awakening essay

Words: 1475
Pages: 6

“Kate Chopin uses powerful and significant symbolism in The Awakening to depict the feminist idea involving women’s longing for sexual and personal emancipation through the development of the main character, Edna Pontellier”1 Explore the relevance of this statement to Edna’s Awakening and show how your reading of the yellow wallpaper illuminates this understanding.
The Victorian era was an age of confinement for women in their rights and their social lives, but it was perhaps the beginning of the end of this idea that women were the ‘property’ of men; more feminist ideas were entering society and Kate Chopin in The Awakening uses powerful symbols to demonstrate this idea through the character Edna Pontellier, and the way she discovers her right to sexual, personal and social freedom. This is also displayed in The Yellow Wallpaper, in which Charlotte Perkins Gillman shows how The Narrator discovers her creative personality which is being suppressed by her husband John.
Throughout the novel, avian imagery and symbolism is used through caged birds, symbolising Edna’s struggle for freedom, and her entrapment under not only Leonce but under the creole society and its restrictions and conformities. The fact that the second house she uses is called the ‘pigeon house’ is significant; as she escapes from her duty as a wife and a mother from the main house and is able to experience life on her own, but whilst also still being confined to one space, like a pigeon locked up, meaning that whilst Edna can experience freedom to an extent, it is still under the stronghold of her husband and the restrictions and conformities that comes with it. While Edna views her new home as a sign of her independence, the pigeon house represents her inability to remove herself from her former life, as her move takes her just “two steps away.” Mademoiselle Reisz instructs Edna that she must have strong wings in order to survive the difficulties she will face if she plans to act on her love for Robert. She warns: “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.”(83). he use of the verb "soar" implies that most women (indeed, most people) never do "soar" in their lives; they never go over and above what is expected of them or what conventional roles dictate. We also see at the end of the novel, when Edna is walking into the ocean, ‘a bird with a broken wing was beating the air above’ (722) this represents Edna’s inability to ‘fly’; it foreshadows her inevitable ending in which she would never be able to break free and have freedom, resulting in her killing herself.
The relevance of Art and Music becomes apparent throughout the novel, in the fact that it can be seen as an outlet for Edna’s creativity but also as a symbol for her freedom. Edna’s role as an artist is not clear; she is neither a recreational artist like Madame Ratignolle, whose music is another element of domesticity, nor a serious artist like Mademoiselle Reisz. Through Edna’s process of trying to become an artist, she is able to express herself and acquire a sense of economic independence away from her husband. However, art also becomes a symbol of failure; Mademoiselle Reisz says art is a test of individuality. Edna ‘saw no pictures of solitude’ (66); Edna fails because she is finally unable to defend her individuality against society’s rules.
The difference Edna detects between the piano-playing of Mademoiselle Reisz and Adele Ratignolle seems also to challenge Edna’s emotional growth. She reaches a point in her awakening in which she is able to hear what a piece of music says to her, rather than passively creating random pictures to occupy the sounds. Therefore, music, or Edna’s changing reactions to it, also serves to help the reader locate Edna in her awakening phases. In The Yellow Wallpaper, John curbs The narrators creativity and writing, the