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Literary Devices in The Awakening

Literary Devices Examples in The Awakening:

Chapter IX

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"But she was mistaken about “those others.” Her playing had aroused a fever of enthusiasm. ..."   (Chapter IX)

The narrator misses the point of Mademoiselle Reisz’s comment. It is not that “the others” do not feel as deeply as Edna does about the music, but that Edna’s ability to experience the music as she does is unique because she is a woman. The narrator once again shows itself to be narrow minded.

"Edna was what she herself called very fond of music...."   (Chapter IX)

The narrator undercuts Edna’s love of music with passive voice and weak adjectives. Rather than calling Edna a music lover or even directly stating that she's very fond of music, the narrator claims that she “calls herself” fond of music. “Fond” is a weak adjective; it does not fully communicate an emotional connection. In making the connection between Edna and her love for music weak, we learn of a social understanding about women’s pleasure: first, she cannot feel deep passion, imitating or imagining herself as passionate; second, her own self-perception is questionable.

"Her poses were full of grace, and her little black-shod toes twinkled as they shot out and upward with a rapidity and suddenness which were bewildering...."   (Chapter IX)

Notice the difference between this description of the dancing girl and the previous description of the Pontellier boys. The narrator focuses on the girl’s grace, proper dress, and poise, while the boys are described as exercising authority and owning desirable possessions. The way in which the children are described mirrors the gendered social situation in which Edna lives.

"It was not that she dwelt upon details of their acquaintance, or recalled in any special or peculiar way his personality; it was his being, his existence, which dominated her thought, fading sometimes as if it would melt into the mist of the forgotten,..."   (Chapter XVIII)

This suggests that Edna has conflated Robert with her awakening. She is not in love with Robert or depending on another man for her happiness, but rather associating him with a time in which she felt free and alive. Robert’s “being” then becomes a representation of her awakening, the mechanism with which she breaks social norms.

"She felt no interest in anything about her. The street, the children, the fruit vender, the flowers growing there under her eyes, were all part and parcel of an alien world which had suddenly become antagonistic. ..."   (Chapter XVIII)

“Alien” in this context means foreign. Edna no longer associates herself with the world that she lives in or the life that she leads. Calling this foreign world “antagonistic” also suggests that this world is threatening to Edna, perhaps because she cannot leave it.

"She carried away with her the sound of their voices and the touch of their cheeks. All along the journey homeward their presence lingered with her like the memory of a delicious song. ..."   (Chapter XXXII)

Because she is no longer tied to the social expectations of a married woman, Edna can experience her relationship with her children with the same passion she holds for music. She compares the sound of their voices to that of Madame Reisz’s playing the piano. In this way her children begin to represent her liberation rather than her oppressive circumstances.

"“Good-by—because I love you.” He did not know; he did not understand. He would never understand. ..."   (Chapter XXXIX)

Edna realizes that just like her husband and everyone else in her social circle, Robert cannot understand her independence. One could read this acknowledgement as the true source of her despondency: she is more upset that her beloved does not truly know her than she is that she cannot be with him.

"How strange and awful it seemed to stand naked under the sky! how delicious! She felt like some new-born creature, opening its eyes in a familiar world that it had never known...."   (Chapter XXXIX)

In her final act of liberation, Edna peels away her clothes and stands with nature. In comparing herself to a “new-born” she suggests that her vision of the world and her position in it is divorced from everything that came before this moment. This is symbolic of her rebirth as an independent individual.

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