The Transformation of Edna Pontellier in The Awakening Essay
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“She wanted something to happen- something, anything: she did not know what”
(Chopin). In Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening, the reader is introduced to Edna Pontellier, a passionate, rebellious woman. Throughout the novel, it becomes apparent how unsettled Edna feels about her life. The reader can identify this by her thoughts, desires, and actions, which are highly inappropriate for an affluent woman of the time. In the novel, Edna has an awakening and finds the courage to make the changes she sees necessary. Kate Chopin is able to make quality connections in order to symbolize her innermost desires. Chopin does this by providing references to the sea, and the birds, and then using them to foreshadow Edna’s end of life
decision.…show more content…
In The Awakening, Edna finds herself yearning for this type of freedom and independence. She desperately wants to be relinquished from her stagnant life of wife and motherhood. Kate Chopin chooses to represent
Edna’s desires through these symbolic birds. These solid references are scattered throughout the novel. They are first seen in chapter one, when Mr. Pontellier enters Madame Lebrun’s: “A green and yellow parrot, which hung in a cage outside the door” (Chopin) and, “…the mockingbird that hung on the other side of the door, whistling his fluty notes out upon the breeze with maddening persistence” (Chopin). These are, arguably, the two most significant pieces of symbolism in relationship to birds. This is because the parrot and mockingbird are in cages, representing the idea that Edna feels trapped by her current life. Also, the birds are squawking at
Mr. Pontellier, representing the voice Edna is unable to express for herself early on in the novel
(Shmoop Editorial Team). The next reference to birds appears when Mademoiselle Reisz says to
Edna: “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings” (Chopin). This is understood to mean that if Edna truly needs her freedom and independence to be happy, then she must be courageous enough to go against the norms of society (Shmoop Editorial Team).
Read an in-depth analysis of Edna Pontellier.
Read an in-depth analysis of Mademoiselle Reisz.
Read an in-depth analysis of Adèle Ratignolle.
Read an in-depth analysis of Robert Lebrun.
Alcée Arobin - The seductive, charming, and forthright Alcée Arobin is the Don Juan of the New Orleans Creole community. Arobin enjoys making conquests out of married women, and he becomes Edna’s lover while her husband is on a business trip to New York. Although Robert Lebrun is the man whom Edna truly loves, Arobin satisfies Edna’s physical urges while Robert is in Mexico. Throughout their passionate affair, Edna retains authority and never allows Alcée to own or control her.
Léonce Pontellier - Léonce Pontellier, a forty-year-old, wealthy New Orleans businessman, is Edna’s husband. Although he loves Edna and his sons, he spends little time with them because he is often away on business or with his friends. Very concerned with social appearances, Léonce wishes Edna to continue the practices expected of New Orleans women despite her obvious distaste for them. His relationship with Edna lacks passion and excitement, and he knows very little of his wife’s true feelings and emotions.
The Colonel - The Colonel, a former Confederate officer in the Civil War, is Edna’s father. He is a strict Protestant and believes that husbands should manage their wives with authority and coercion. While Edna’s relationship with her father is not affectionate, she is surprised by how well she gets along with her father when they are together.
Victor Lebrun - Victor Lebrun is Robert’s wayward younger brother. He spends his time chasing women and refuses to settle down into a profession.
Madame Lebrun - Madame Lebrun is the widowed mother of Victor and Robert. She owns and manages the cottages on Grand Isle where the novel’s characters spend their summer vacations.
The Lady in Black - The lady in black is a vacationer at the Lebrun cottages on Grand Isle. She embodies the patient, resigned solitude that convention expects of a woman whose husband has died, but her solitude does not speak to any sort of independence or strength. Rather, it owes to a self-effacing withdrawal from life and passion out of utter respect for her husband’s death. Throughout the novel, the lady in black remains silent, which contributes to her lack of individuality and to her role within the text as the symbol of the socially acceptable husbandless woman.
The Two Lovers - The two lovers are vacationers at the Lebrun cottages on Grand Isle. They represent the form of young love accepted by society. Always appearing in conjunction with the lady in black, the lovers represent the stage of a woman’s life that precedes her maternal duties.
The Farival Twins - The Farival twins are fourteen-year-old girls who vacation at Grand Isle with their family and who frequently entertain their fellow guests by playing the piano. They represent the destiny of adolescent Victorian girls: chaste motherhood. Having been dedicated to the Virgin Mary at birth, they wear her colors at all times. Moreover, they embody society’s expectations of the way women should use art—as a way of making themselves more delightful to others, rather than as a means of self-expression.
Mrs. Highcamp - A tall, worldly woman in her forties, Mrs. Highcamp spends time with many of the fashionable single men of New Orleans under the pretext of finding a husband for her daughter. Alcée Arobin is one of these young men, and the two call on Edna to attend the races and to accompany them to dinner—meetings that catalyze the affair between Edna and Arobin.
Janet and Margaret - Janet is Edna’s younger sister. Edna was never close to her and she refuses to attend her wedding. Margaret is Edna and Janet’s older sister. After their mother died, Margaret took over the role of mother figure for her younger sisters.
Mariequita - A young, pretty Spanish girl, Mariequita is a mischievous flirt who lives on Grand Isle. She seems to fancy both Robert and Victor Lebrun and, along with Adèle, is the picture of the self-demeaning coquetry that Edna avoids.
Madame Antoine - When Edna feels faint at the Sunday service on the island of Chênière Caminada, she and Robert go to Madame Antoine’s for the day. A friendly inhabitant of the island, Madame Antoine takes them in and cares for Edna, to whom she tells stories of her life.
Mr. and Mrs. Merriman, Miss Mayblunt, & Mr. Gouvernail - Some of the guests present at the dinner party Edna holds to celebrate her move to the “pigeon house.”
Etienne & Raoul Pontellier - Etienne and Raoul are Edna and Léonce’s two sons. They are four and five years old, respectively.