Title: The Role Of The Sea In The Awakening By Kate Chopin
Author: Rich Christie <RichChristie@ChristieComputer.com>
The sea is an important element in The Awakening by Kate Chopin. The story is rich in description and detail and uses metaphoric symbols and foreshadowing. The author leads the reader through a progressive and evolving story about a woman who is on a quest for personal satisfaction and fulfillment. By including the sea in this setting, Chopin was able to illustrate the engulfing and infinite emotions that flow deep within Edna Pontellier.
The story takes place on an island resort near New Orleans, which itself is surrounded by the sea. The significance of this is that it provides the reader with a visual image of an abstract and metaphoric symbol of the temptation that Edna finally gave into, but also to show that she is surrounded by the sea with no where else to go. She could no longer hide, and the only place she has to run is into the sea. However, the only thing she is running from is herself and her own temptations.
Edna's closest male friend Robert, who later becomes a love interest of hers, is perhaps one of her more prevalent temptations. Not only is she married with children, but he is also younger than her and is the son of Madame Lebrun and is only staying for the summer "as he always did" (470). Despite these conditions, Edna still fell victim to the charms of the forbidden fruit. Knowing that she could not swim well, she insisted on swimming beyond her abilities anyway and thus giving her a near death experience; a taste of death. The thrill of danger entices her, which is shown throughout the story as she begins to become more independent.
Edna is unlike any of the other characters. She is continually developing and growing, evolving and progressing. She is attracted to what is forbidden and begins her quest for personal satisfaction regardless any consequences that she may face. She is different from the rest of the women, which makes her feel alienated; 'like a fish out of water'. Her fantasies ride upon the shoulders of sexual and physical gratification, and not on pleasing her husband or being a good mother. She is virtually powerless to any kind of seduction. Temptation of things forbidden is always on Edna's mind.
The sea is significant throughout the entire story, and by the end it symbolizes her liberation but also her isolation where she felt the most comfortable, which is in her own introverted world. This is supported by the quote that "Even as a child she had lived her own small life all within herself" (477).
Since it was the means of her death, the sea could also be looked at as "punishment" for her sinful nature. It seemed as though Edna views the sea as both pleasure and pain, life and death. It is her escape to herself and away from herself, and is the answer to her problems of not being able to fill the role she was given or being able to find the satisfaction that she yearned for. This is supported by the intense imagery of the sea and it's metaphorical value because it shows that Edna felt helpless and did not belong where she was at and her only solution was suicide.
The sea is a continuing reference point to infinite temptation, passion, and forbiddance. The danger of it's massive flowing body, the long stretch of it's waves reaching out for someone to seduce, and the way that it surrounds a body whole and complete taunted Edna with the satisfaction she had always searched for. Giving herself to the sea was her last venture into the world of passion, as it slowly seduced her and silently killed her; carrying her off to eternal sleep with it's "soft, close embrace" (558). Whether she wanted to silence the voice of temptation or just escape the world she lived in that caused her so much confusion and guilt, her last encounter with the sea provided her with a sense of security and satisfaction that no man could provide her.
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