Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening, is a very artistic and musical work. The novel is filled with references to music and art. In the very first chapter, the Farival twins are playing a duet on the piano. The Ratignolles regularly host musical soirées. Mademoiselle Reisz is a gifted pianist, who often plays for Edna. Edna enjoys music and takes to sketching and painting. Music stimulates her passions. Art provides her with fulfillment and liberation. Her painting, in particular, functions as a symbol of Edna’s fashioning and designing her own life.
As Edna awakens to her selfhood, she begins to carve her own destiny amidst the stifling Victorian society. Similarly, as she awakens to art, she begins to create her own distinct style. Her paintings on the canvas represent her strokes of individuality. Edna discovers her personal voice as she finds her artistic voice. Art symbolizes Edna’s self-expression. Art presents an alternative to domesticity. Throughout the novel, Edna’s progression as an artist is chronicled. She begins as a dabbling imitator and progresses to an aspiring artist. However, Edna’s career as an artist comes to end when her life is engulfed by the sea. By comparing Edna to the novel’s two other artists, the reasons for Edna’s fatal decision can be evaluated.
Initially, Edna is only an amateur, not an artist. She brought her sketching materials to Grand Isle. She “dabbled” with sketching, “in an unprofessional way” (Chopin 543). Her handling and control of her brushes manifested “natural aptitude” not a “long and close acquaintance with them” (Chopin 543). She does not yet take her art seriously; it is merely a means of pleasure. As Edna begins, her art is restricted only to imitation (Dyer 89). She wishes to sketch Madame Ratignolle. However, the resulting sketch “bore no resemblance to Madame Ratignolle” (Chopin 543). Her imitation is poor, though it demonstrated talent. Furthermore, Edna does not find pleasure or satisfaction in her work. She smudges paint across her work and crumples the paper.
Edna’s artistic skill parallels her assertion of her selfhood. Edna has not yet been awakened to her individuality. All she can do is to imitate, albeit poorly. Again, Madame Ratignolle presents the inspiration. Adèle Ratignolle is the “embodiment of every womanly grace and charm” (Chopin 540). Her life is devoted to her husband and her children. Every moment of her life is spent in consideration of them. She is already sewing winter wear for her children even in the summer. Madame Ratignolle was among those women who “idolized their children [and] worshipped their husbands” (Chopin 540). On the other hand, Edna is not a “mother-woman” (Chopin 540). She knows her society expected her to be one, but she cannot. Her husband often “reproached” her for her “inattention” and “habitual neglect of the children” (Chopin 538). It was a “mother’s place to look after children” (Chopin 538). Edna cries when her husband reproaches her, though...