Symbols and Settings in The Awakening and White Oleander
Kate Chopin’s classic The Awakening and Janet Fitch’s modern tale of White Oleander, though set many years apart, share some of the same elements of fiction. Each possesses several key settings that are both recurring and prominent places in the stories. Much of the story takes place within these settings, making it easy for the audience to pick up on their distinction. Both stories also contain numerous symbols that help to convey the themes to the audience. These particular symbols are not subtle parts of the story and each play a central part of the piece.
Throughout all of The Awakening Edna Pontellier experiences a gradual development of independence and a sense of herself. One element that helps her form her self-sufficiency is her homes. Most notably is the hideaway that she and Robert seek refuge in which belongs to Madame Antoine. This shelter symbolizes not a home, but a temporary harbor away from the responsibilities of her husband and family with her lover. The illicit time she and Robert spend together on the Chênière Caminada is based on feelings of lust; “his face was suffused with a quiet glow when he met her,” (Chopin 44). Throughout the whole novel, Edna never has a defined “home”, and it seems that her homes are more of a prison.
The ocean setting also plays an integral part of Edna’s awakening in that her first and final awakenings occur in the sea. The “voice of the sea speaks to the soul,” and to Edna, that voice was crying individualism (Chopin 18). Edna’s indecisiveness about her relationships is what causes her ultimately to surrender to the sea. She allows the vast, powerful ocean with its “seductive, never-ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring” voice to overcome her and her troubles.
Edna only goes through the motions of being a wife and mother. By never allowing anyone to truly grow close to her, she gives her life to her family but not her actual self. She actually feels relief when they are not around. “A radiant peace settled upon her when she at last finds herself alone,” which further exemplifies the fact that she resents the duties expected of her by religion and Creole society (Chopin 97). She does not enjoy the job of having to take care of her husband, but does, however, begin to miss taking care of her boys. This is evident after a visit to Iberville when she returns home and “glad to see the children,” (Chopin 127). It is when she feels their “little arms clasping her” and sees their “hungry eyes that could not be satisfied with looking” that she realizes that her marriage is not just about her own selfish happiness (Chopin 127). She realizes what an effect her infidelity could have on her boys and the whole way home “their prescience lingered with her like the memory of a delicious song,” (Chopin 128).
Birds are a recurring symbol in The Awakening as well. Mademoiselle Reisz refers to them when she makes the unusual statement: “The birds that would soar above the level of pain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth,” (Chopin 112). This statement could refer to Edna herself, in that she is attempting to rise above the rumors and society’s expectations. She does not always succeed, sometimes giving in to her worldly affections for Robert, bruising her heart and making her weak. Birds are also seen in Edna’s final scene at the sea. It is appropriate that “a bird with a broken wing is beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water,” (Chopin 156). Edna in this case is the bird, who has finally succumbed to her weaknesses and is letting “exhaustion press on her and overpower her,” into the deep and powerful sea. (Chopin 156).
The element of music plays an important part of White Oleander. It functions not only as a symbol of Astrid’s changing...
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