Symbols/Motifs in The Awakening
▪ Art becomes a symbol of both freedom and failure.
▪ A major part of Edna’s initial awakening is her decision to take up painting again, and it is partly through the income from the sale of some of her paintings that she is able to abandon her husband’s home and establish her own. ▪ At the same time, however, there are suggestions that Edna’s art is somehow flawed. When she tries to make a sketch of Madame Ratignolle, we are told that the sketch is very good in some respects, but not a good likeness. ▪ Mademoiselle Reisz often cautions Edna about what it takes to be an artist—the “courageous soul” and the “strong wings”
▪ Birds are a major symbol from the first sentence of the novel to the final image. ▪ The mockingbird and parrot at the beginning of the book symbolize various attempts to communicate. Both birds, however, are best known for their imitation of others rather than their own voice. ▪ The parrot is screeching “Get out! Get out!” which could easily foreshadow Edna’s desire to leave the confines of her middle-class life. ▪ The fact that both birds are caged clearly indicates a feeling of entrapment. The ability to spread wings and fly is a symbolic theme that occurs often in the novel. ▪ Mademoiselle Reisz cautions Edna on the need for the “artist,” someone who would challenge social conventions, to have “strong wings.” ▪ While listening to Mademoiselle Reisz play the piano immediately prior to finally learning how to swim, Edna has a daydream of a naked man standing on a beach watching a bird fly away from him, possibly indicating her awakening desire to fly away (like the bird) from her husband (symbolized by the naked man). ▪ One of the last things Edna sees before she drowns herself, however, is a broken-winged bird attempting to fly, but falling instead into the sea. This most likely indicates her own failure to fully free herself.
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