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The Awakening Essay, Research Paper

?The Awakening?

In ?The Awakening? by Kate Chopin, the emotional state of the central character

is often shown to the reader through the employment of literary techniques.

Characterization helps draw parallels and contrasts between secondary characters and

Edna Pontellier. Symbolism is used in order to outline Edna?s progression as a character.

At the very beginning of the book, there is constant reference to a caged bird. This

can be considered to be a reference to the ?caged? life that Edna leads as a wife and

mother in the late 19th century. The bird is described as speaking a common language and

?also a language which nobody understood, unless it was the mocking-bird that hung on

the other side of the door…? This is a reference to the trouble Edna had in making people

understand what she felt about her life and her family, since her views differed from the

standard. The mockingbird next door could be either Robert or Mademoiselle Reisz, the

individuals who served as confidants to Edna. The bird metaphor continues throughout

the book. At one point, Mademoiselle Reisz checks Edna?s shoulder blades to see if her

?wings were strong….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.? Edna must be strong enough to survive her uprising

of sorts against traditional society. She would, however, rather be a wounded free bird

than remain caged. Another reference to birds is the name of Ednas temporary home, the

Pigeon House. Another important symbol is water. When Edna finally overcomes her

inability to swim, she feels free and empowered. She has difficulty realizing that she

cannot swim out as far as she would like to, i.e. she is not entirely self-dependent. It is

thus ironic that she ultimately frees herself completely by drowning. Her suicide is her

only option in order to not sacrifice herself. If she lived, she would have to give up her

soul, and just as importantly, her voice.

Characterization is important in ?The Awakening? because it shows important

contrasts between Edna and the array of characters that surround her. There are

constantly a pair of lovers surrounding her, always very self involved and obviously in

love. They serve to show her what her life, especially her marriage, is lacking. Mariequita

helps show Edna a carefree spirit she is lacking. Her reactions to these characters outline

her altering emotional state throughout the book. For example, her relief at her father?s

absence shows her feelings towards being abandoned by men. This is due to attachment

deprivation during childhood. Another example is the different references to the ?lady in

black? and Mademoiselle Reisz, who are perhaps the same character. At the beginning of

the story she is described as the ever present lady in black. This could show her feelings

of depression and death. When she is referred to as Mademoiselle Reisz, it is only when

Edna is in a positive state of mind. This occurs when she is being entertained by

Mademoiselle Reisz?s musical talents, and when she is visiting her to read Robert?s letters.

Also, Edna feels contrasting feelings of sympathy and jealousy towards Mariequita. She is

sympathetic when overcome with love and joy at being is Robert?s company (the section

on the boat), and is jealous when she is not in his presence (visiting the Lebrun


Characterization helps demonstrate Edna?s sharp mood swings and

manic-depressive tendencies. The reader begins to notice how her views towards certain

characters fluctuates seemingly inexplicably. The literary technique of symbolism shows

Ednas need to be free from the constraints of the life imposed upon her. She is a bird

seeking independence. Her freedom symbolically comes in the form of water.

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