The Awakening


Kate Chopin

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The Awakening: Imagery 7 key examples

Definition of Imagery
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After Apple-Picking" contain imagery that engages... read full definition
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines from Robert Frost's poem "After... read full definition
Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines... read full definition
Chapter 4
Explanation and Analysis—Adèle Ratignolle's Charms:

Early in the novel, the narrator uses imagery to describe Edna’s close friend Adèle Ratignolle: 

 There was nothing subtle or hidden about her charms; her beauty was all there, flaming and apparent: the spun-gold hair that comb nor confining pin could restrain; the blue eyes that were like nothing but sapphires; two lips that pouted, that were so red one could only think of cherries or some other delicious crimson fruit in looking at them. 

When describing Adèle, the narrator makes specific observations about her physical appearance, particularly in reference to her beauty. The inclusion of vivid details—the color of Adéle’s hair, eyes and lips—and comparison to fruit emphasizes Adèle’s beauty and desirability. It is as if Adèle is an object meant for consumption or pleasure. In many ways, Adèle exemplifies the Victorian feminine ideal. Motherly and wifely, she is Edna’s opposite, both physically and in personality. 

Chapter 9
Explanation and Analysis—A Desolate Figure:

Over the course of the novel, Edna grows close with the piano player Mademoiselle Reisz and asks her to play for her. As Mademoiselle Reisz plays, the music “evoke[s] pictures in [Edna’s] mind.” In Chapter 9, the novel uses evocative imagery to capture Edna’s emotions as Mademoiselle Reisz plays a piece entitled "Solitude": 

When [Edna] heard it 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.

The image of a man standing vulnerable and alone reflects the sense of isolation and waywardness Edna feels as her self-understanding begins to deepen. The process of this self-awareness is part of her “awakening.” After years of stifling her inner life and behaving only according to social rules, Edna begins to reflect on her inner experience, desires, and emotions. Consequently, she—like Mademoiselle Reisz—ignores social conventions and doesn't conform to societal norms. Women like Edna and Mademoiselle were expected to conform to Victorian ideals of femininity and motherhood and meant to find fulfillment in childrearing and maintaining a household. Edna, and the novel at large, questions these restrictive social conventions. Moreover, the bleak image of the man alone foreshadows the moment at the end of the novel when Edna removes her swimsuit on the shores of the Gulf, also naked and alone.

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Explanation and Analysis—Hot Breath of Night:

While at a musical party at the Ratignolle’s, Edna recounts a story of two lovers, told to her by Madame Antoine. The narrator uses visual and sensory imagery to describes the partygoers’ reaction to Edna’s story:

They could feel the hot breath of the Southern night; they could hear the long sweep of the pirogue through the glistening moonlit water, the beating of birds’ wings, rising startled from among the reeds in the salt-water pools; they could see the faces of the lovers, pale, close together, rapt in oblivious forgetfulness, drifting into the unknown.

The narrator provides specific auditory and visual imagery to capture the romance between the two lovers. Details about the weather and environment—the heat of the night as a “hot breath” and the sound of bird wings flapping, for example—appeal to the reader’s sense of sight, touch, and smell. Moreover, the image of "the faces of the lovers [...] rapt in oblivious forgetfulness" vividly conveys the close connection between the story's main characters. These rich descriptions make it clear that Edna is invested in the story, likely because she longs for the same sort of passionate relationship that it describes. The imagery allows the reader to imagine and even feel the lovers' romance, as if they are experiencing it themselves.

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Chapter 12
Explanation and Analysis—A Curious Procession:

In Chapter 12, Edna and Robert go to mass by boat. Before arriving, they observe some people walking on the beach, and whom the novel describes using imagery:

[A] curious procession moving toward the wharf—the lovers, shoulder to shoulder, creeping; the lady in black, gaining steadily upon them[.]

The novel uses specific imagery to present multiple ideas to the reader. The visual of the lovers "creeping" along, followed by the lady in black "gaining steadily upon them" reads as ominous. These three figures function as symbols: the pair of lovers standing together represent the happiness of romance and young love, while the lady in black, a mysterious widow, symbolize death and misfortune that will inevitably befall them. More specifically, the lady in black's presence behind the lovers foreshadows Edna and Robert’s own unfulfilled romance, as well as Edna’s death at the end of the novel. 

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Chapter 30
Explanation and Analysis—Yellow, Silver, and Gold:

After Edna finalizes her move into the pigeon-house, a sign of her asserting her newfound independence, she throws a glamorous birthday party  at her former residence. The house is spectacularly decorated, which the narrator describes using imagery: 

There were wax candles in massive brass candelabra, burning softly under yellow silk shades; full, fragrant roses, yellow and red, abounded. There were silver and gold, as she had said there would be, and crystal which glittered like the gems which the women wore.

The narrator includes details about the quality of light and colors to highlight the party’s extravagance: the silver, gold, glittering crystal, and gems all convey wealth and luxury. Moreover, the softness of the burning candle and presence of lush, vibrant roses create a sense of beauty and romance. All in all, the elegance of the party reflects Edna's romantic worldview: as she grows more and more independent, Edna becomes increasingly driven by her inner life and emotions rather than practical concerns or societal expectations.

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Explanation and Analysis—Edna's Glow:

On the night of Edna's elegant party, the narrator uses imagery to describe Edna: 

The golden shimmer of Edna’s satin gown spread in rich folds on either side of her. There was a soft fall of lace encircling her shoulders. It was the color of her skin, without the glow, the myriad living tints that one may sometimes discover in vibrant flesh. There was something in her attitude, in her whole appearance when she leaned her head against the high-backed chair and spread her arms, which suggested the regal woman, the one who rules, who looks on, who stands alone.

Vivid details about Edna’s clothing and appearance—the make and color of her gown—emphasize her individuality as well as her beauty. Her dress "shimmer[s]" and looks like "vibrant flesh," which portrays Edna as striking, lively, and magnetic. The imagery also paints Edna like royalty, as if she is a queen: her status is that of someone high above and separate from the crowd, one who “stands alone.” This is the physical evidence of Edna’s awakening, after Edna becomes aware of her inner experience and “her position in the universe as a human being.” This inner experience contrasts with what society expects of her as a woman: to be her husband's possession, a convention she boldly rejects.

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Chapter 39
Explanation and Analysis—Pinks Filled the Air:

As Edna dies, memories from her childhood return to her in a flood of images. The novel uses imagery to express these memories to the reader: 

Edna heard her father’s voice and her sister Margaret’s. She heard the barking of an old dog that was chained to the sycamore tree. The spurs of the cavalry officer clanged as he walked across the porch. There was the hum of bees, and the musty odor of pinks filled the air.

The passage has a nostalgic, romantic quality, as well as a vivid sense of sound, touch and smell. The color pink is sensuous and romantic, while “musty” suggests death, rot, or decay. In this way, the passage is a disorienting mix of life and death, reflecting Edna's own mindset and experiences in this moment. The imagery, in general, is associative, with no clear logic linking each image. Edna recalls being enamored with the “sad-eyed cavalry officer,” a memory she shares with Adéle Ratignolle earlier in the novel. Through this imagery, the novel suggests Edna returns to the innocent bliss of childhood when she dies and is perhaps finally truly free. 

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