Imagery and Symbolism in “The Awakening”, Book Review Example

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Book Review

In Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening,” the author describes the emotional changes and development of the main character, Edna, as she begins to feel overly constricted by the rules and regulations of the Creole society and the family life in which she lives. As Edna progresses from seeming content, if not actually happy, with her life as a wife and mother, the author uses several symbols and images to help inform the reader about the shifting emotional states of the main character.

The most obvious and dominant use of symbolism and imagery in “The Awakening” is in how Chopin makes reference to water, and to the ocean in particular. The ocean represents, in a way, the depth of Edna’s emotions, as well as both the danger and the excitement that these growing emotions represent. Early in the book Edna almost drowns after swimming too far out in the ocean, showing the reader that she is a woman teetering on the edge of excitement and doom. Edna feels a great, deep sadness and sense of discomfort with herself and her life as a wife and mother, and this is, in a sense, reflected by the vastness of the waters that surround her both literally and figuratively.

Edna finds some solace and peace in art, both in the way she enjoys sketching and in her love of music. This is a clear use of symbolism, as Edna sees in the enjoyment of art a means of self-expression that she does not find elsewhere. This is both literal and figurative, as Chopin is using this as a means of showing how Edna wishes she could freely express her love for Robert.

The ultimate irony of the title “The Awakening” is that the story ends with the death of the main character. As her emotional awakening progresses, Edna begins to believe that she could actually leave her husband and be with Robert. When the realization finally hits her that this can never happen, and that she is trapped by social convention and her family in a life she cannot tolerate, she decides to end her life by giving herself over to the sea. In the end, the sea represented her developing emotional state and the finality of her “awakening.”

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