The Voice of the Sea in The Awakening
Many different symbols were utilized in Kate Chopin's The Awakening to illustrate the underlying themes and internal conflict of the characters. One constant and re-emerging symbol is the sea.
The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation. The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace (Chopin 25).
In the novel, “the ocean symbolizes Edna's "awakening" to a life filled with freedom and independence” (Nickerson). On a hot summer evening Robert and Edna go bathing. Although Edna does not wish to go and initially declines his offer, something inside is compelling her to go down to the water. It is there in the seductive ocean that Edna's awakening begins.
A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her... [she] was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her (Chopin 25).
That warm ocean environment is in direct contrast to the responsibilities and rules of the cold, hard city. And it is there in that relaxed and forgiving atmosphere that Edna can explore her new found freedoms.
While relaxing on the beach with Mrs. Ratignolle, the sight of the endless ocean brings back memories from Edna's childhood. She suddenly recalls a summer day in Kentucky and "a meadow that seemed as big as the ocean to the very little girl...and I felt as if I must walk on forever without coming to the end of it. I don't remember whether I was frightened or pleased" (Chopin 30). A strong connection between the Kentucky meadow, and the ocean before her, links her present experience to her childhood. This rebirth takes her back to a time of innocence and curiosity that allows her to explore life through new eyes. Edna is filled with swelling emotions and reveals "Sometimes I feel this summer as if I were walking through the green meadow again. Idly, aimlessly, unthinking, and unguided" (Chopin 30). Edna's recollection of this event allows her to more clearly recognize her internal turmoil.
The link between Edna's awakening and the ocean becomes even clearer when after several attempts she finally learns to swim. The first time she ventures out into the ocean alone is the first step toward her independence. She panics when she realizes how far she has gone alone and fears drowning. This incident represents...