Ecocriticism in The Awakening
Nature in The Awakening was used symbolically to represent the freedom to break free from the traditional placement of women during the nineteenth century. Although The Awakening is not typically applauded for its emphasis on “nature writing”, the direct correlation between the environment and the main character’s (Edna) choice to break free from society’s tendency to categorize women as sinners or saints. Using The Awakening and Glotfelty’s definition of ecocriticism, it will be shown that the environment plays a major part in the theme of the novel. In order to fully grasp the environmental connection between what is usually determined as a “gender” novel, because of the character’s fight for an alternative path for women, it must be realized how Kate Chopin addresses nature as an alternative escape from “good or evil.” According to Glotfelty, ecocriticism “shares the fundamental premise that human culture is connected to the physical world, affecting it and affected by it” (Glotfelty). The first connection between the physical world and The Awakening would be the fact that Edna is on an island. The island represents her physical body and mind stuck in one place. The island is described as, “a breeze blowing, choppy stiff wind that whipped water into froth. It fluttered the skirts of the two women (Edna and her friend) and kept them for a while engaged in adjusting, readjusting, tucking in, securing hair pins and hat pins” (Chopin p. 16). The importance of this description is that it shows the wind and water trying to distract the women from their traditional focus of “womanly concerns”. The women are so concerned with being viewed as saints that they ignore nature when it tries hard to persuade them to pay attention, to break free of society’s hold and walk into the ocean, to accept freedom outside of traditional categories. Edna later says to her friend about the ocean, “first of all, the sight of the water stretching so far...
Glotfelty, Cheryl and Harold Fromm, Eds. The Ecocriticism Reader. Athens: U of GAP, 1996. Print.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1994. Print.
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