Clothing and Nudity in "The Awakening"

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  • Topic: Dress, Clothing terminology, Gown
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Clothing and Nudity in "The Awakening"

One of the symbols of "The Awakening" is clothing and the lack thereof. The constriction of late nineteenth century clothing for women and the binding expectations of their feelings and actions parallel each other. When we first meet Edna, she is wearing the typical attire as is seen when she is "drawing up her lawn sleeves above the wrist" (4). The other women on the island we meet also exhibit similar propriety, "she [Madame Lebrun] was a fresh, pretty woman, clad always in white with elbow sleeves. Her starched skirts crinkled as she came and went" (3-4). When Edna and Madame Ratignolle walk out to the beach together, we get an even better idea of the clothing worn by each, "She [Edna] wore a cool muslin...white...also a white linen collar and the big straw hat which she had taken from the peg outside the door. Madame Ratignolle, more careful of her complexion, had twined a gauze veil over head. She wore dogskin gloves, with gauntlets that protected her wrists. She was dressed in pure white, with a fluffiness of ruffles that became her" (15).

The first sign that Edna is becoming comfortable with herself, and beginning to ‘loosen' the constrictions is when she asks Robert to retrieve her shawl. "When he returned with the shawl she took it and kept it in her hand. She did not put it around her" (30). Then after her outing with Robert, when she is feeling more free, she arrives late at dinner and "had dressed in some haste, and her face was flush. Her head set off by her dainty white gown, suggested a rich, rare blossom" (39). The same evening, she is called by Madame Lebrun to see Robert off. She continues to show her easing inhibitions as compared to what is expected when she "started to dress again, and got as far advanced as to remove her peignoir. But changing her mind once more she resumed the peignoir, and went outside and sat down before her door" (42).

After Edna returns home to New...
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