26 June 2018
“Let us help each other visualize our oppression from different perspectives by taking a microscopic and a macroscopic view from different angles of the birdcage of our social structure.” (Clark, 346) Bird in a cage can directly imply to limiting one’s capability. In our society, there are multiple social structures that control our daily lives. Living in different social lives, there will be constraints resulting from the environment and decisions that the person made. The novel The Awakening by Kate Chopin, illustrate married women breaking away from her societal role and duties being in strict Creole society. Through the novel, Kate Chopin illustrated powerful motifs, which are symbolic ideas being presented multiple times across the story to represent a specific idea. One of the strongest motifs used continuously throughout the novel is the symbolism of the bird in a cage. Edna Pontellier, a married Creole woman with two children, follows the Creole women behavior however as she serves her societal responsibility, she finds herself constrained. Edna work towards breaking away from the French-Creole society and her responsibilities. As Edna can be described as the bird, her marriage with Leonce Pontellier and her children are the societal responsibilities representing her cage. In the novel, a caged bird is used to illustrate the symbol breaking free from societal responsibility as a woman can be difficult.
The novel starts with a parrot in a cage, that is used to show Edna’s ideology cannot be understood in her society. The novel of The Awakening by Kate Chopin begins at the 1800s at a summer vacation resort at Grand Isle. A parrot inside a cage continuously annoy the guests staying at the Grand Isle. The parrot is said that “he [parrot] could speak a little Spanish, and also a language which nobody understood unless it was the mocking-bird that hung on the other side of the door, whistling his fluty notes out upon the breeze with maddening persistence.” (1) Bird in a cage often portray women in entrapment. As the entirety of the story show how Edna oppressed from the Creole society to seek freedom, it is as an Edna is a caged bird. Parrot in a cage represents Edna as she is a bird that is trapped inside a cage called society and unable to communicate her feelings with other Creole women and freely to the outside world. Zoila Clark, in her cultural research article, gives a perspective that “Edna is unable to communicate with other women in Creole society because they keep whistling “fluty notes”, are distracted with their charms, and do not develop that language “nobody understood unless it is another caged bird.” (Clark, 337) The majority of the Creole women would not understand and accept Edna’s way of thinking of becoming independent from men, such as Edna’s perfect Creole women friend Adele Ratignole. Adele Ratignole, unlike Edna, accepts becoming the mother like women figure in the house supporting her husband, and is the kind of bird that is comfortable being in her cage.
Women in the Creole society does not have as many rights as men have and in the house, men are absolute power. Creole society carries old ritual from ancestry and has not developed to give more voice to women in the house. Edna feels oppressed and limited as her life turns less interesting in becoming the Creole women. Until her awakening, she was not able to understand her feeling towards her lack of interest in becoming the Creole woman. The parrot showed at the beginning symbolizes Edna’s ideology of independence cannot be understood by other Creole women.
Edna’s marriage with Leonce has led her to carry responsibility which has made her into a caged bird. “Her father and sister force her to marry with his [Leonce] religion. She accepts his marriage proposal because she has impressed on his behaviors toward her. Those things made her marriage such as an accident for her.” (Nur, 7) Edna had a love for Leonce as they have begun their marriage, however, the affection is no longer present and she is left with responsibility as a wife and mother in strict Creole society. She would also have to meet societal expectations and these burden in her position keep her from making her own decisions. Those societal responsibilities have become her cage and trap her into submission.
After Edna has found her awakening at summer in Grand Isle, like a bird flying out from its cage, Edna breaks free. She discovers that her actions are limited by being in her position and she begins to follow her own ideology as she defies her husband. Edna does not have a strong desire to become a good wife or mother-like figure, however, she is interested to become an independent artist. At the Grand Isle, as she listens to Reisz play the piano with great passion, she imagines a naked man and “his attitude was one of hopeless resignation as he looked toward a distant bird winging its flight away from him.” (25) This shows Leonce being distant from Edna as he would not be able to help this situation at this point. This shows how Edna further on decides to pursue her passion as an artist and decide to leave her husband and children. Edna creates further distance between her husband and her responsibility as a mother and wife. As she steps into breaking away from her societal responsibility, as she breaks free from her birdcage.
Edna moves to the Pigeonhouse however still finds difficulty achieving to break free as a woman, which shows how she only moved from one birdcage to another. As Leonce go out on a business trip, Edna moves to a small apartment away from home that she was living with her husband, Leonce, and her children. Edna’s slave Ellen calls it a Pigeon house because it is a small looking apartment. (85) Another bird symbol is used to show Edna’s new cage. Edna moves from a huge beautiful house to a small cozy apartment that would be enough for Edna to afford. “Even when fleeing, Edna cannot escape. If she desires to move from a grandiose gilded cage to a simpler existence where she can support herself” (Elz, 22) Whether she lives in a big elegant house or a small apartment, her problem would not be solved. She would still have to manage to make a living on her own using her artistic skill. “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings.” (83) Reisz teaches Edna that with a decision that would defy the standard would require enough strength to become self-supporting without the help of a man. Edna would have to become tough enough to handle being alone in order to achieve her independence. Even though Edna tells Leonce that she would not come back to him, she should still have a responsibility as a mother and support herself by selling her artwork. Edna has only moved to a different location, however, the views amongst women do not change in her new environment and it is a woman’s duty to take care of the children. Edna moving to a smaller house did isolate her from Leonce but did not lead to break free from her cage but to put herself in another cage of responsibility.
In the end, Edna drowns herself to death to achieve her ultimate freedom like a bird with broken wings falling from the sky. Edna realizes that her breaking free from her family can cause great damage to her children now and in the future. She rather finds the presence of her children as an antagonist, dragging her into slavery. Edna discovers “a bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down, to the water.” (115) Edna finds how her wings are not strong enough to become an independent woman and she has children that she is responsible for. Instead of retreating back to her husband and children, she chooses to continue her journey to find her independence from her woman responsibilities. Death was Edna’s ultimate escape and the bird with broken wings symbolize her fall at the end. She goes to the location of her first awakening and she drowns herself as her final awakening.
Throughout the novel, the motif of a caged bird is used to show the difficulty of a woman breaking free from her social responsibility as a woman. The novel starts by using a parrot in a cage, as a symbol to show Edna’s ideology cannot be understood by her Creole society. Her marriage with Leonce has led her to carry responsibilities which have made her be in a restricted position. She would have to fit into the Creole society and follow the Creole society ideology. She is constrained as she likes a caged bird. She moved to a smaller apartment in order to achieve independence. However, she finds herself with different responsibility which has evidentially put her in another cage. She also understood how a woman would need to have strong wings to become independent. Edna sees her lake of strength being independent and at the end, Edna drowns herself to death to achieve her ultimate freedom, like a bird with broken wings falling from the sky. It is important in our society to recognize and accept different ideas of other people rather than having the person detach from society.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. Dover Publication, 1993.
Clark, Zoila. “The Bird That Came out of the Cage: A Foucauldian Feminist Approach to Kate
Chopins The Awakening.” Journal for Cultural Research, vol. 12, no. 4, 2008, pp. 335–
Elz, A. Elizabeth. “The Awakening and A Lost Lady: Flying with Broken Wings and Raked
Feathers.” The Southern Literary Journal, vol. 35, no. 2, 2003, pp. 13–27., doi:10.1353/slj.2003.0018.
Nur, Dedi Rahman. “An Analysis of The Feminist Characters in Kate Chopin’s ‘The
Awakening.'” JEES (Journal of English Educators Society), vol. 2, no. 1, 2017, p. 1., doi:10.21070/jees.v2i1.687.