The Awakening

Edna Takes Flight: The Symbolism of Birds in The Awakening

Creating a social sensation when it was introduced in 1899, The Awakening was labeled one of the first feminist novels as it fell into tone with the rapidly rising group of young women who demanded political and social equality. The reader witnesses Edna Pontellier's transformation from a caged beautiful parrot to a disabled bird that flies freely. The avian symbolism in the novel is apparent as the readers mark her tribulations from one bird to the next as she forges an unheard-of path in her upper-class world but eventually finds that she is unable to survive in this new environment of feminist individualism.

The novel is introduced with the image of a colorful parrot squawking words of rage. Two translations of its dialogue are "Go away! Go away! For goodness sake!" and "Get out! Get out! Goddammit!" Either phrase conveys an unpleasant environment, as a parrot traditionally repeats overhear words spoken by humans. To set a tone for the story, the parrot, though beautiful and well taken care of, isn't free and is unhappy. Its position resembles that of all women in the male-dominated world at the turn of the twentieth century. More specifically, however, the bird represents Edna and the lack of true...

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