Sunday, January 8, 2012

Kate Chopin's "THE AWAKENING"

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Kate Chopin’s The Awakening is considered to be one of the earliest feminist novels, acting as major influence for female writers of the nineteenth century. The novel chronicles Edna Pontellier’s quest for independence and self-discovery. The story begins in Grand Isle, the Louisiana resort community where Edna realizes her longing for independence and her dissimilarity and isolation from the Creoles residing at Grand Isle for the summer. While listening to Adele’s piano playing, Edna envisions the following “…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.” This image is very powerful and symbolic, for there are similarities between Edna’s awakening and isolation and the forlorn man standing near the ocean they are both experiencing a rebirth or awakening.


A major similarity between Edna and the man by the sea is that they are both experiencing a rebirth or an awakening. Chopin hints to Edna’s rebirth throughout the early chapters of the novel with phrases such as, “Mrs. Pontellier 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.” When discussing Edna’s awakening, Chopin often makes references to the sea, a recurring motif in the story that is symbolic of baptism or rebirth. The fact that the man is standing by the ocean suggests that he too is undergoing a major change or rebirth. The man’s nudity is also symbolic; it is almost as if the ocean is the womb he is emerging from, re-born and naked like an infant entering its new life. The bird’s flight is also symbolic, for it suggests a release of the man’s former beliefs and way of life. This release can also be associated with Edna’s longing to let go of her life as a mother and become an independent woman. Although not stated, it is clear that the man by the sea, like Edna, is also undergoing a major change. Their shared awakening is a clear similarity between the two characters.


Another parallel between Edna and the man she envisions is the fact that they appear to be outsiders. Edna is the only non-Creole at Grand Isle. Although she has friends there, she is very different from the group and holds a different set of morals and values; she is an outsider amongst the Creoles. This is clearly shown when Adele says, “ She is not one of us; she is not like us. She might make the unfortunate blunder of taking you seriously.” The man on the beach is standing alone implying that he is also an outsider. It is important to note that Edna calls the piano piece “Solitude”, for this leads the reader to believe that the man is isolated and alone. Edna is also alone, not only because she isn’t a Creole but because she is on a quest for freedom, a quest to break free from life as a mere mother and wife, a quest for her individuality. There is clearly a correlation between Edna’s sense of loneliness and the man standing by the ocean.


The naked man incorporates the important motif of the sea, which is found throughout the novel. Kate Chopin illustrates an important connection between the nude man by the ocean and the main character of Edna. The two characters share the experience of an emotional awakening and a sense of solitude.


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