The Awakening


Kate Chopin

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The Awakening: Allusions 5 key examples

Definition of Allusion
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to other literary works, famous individuals, historical events, or philosophical ideas... read full definition
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to other literary works, famous individuals... read full definition
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to... read full definition
Chapter 7
Explanation and Analysis—A Sad-Eyed Napoleon :

In Chapter 7, Edna and Madame Ratignolle walk to the beach and have an intimate conversation. Edna makes an allusion while she ruminates on her childhood: 

[Edna] remembered that she had been passionately enamored of a dignified and sad-eyed cavalry officer who visited her father in Kentucky. She could not leave his presence when he was there, nor remove her eyes from his face, which was something like Napoleon's, with a lock of black hair falling across the forehead.

Napoleon refers to Napoleon Bonaparte, the French military leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution. In comparing the cavalry officer to Napoleon, Edna characterizes the officer as someone with great significance; she sees him in a romantic, idealized light. Edna remembers the cavalry officer again at the end of the novel, during her final swim.

Chapter 17
Explanation and Analysis—Ralph Waldo Emerson :

In Chapter 23, the novel makes an allusion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. On the first night Edna is alone in the Pontellier home, she: 

[...] sat in the library after dinner and read Emerson until she grew sleepy.

Emerson was an American philosopher and writer. He is known for his famous 1841 essay “Self-Reliance,” in which he emphasizes individuality and its importance to one’s satisfaction in life. This philosophy mirrors Edna’s journey in The Awakening. Over the course of the novel, Edna begins to question conventions and live her life more freely. She moves out of the house she shares with her husband Léonce, for example, and into the pigeon-house in order to be independent from both him and her children.

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Chapter 21
Explanation and Analysis—Chopin's Impromptu:

Music is an important motif in The Awakening, and the novel makes multiple allusions to the work of Polish composer and pianist Frédéric Chopin. In Chapter 21, during a house visit to Mademoiselle Reisz, Edna learns Robert has sent Mademoiselle Reisz a letter from Mexico. Mademoiselle Reisz refuses to give her the letter. Edna then asks her to play “The Impromptu": 

Mademoiselle played a soft interlude [...] gradually and imperceptibly the interlude melted into the soft opening minor chords of the Chopin Impromptu.

The full title of the composition Mademoiselle Reisz plays is “Fantasie-Impromptu,” which loosely translates into “sudden fantasy.” Composed by Chopin, it is a romantic, expressive piece. As Edna listens, she begins to cry. The music moves her and expresses the hidden longing she feels for Robert. As Edna becomes increasingly aware of her emotions and desires, she begins to take on a Romantic perspective. In other words, she begins to recognize the importance of her own emotions, desires, and worth as an individual. This subjective worldview soon comes into conflict with Edna’s external reality, specifically the conventions and expectations placed on Edna as a woman living in conservative 19th-century New Orleans.

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Chapter 30
Explanation and Analysis—A Graven Image:

During Edna’s glamorous party, Mr. Gouvernail looks at Victor Lebrun, transformed by a garland of roses and Mrs Highcamp’s silken scarf, and makes an allusion:

“'There was a graven image of Desire

Painted with red blood on a ground of gold.'" 

The lines Mr Gouvernail recites are from the poem “A Cameo” by Algernon Charles Swinburne. Thematically, the poem explores the meaning of desire. In the line Mr Gouvernail recites, desire is associated with both violence and prosperity. The inclusion of this line adds a sense of romance and drama to the scene, which comes to a head when Arobin kisses Edna’s hand at the end of her party.

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Chapter 39
Explanation and Analysis—Venus Rising:

In Chapter 39, Victor tells Mariequita about Edna’s party, exaggerating many details. When he describes Edna, he makes an allusion to the Roman goddess Venus: 

Venus rising from the foam could have presented no more entrancing a spectacle than Mrs Pointellier, blazing with beauty and diamonds at the head of the board, while the other women were all of them youthful houris, possessed of incomparable charms.

Victor likens Edna to Venus, who in Roman mythology is the goddess of love, sex, beauty, and fertility. In referencing Venus, Victor emphasizes the grandeur of Edna’s beauty. Edna, like a mythological goddess, is unique and powerful. Moreover, this description of Edna—subjective, emotional, and imaginative—reflects a Romantic, rather than Realist, perspective. This essentially means that Victor’s view of Edna is somewhat fantastical and elevated, rooted in the mythological past rather than in present reality. Characters in The Awakening, especially Edna, switch between these two perspectives repeatedly.

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