Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

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Laura Amy Schlitz

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Symbol 2: The Awakening

The Awakening

Kate Chopin, 1899
Famous for: A free-thinking leading lady who refused to be caged by society's expectations. A beginning and an ending at the ocean.

Sea as symbol in The Awakening by Kate ChopinThe Awakening begins at the sea and ends at the sea. It’s the place of Edna Pontellier’s awakening. The place where she discovers her identity, finds out who she is and what she wants from this life.

And it’s the place to which Edna returns once she’s unable to reconcile her desires with society’s expectations. Society seeks to bury her identity; perhaps the sea can protect it. She found her identity at the sea, after all.

Call Edna crazy. Just be sure to call the sea a symbol.

Gated by Amy Christine Parker | looking for escape like Edna in The Awakening

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Gated by Amy Christine Parker

If Kate Chopin had been a hack, she might have called her novel, The Rebirth.

Instead, she came up with the melodious The Awakening and created a symbol to represent (and reinforce) the main character’s rebirth.

The summer that Edna falls in love with Robert and begins to embrace a more expansive version of her identity, is also the summer she learns to swim in the ocean off Grand Isle. The ocean seems to connect her with something primitive—some part of herself that she didn’t know existed.

And that’s why, in The Awakening, the sea is a symbol of rebirth.

Now, Chopin clues you into this symbolism even before Edna’s swimming success. Just think of the words she uses to describe the sea at the beginning of Chapter Six:

“The touch of the sea is sensuous,” she wrote, “enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.”

So the sea is womb-like. It’s feminine and mothering. And it’s not coincidental, then, that Edna’s ability to swim emerges just as she’s being symbolically reborn. The sea awakens something in her, and baptizes her—like a newborn child—in her newfound identity.

Even in the end, when the ocean takes Edna’s life, you get the feeling that Edna is losing herself in a sea of possibility. Though it’s up to you whether that sea is a great void, or a space pregnant with infinite potential.


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