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The Awakening

            Kate Chopin's The Awakening is considered to be one of the earliest feminist novels, acting as major influence for female writers of the nineteenth century. The novel chronicles Edna Pontellier's quest for independence and self-discovery. The story begins in Grand Isle, the Louisiana resort community where Edna realizes her longing for independence and her dissimilarity and isolation from the Creoles residing at Grand Isle for the summer. While listening to Adele's piano playing, Edna envisions the following: " there came before her imagination the figure of a man standing beside a desolate rock on the seashore. He was naked. His attitude was one of hopeless resignation as he looked toward a distant bird winging its flight away from him." This image is very powerful and symbolic, for there are similarities between Edna's awakening and isolation and the forlorn man standing near the ocean: they are both experiencing a rebirth or awakening.
             A major similarity between Edna and the man by the sea is that they are both experiencing a rebirth or an awakening. Chopin hints to Edna's rebirth throughout the early chapters of the novel with phrases such as, "Mrs. Pontellier 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." When discussing Edna's awakening, Chopin often makes references to the sea, a recurring motif in the story that is symbolic of baptism or rebirth. The fact that the man is standing by the ocean suggests that he too is undergoing a major change or rebirth. The man's nudity is also symbolic; it is almost as if the ocean is the womb he is emerging from, re-born and naked like an infant entering its new life. The bird's flight is also symbolic, for it suggests a release of the man's former beliefs and way of life. This release can also be associated with Edna's longing to let go of her life as a mother and become an independent woman.

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