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Birds as a theme in the awakening

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 830 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Birds As A Theme In The Awakening

The Awakening by Kate Chopin is a fictional narrative that describes the physical and psychological awakening of the protagonist Edna Pontellier. Written and published at the close of the nineteenth century, The Awakening became both a controversial and defining work for its time and author. The only novel written by Chopin explores the Victorian female psyche using a variety of themes and narrative devices. One way Chopin guides the reader is through the use of symbols, for example the sea, music, and birds, with birds being perhaps the most compelling and strongest of the themes as they seem to be the most frequently referenced.

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From the very start of The Awakening the reader is subjected to the symbolism of the bird with a talking parrot and a mockingbird. The contrast represented by the two birds can be viewed as a representation of Edna and the world outside. The parrot resides in a gilded cage, everything is provided for the parrot and yet the parrot is dissatisfied with its surroundings, voicing itself and demanding that all “go away” (1). The parrot is also a creature which mindlessly mimics the beings around it, an action also done by Edna out of pure societal conditioning. The appearance of the mockingbird perhaps represents the freedom which Edna is awakening to and the freedom that some already posses. Chopin could have chosen any bird to illustrate the outside world, but with the choice of the mockingbird one can conclude that those who hold the freedom are in a fashion mocking Edna’s imprisonment.

Through the progression of the novel the descriptive words chosen, whether subtle or overt, by Chopin also employ the symbolism of the bird. In Chapter four, Chopin describes the “mother-woman” as “fluttering about with extended, protecting wings” (10) and further in the novel after Edna pays a visit to Mademoiselle Reisz, Edna explains to Alcée Arobin that upon her departure Mlle Reisz “felt my shoulder blades, to see if my wings were strong” (111). While the references to birds are relatively clear in the previous sentences, other examples of the bird imagery are perhaps more subtle and open to interpretation. The second chapter of The Awakening opens with a physical description of Edna and Chopin’s choice of words guide the reader into picturing a bird, one that has eyes of a “yellowish brown” color and one who’s eyes will turn “swiftly upon an object” (4). With Chopin’s choice in words and descriptive phrases throughout her novel the reader is less inclined to depart from the bird imagery.

By chapter twenty seven, Edna has made the drastic decision to abandon her husband’s home and move into what has been dubbed the “pigeon house.” The pigeon house is a small four room home that is located just around the corner from her husband’s house, and in some respects serves to ensconce Edna in a new prison. In calling Edna’s new home the pigeon house there is a subtle indication that while Edna has gained some independence by moving out of her husband’s home, she has only found herself in a newer, smaller cage. This assumption is ambiguous at best, Chopin may very well have meant the exact opposite, taking into consideration that pigeons are more frequently, even when bound by a master, allowed to fly free.

“A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water” an ominous sentence within the last chapter foretelling of Edna’s fate. One can safely fall under the assumption that the bird referenced in this sentence is the novels protagonist, with a “broken wing” descending “down to the water” as Edna has done throughout her awakening. The visualization of a broken bird appears to fit with Edna’s current situation and the final decent she is about to make. Edna’s final awakenings of herself psychologically drive her to, and perhaps over, the edge. While she is distressed at being, essentially, rejected by the man she currently loves she realizes that her infatuation is only temporary. Through the course of the book Edna has become, like the bird, broken by her awakenings, seemingly unable to find a way to break free from the constraints and boundaries that have been placed upon her by both society and her own mental state or ignorance. Edna left her gilded cage and just as if one were to release a domesticated bird into the wild, unprepared, Edna floundered unable to survive.

In using the bird as a theme in The Awakening, of freedom from constraint, Chopin was able to illustrate the Victorian female psyche as both delicate to the world around itself and yet still capable of independent flight. Whether or not Chopin intended the reader to


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