The final powerful scene in The Awakening is Kate Chopin’s masterpiece. It marks the end of Edna’s long struggle with desire and expectation. Edna is restricted by her traditional roles as a mother and wife, which prevents her from being free. Edna sees the sea and birds as symbols of freedom and embraces them. We can see that Edna died from suicide motivated by hopelessness.
Edna is most likely to be influenced by the symbol of ocean. Edna was attracted to the ocean’s “seductive” voice early on. It “invit[es] a soul to wander for an hour in the abysses solitude; to lose its self in mazes that inward contemplation,” and the sea and its endless potential lead her to deep reflection about her life (25). Edna can’t swim, despite her passion for the ocean. Edna suddenly learns to swim after she begins to awaken by becoming closer to Robert. Edna is finally letting go of the life that confines her. Before Edna became a partner with Robert, her life was nothing but a series of daily activities. She was a faithful wife and obeyed her husband. She learns to swim when she becomes able. Then she explores the infinite possibilities of the ocean. Edna took her first steps into water to break free from her life of conformity. Edna encounters the sea for the first time yields some interesting results. She is overwhelmed with freedom when she dives in to the ocean for the first time. Edna is overwhelmed by “a quick view of death” as she swims out. This scene is clear evidence that Edna continues to struggle to be herself in her role.
The novel’s second major symbol, the bird, is a colorful caged Parrot. “The parrot could also speak Spanish, but no one understood it” (5). This parrot could be easily mistaken for Edna before she awoke. Edna believes in freedom, which neither she nor her family understand. The parrot is also unable to comprehend. Leonce’s response to the parrot makes these similarities even more evident. He simply leaves when he is tired of listening to it talk. Edna feels that her husband treats her like a traditional woman and should provide care for their children. Leonce is not able to understand the parrot and his wife. Also, his tendency to leave the room when the bird tires makes it seem that Leonce would reject Edna if he tried to explain himself to her.
Mademoiselle Reisz, the pianist, is the second time a bird is mentioned in the novel. Edna recalls the time Madame Ratignolle used her piano to sing a song. Edna called it Solitude. This song brought Edna an unusual image of a man standing on top of a rock near the shore. The naked man was looking out at a flying bird as it flew over the ocean. Edna attaches this image to herself again. Edna’s freedom symbolizes Edna leaving her husband and children behind and flying free.
Edna soon leaves the resort and returns to her hometown. Robert returns to Edna’s home after a long period and discovers that Edna is different. Edna now feels isolated from her life and her role. Leonce has left her feeling no attachment and she is ready to accept her feelings for Robert. Robert is not happy and wonders about the social impact of being married to a woman. Robert leaves a message that says “I Love You” (185). Good-bye – because you love me” (185). Edna sees the note as a clear indication that Robert doesn’t love Edna enough to give up his social status.
The final scene in which the symbols meet answers the question as to whether Edna has fulfilled her destiny. Edna is full of thoughts and worries after Robert’s note arrives. Edna now realizes that she is not right for any man. Edna realized that Robert was not the right man for her, despite her love. Edna walks to the beach carrying these thoughts and meets both seabird and fish. Edna is ready to listen for the ocean’s seductive voice. Also, she discovers a bird with a broken, dislocated wing. This bird is a sign of Edna’s modest failures. Edna succeeds in her suicide attempt, but the broken wings of the bird symbolizes that Edna failed socially to meet her expectations. She is forced to commit suicide to get away from her husband and the men she loves.
Edna is able to see her fulfillment when she walks on the beach. She shed all of her clothes which symbolise her marriage, her role in the household, and her husband’s failure to please her. In this act, she forgets all her worries and jumps into the water confidently. While she’s swimming out, she thinks about her husband (190) and her children (190). Edna, unlike her previous swims, isn’t afraid. After a glance back at the shoreline, she realizes she is swimming too far and quickly regains control. Edna was confident swimming and eventually died. She gave her body for freedom. Edna’s love for birds and sea inspires her. It also reflects her changing beliefs and helps to bring about the death she dreams of.