The Symbolic Role of Birds in Kate Chopin's The Awakening
The Awakening by Kate Chopin is a truly enlightening novel about a young woman who begins to really live her life for herself, breaking out of the various barriers of society and family. Chopin uses symbolism as an excellent tool to slip her ideas to readers, causing them to think, giving readers a glimpse into the life of this young woman at a time when women were harnessed by many restraints. The birds that appear throughout the novel are the most intriguing symbols; they are used many different ways, to mean many different things, and to portray various emotions and situations.
As the novel begins, Chopin likens Edna to a bird in a gilded cage. Edna is not free, but that is okay because she has not yet begun to see what life has to offer; she has not yet begun to awaken. Through Edna's desire for Robert, she begins to realize that she is like the bird in the cage, not wanting for anything materially but still trapped. Edna cannot fly away to freedom; she is tied by social constraints and especially by her family. Chopin helps the reader to understand fully the pressure society and family have put upon Edna, causing her to feel she will never be able to fly away to freedom.
Edna is not a particularly motherly woman, unlike most women of her social circles. She certainly does not measure up to her husband's idea of a good mother, and in the beginning pages of the novel, he criticizes her. "He reproached his wife with her inattentions, her habitual neglect of the children" (637). Edna certainly does not fit in with the "mother-woman" role the other women of her acquaintance are astute in assuming, but she feels she has taught her boys to be strong and does not feel the need to hover around them. The use of birds is slipped in here also. The women of Grand Isle are "fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious...