Symbolism In Kate Chopin's 'The Awakening'

1171 Words5 Pages
Keir Nason
AP English Literature and Composition
Mrs. Schroeder
January 3, 2018

Politics and literature are far from strange bedfellows. Social commentary and allegory have been tools in the literary toolbox since Ancient Greece, with Plato’s Allegory of The Cave being one of the earliest forms of the device. Science fiction is an entire genre that, at least to a degree, is based upon the premise of looking at the problems of today through the eyes of tomorrow. Oftentime, authors seek to tackle the issues of their time within their writing, and Kate Chopin was no different when she published her final work The Awakening in 1899. At the time of The Awakening’s release, many works strived to address the rights of women, with the Suffragette
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The ocean, and by extension swimming, serve to symbolize liberation and the pursuit of that thereof. Edna grew up as a respectable woman in Kentucky, a landlocked state with no land connection to the ocean. After settling into marriage with Léonce Pontellier, she moves out to coastal Louisiana and spends summers out in Grand Isle, surrounded by ocean. Grand Isle is where Edna meets Robert, and where she experiences her awakening. While there, Edna begins learning to swim, and as she learns to control the water she in turn discovers that she has agency over her own body. When she comes back from the island, this new outlook on life clashes with her husband’s old world values, and he endeavors to stop what he sees as utter madness. At one point, a family doctor recommends to Léonce that Edna spend time at her ancestral home, far away from the water, to return her behavior to what he knows as normal. Edna expresses a dislike of and actively avoids certain parts of society, but cannot fully separate herself from the motherly duties forced onto her by traditional gender roles, unlike her muse Mademoiselle Reisz. These duties, ultimately, prove to be the fetters that cause Edna to sink downward, and lead her to end her life in the same ocean where it truly…show more content…
Her frequent vacations to the island, like her frequent dips into the ocean, begin to spark a personal change within the woman. A Creole man, Robert, shows Edna a new dimension of feelings she never knew she lived without, and she begins to look through life through a new lens. Having been awakened for the first time, she sees injustice and mistreatment where she saw none before. Chopin uses Edna’s new observations and reactions to the culture around her to illustrate the myriad ways women were marginalized. In an ironic twist, the white woman from Kentucky proves to be more liberated than her more traditional husband, who grew up
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