first. However, a seductresses and seducers usually aren’t thought of as positives. Seductresses and seducers are usually seen as bad or even evil and can be unceasingly persistent in their pursuits. Once a seductress or seducer gets what he or she wants, the consequences for those who have been seduced are usually negative. In this case, the ocean seduces Edna into finding herself but in the end it costs Edna her life. Even though some may see Edna’s suicide as choosing freedom, suicide in itself is tragic. To take the evil character of the ocean a step further, I will refer to the last chapter of this story where Edna is standing naked at the water’s edge and the “foamy wavelets curled up to her white feet, and coiled like serpents about her ankles.” Most people recognize that serpents themselves are a symbol of evil. Those familiar with the story of Adam and Eve know that a serpent enticed Eve into eating the forbidden fruit and upon doing so they lose their innocence and condemn man to the curse of sin. One could compare the evil of the ocean to the evil of the serpent and Adam and Eve to Edna. The evil of the ocean has seduced the innocent unsuspecting Edna to her doom, which is her death.
I also think that the ocean in this story is her escape from a reality that she was not free to be herself in. In the beginning of the story, the ocean seems to coax her out of her existing life as a dutiful wife and mother and into a life of independence and freedom to do as she chooses. As Edna begins to awaken to her new and true self, she becomes less in touch with her society. She starts by casting off her societal duties and goes on to live in her own house, which of course causes possible scandal amongst her peers. Society’s standards cannot accept the true Edna but the ocean’s “sensuous” touch “enfolds the body in it’s warm embrace” and accepts Edna for who she is and gives her relief from her harsh reality. As Edna becomes more independent, she begins to daydream and imagine outcomes to situations that just aren’t realistic. For instance, upon first glance it seems that Edna doesn’t care what people think if she moves into her own house. However, when Edna begins to see that people are starting to isolate from her because of her actions, she becomes depressed and begins to feel alone. It’s as if deep down, she expected people to eventually accept what she does and to continue treating her as they always did. This is not a realistic way to think. The final straw is when she gets home from the birth of Madame Ratingnolle’s child. Edna imagines that Robert will have waited for her and is asleep inside and she imagines herself kissing him awake and consummating their relationship. However, Edna goes inside only to find the house empty and her hopes dashed. Edna’s imagination only seems to raise her expectations higher making the reality and even greater disappointment. The reality is that no one, not even Robert, can conform to Edna’s way of seeing and doing things. Even though Edna has her independence, she doesn’t want to pay the price for it with loneliness. Therefore, Edna retreats to the only thing that can accept her for who she is, the ocean.
There are many references to birds in this story and this symbolism cannot be ignored. I feel that Kate Chopin might have seen women as like birds. To humans, birds are a symbol of freedom. Freedom is what America was founded on and a bird is America’s national symbol.
I think that Kate Chopin saw women as caged birds, beautiful, graceful yet unable to use their wings to “fly” and express their inner selves as they chose. When Kate is describing women in this story she uses references towards birds several times and birds are always in the background, from the very beginning to the very end.

Edna, is clearly a bird in this story, a caged bird that after being given the taste of freedom can never go back to her cage. The very beginning of the story is with a green and yellow parrot hanging in a cage saying in French “go away! go away! For God’s sake!” I find it interesting that the story begins this way, it’s as if the parrot is talking to Leonce Pontellier. Could the parrot be Edna telling him this herself, or could the parrot be speaking on her behalf? There is also a point in the story where Edna tells Arobin that Madame Reisz once felt her shoulder blades to see if her wings were strong and said “the bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.” Madame Reisz telling Edna that in order to be free from the traditions and prejudices of society one must be strong enough to deal with the consequences that follow. A person does not possess such strength will become “bruised” and “exhausted” and will not be free. In Edna’s case, to be free and be herself is to be a nonconformist, which ultimately results in isolation and loneliness. Isolation and loneliness are what Edna has probably felt most of her life. Edna does not want to conform and yet she does not want to be alone either. Therefore, Edna’s wings are broken and she cannot be free.
At the end of the story, when Edna is alone on the beach she sees a bird with a broken wing “beating the air above, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water.” That bird is herself, and seeing the bird with its broken wing, falling to the water, is seeing the reality of what has happened with her awakening. She cannot return to her old life because doing so would be returning to the isolation of her cage, she cannot remain as a nonconformist because she would have to live in isolation from society, therefore she escapes from reality into the accepting ocean whose voice is still seductive, whispering and calling to her.
It is tragic to me that Edna had to choose suicide however, I don’t see Edna as a failure for what she did. I think that Edna was a woman who was ahead of her time, just as some have said Kate Chopin was ahead of hers. The ocean in this story also symbolized life for Edna. Tragically, Edna was not ever afforded the tools necessary to deal with her awakening. Edna was love starved due to her upbringing and her marriage, which made it impossible for her to live life as a lonely nonconformist as Madame Reisz had done. Edna was also born into a society where women were not aloud to be anything but mothers and wives, which are positions that Edna was intended for. At first, Edna feared the ocean and life as an individual, then she is awakened sexually, spiritually, creatively, and emotionally and throws herself into her discoveries, and she learns to swim in the ocean and the void in her life seems to be filled. However, Edna sees terror and death while swimming and begins to feel the terrors of isolation as she casts off her facade. Edna begins to struggle and fight life’s currents, getting caught within the tumult, she becomes exhausted with it all until she can no longer stay afloat.

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The Awakening

The Awakening The Awakening Kate Chopin’s The Awakening is a work of fiction that tells the story of Edna Pontellier, Southern wife and mother. This book presents the reader with many tough questions and few answers. It is not hard to imagine why this book was banished for decades not long after its initial publication in 1899. At that time in history, women did just what they were expected to do. They were expected to be good daughters, good wives, and good mothers.

A woman was expected to move from the protection of her father’s roof to the protection of her husband. Edna didn’t fit this mold, and that eventually leads her husband to send for a doctor. It is here that Edna Pontellier says words that define The Awakening, “I don’t want anything but my own way. That is wanting a good deal, of course, when you have to trample upon the lives, the hearts, the prejudices of others – but no matter..” As the book begins, Edna is a married woman who seems vaguely satisfied with her life. However, she cannot find true happiness. Her “awakening” begins when a persistent young man named Robert begins courting her. Edna begins to respond to him with a passion she hasn’t felt before.

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She begins to realize that she can play roles other than wife and mother. Throughout the book Edna takes many steps to increase her independence. She sends her children away, she refuses to stay at home on Tuesdays (as was the social convention of the time), she frequents races and parties. Unfortunately, her independence proves to be her downfall. Edna stays married because divorce was unheard of in those days. She wants to marry Robert, but he will not because it will disgrace her to leave her husband.

No matter how much Edna exceeds social boundaries, she is held down by the will of others, despite what she wants. In today’s world divorce, sadly, is almost commonplace, but in her time she would have been an outcast of her society. By the end of The Awakening, Edna feels like a possession – of her husband, of her children, and of her society. The only solution she sees is to end her life, which she does by swimming out into the sea until her strength gives out. This is a very symbolic death.

I feel the theme of The Awakening is deeper than the obvious themes of independence and women’s rights. The Awakening presents suicide as a valid solution to problems that do not offer many choices. Why do people commit suicide? Some common reasons are isolation and loneliness, disruption of one’s social life, and suicide for the common good. It’s easy to connect these with Edna’s life: the isolation of her small house, the disruption caused by Adele’s death, and the common good of the children. However, her suicide had nothing to do with any lack of personal freedom.

She was, for the most part, doing whatever she wanted and there were no signs that she intended to stop. Rather, it was the lack of good, healthy alternatives that led to her demise. Robert had left her in an attempt to protect her, himself, or possibly both. This left Edna to pursue a minor romance with Alcee Arobin. Or stay in a marriage that held no hope of fulfillment. Or she could pursue other third-rate affairs, while being discreet enough not to hurt her children.

None of these options satisfied her longing for the one who had “awakened” her. Edna chose suicide. The only shortcoming I found in The Awakening was its lack of dialogue. The book is filled with page after page of descriptive phrases, thoughts and actions. This doesn’t leave much to the imagination, and in spots, the book seems to drag. The merits of The Awakening far outweigh its few faults.

It tells a story of independence, freedom and will power unheard of during the times of its publication. It’s a stirring book that forces you to confront tough issues. It paints a picture of what goes through the mind of a person who loses hope. Like Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Chopin’s The Awakening tells us a story from the perspective of the oppressed. It is far more than another romance novel with a tragic ending. It is a book about the choices one will makes to protect one’s freedom, and Chopin wonderful job presenting them in The Awakening.

The Awakening

The Awakening
Throughout The Awakening, Kate Chopin conveys her ideas by using carefully crafted symbols that reflect her characters’ thoughts and futures. One of the most important of these symbols, the bird, appears constantly, interwoven in the story to provide an insight to the condition of Edna’s and her struggle. At each of the three stages of her struggle, birds foreshadow her actions and emphasize the actions’ importance while the birds’ physical state provides an accurate measure of that of Edna’s.
Early in the novel, while Edna attempts to escape from society’s strong grasp, birds emphasize her entanglement by forecasting her actions and monitor her development by reflecting her feelings. The novel opens with the image of a bird, trapped and unable to communicate: “a green and yellow parrot, which hung in the cage outside the door…could speak a little Spanish, and also a language that nobody understood” (1). Like the bird, Edna feels trapped and believes that society has imprisoned her. Her marriage to Mr. Pontellier suffocates her and keeps her from being free. At the same time, she remains shut apart from society like the bird in the cage, and different ideas and feelings prevent her from communicating. The only person in society that begins to understand her, Robert, eventually decides that he must remain a member of society instead of staying with her. He says that “you [Edna] were not free; you were Leonce Pontellier’s wife” and that “[Robert] was demented, dreaming of wild, impossible things…[such as] men who had set their wives free” (108). Robert does not want to do something wild and unacceptable to society. In a situation parallel to that of Edna’s, the only bird that understands the parrot is the mockingbird (Reisz) that “[is] whistling its fluty notes upon the breeze with maddening persistence” (1). Because the parrot continues to shriek, people move it away from their society: “[Mr. Farvial] insisted upon having the bird removed and consigned to regions of darkness” (23). Society wants to hide the bird in darkness, as it wants to do to Edna, in order to keep the bird from causing problems. The bird, like Edna, is the only one “who possessed sufficient candor” to tell the truth about society (23). Throughout Edna’s imprisonment, birds reflect her actions and feelings.

Once Edna begins to escape, however, the birds become important signs of her success in escaping and continue to foreshadow her actions. Upon hearing Mademoiselle Reisz play “Solitude”, Edna envisions a free bird for the first time.She imagines “a man standing beside a desolate rock…with hopeless resignation as he looked toward a distant bird winging its flight away from him” (25). The appearance of a free bird provides an important sign of Edna’s beginning freedom and success. Also, the bird leaves a hopeless and resigned man as Edna leaves Mr. Pontellier. While Edna relates her love story to Mr. Pontellier and Doctor Mendelet, she begins to show her feeling of freedom by using a rising bird.She speaks of two lovers who could feel “the beating of the birds’ wings, rising startled from among the reeds in the salt-water pools” (36). Like the bird, Edna begins to rise and break away from the chains of society. The bird’s strength symbolizes the fact that Edna is succeeding in escaping and progressing toward happiness. Later, when Mademoiselle Reisz tells Edna that “the bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings,” she uses birds to forecast Edna’s future and evaluate Edna’s strength (83). In order to soar like a bird, Edna must be strong, and Mademoiselle Reisz realizes that she is not.Reisz says, “it is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth” (83). Mademoiselle Reisz understands that Edna cannot fight society and uses birds to demonstrate this knowledge. Finally, Edna moves to what she calls her exhausted “pigeon house.” The name that Edna chooses for this house implies the defeat of a bird that, in turn, implies the defeat of Edna. During Edna’s escape, birds gauge her success and continue to mirror her actions.

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Later, when Edna realizes the hopelessness of her situation, birds act as clear indicators of Edna’s success in freeing herself and foreshadow her fate. Upon reaching the beach, Edna looks around and sees a sign of what is to become of her: “a bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water” (115). The bird is a final omen that reflects Mademoiselle Reisz’s words: “it is sad to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth” (83). Disabled and weakened because of its broken wing, it falls back to earth and suffers defeat. Edna soon does the same when she kills herself because she does not possess “the courageous soul that dares and defies” (116).
Though at times the symbol is over-used and obvious, birds plays the two important roles of foreshadowing Edna’s future and gauging her success. While in the beginning, they mirror her actions and depict her feelings, in the end, they show her failure in escaping from society.

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