Despair In Chopin's The Awakening

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As both the United States and the world rapidly developed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, society evolved at a pace previously unimaginable. Electricity illuminated modern urban areas, cars began to dominate the streets, and families began to travel to movie theaters for a unique motion-picture experience. Yet, while the world was changing by the minute, some components of society were not reflective of societal revolution. Specifically, it was during the late 19th century that the conversation for women’s suffrage was even addressed for the first time, following the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. It would be an extensive and arduous 72 years until women were ultimately given the right to vote, officially delineating women…show more content…
Specifically, a person is defined by a sense of despair if one loses hope in their ability to exist (Copleston 30). Within the novel, Edna’s angst and frustration evolve into dread and despair as she realizes that she is unable to live in a manner that she pleases. Further, Chopin uses the ocean as a symbol to represent the pinnacle of Edna’s dread by altering the sea’s typical symbolic value from cleansing to death. For instance, at the start of the novel, Edna is ecstatic to go to the beach, seeing the opportunity to swim as cleansing. Chopin writes: “The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace” (Chopin 25). However, Edna’s excitement concerning the ocean soon turns to dread, beginning with when she experiences “ a certain ungovernable dread” and “a quick vision of death” while swimming, leaving her paralyzed in fear for a moment (Chopin 47- 48). Ultimately, Edna returns to the sea one final time at the end of the novel, overcome with a sense of despair as a result of her societal duress. Again, Chopin writes: “The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace” (Chopin 189). Though the description is the exact same, the connotation of the sea from Edna’s perspective has completely shifted. Specifically, the sea represents an end to the despair that has plagued Edna throughout the novel. Whereas as the beginning of the novel the ocean represented cleansing and excitement, Edna now views the sea as her only escape from her limited form in society. Thus, through an existential lens, the symbolic meaning of the sea changes throughout the story as Edna realizes her inability to overcome contemporary definitions of feminism and is forced to seek closure to her despair by turning to the sea one last
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