Kate Chopin wrote a short novel named “The Awakening” in the 20th century, as being one of the first feminist authors that started writing at that time. Her ability as a writer was to raise life from a blank page. Even a later famous novelist, Willa Cather, was impressed by Chopin’s style in the novel “The Awakening”.
In this essay, I intend to illustrate Kate Chopin’s approach to the symbol of birds throughout the novel. Birds don’t only signify the freedom of flight but also the perspective, the vision and the individuality. Birds represent the soul of humans, which have reached the perfection. Birds acquire a greater wisdom and knowledge than that of humans. Birds have many abilities such as walking on earth, floating on the water and ascending into the air.
The main character is Edna Pontellier, who wishes to spread her wings and seek individuality. She resembles a bird. Through the symbols of birds, we see Edna’s emotions and the choices she took, good or bad, in her journey of self-discovery. Edna at first is seen as a beautiful parrot locked in the cage but in the end, the image transforms into a disabled bird that flies freely.
In literature, the mockingbird symbolizes innocence, purity, honesty, which I see in Edna’s accomplishing the duty which her mother and wife roles assume. By making a parallel between Edna and the mockingbird, I’d like to point out that the author wanted us to see Edna’s changing, from the honest, innocent woman who is taking care of her family in the first part of the story, to the woman who loses interest in her mother and wife roles in the second part. Not only that her awakening takes a sexual connotation, but also a quest for creativity, which allowed her to try painting.
Mademoiselle Reisz is an example for Edna, as she inspired her with her music and her words, that’s why Edna listens to her advice. Mademoiselle Reisz sees through Edna’s heart desires, which is to fly away from everything around her. Mademoiselle Reisz encouraged Edna to defy society’s expectations and roles and to act as a bird – she’s even checking Edna’s “wings” in a hug to see if they “were strong”.
After Mr. Pontellier, her husband, leaves home to go on a business trip, Edna makes a drastic decision, as she was feeling not an individual but only a property person, to abandon him and their home and move into the “pigeon house”.
The pigeon house is a small house with four rooms, which is around to the old house, her husband’s house. Pigeons symbolize not just determination but also the ability to overcome all the obstacles that appear in a person’s path. Pigeons are bound to the symbol of house and home, and because of that she took her home “independence” in the same area she lived with her family.
Edna achieves individuality through the separation from her husband and her family, together with having an affair with another man. She chooses to be free rather than a prisoner in her marriage. The link between Edna and the pigeons is that both have a tendency of being rebellious.
In the end, Chopin represents Edna’s failure to escape the society, using a bird ” with a broken wing” which is falling “down to the water.” The only way Edna could free herself from the ideals of the society was to end her life. So, she swims into the Gulf until she’s tired and dies.
In conclusion, at the end of the novel, we remain with a big question which is if Edna’s suicide might be a cowardly surrender or a liberating triumph for her.
In my opinion, Edna is a weak character, with not much strength in living and pursuing her dreams, so she cowardly surrenders. Throughout the book, Edna tried to find a way to free herself from constraints and limitations that have been put by society and its mental state or ignorance, but she was unable to do that. Thereby, she decides to fly away wherever she’d want, like a bird; but this led her to her suicide in the end.