In The Awakening and Désirée’s Baby written by Kate Chopin, the main female characters experience a social awakening. Chopin uses literary devices to portray each story and awakening, along with their similarities and differences. The result of these stories parallel each other, but the events that lead to the character’s actions and how Chopin describes them are different. In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Désirée’s Baby, the similarities and differences of the main character’s awakening can be seen through the use of symbolism, imagery and foreshadowing.
In Désirée’s Baby, a significant symbol is Désirée’s house. The house is described as a “sad-looking place” (181). On top of the house, “the roof came down steep and black like a cowl” (181). The imagery used is very harsh which can represent Désirée’s unhappiness stemming from the house. This parallels how most of Edna’s sadness comes from living with her family. The difference between these women’s feelings is that Edna want to be free from the responsibilities of taking care of her children and fulfilling the role of women in society. Désirée seems mostly content taking care of her child. However, a huge component for Désirée and Edna leaving their homes is their husbands. Désirée left due to her husband blaming her for her unknown origins resulting in their baby being of mixed race, which was seen as below the wealthy class. Edna left to be independent from her husband and children. She decides “never again to belong to another than herself” (107). In Désirée’s Baby, the mention of Désirée and stone occurs a lot. Armand falls in love by seeing her “against the stone pillar” (180). Désirée is also compared to “a stone image” (184). The stone can symbolize the tradition and norms of society. These expectations are so strong and continue to be upheld. The comparison of Désirée to stone shows her lack of power and how passive she is at the beginning of the story. However, both Désirée and Edna eventually decide to leave their homes and husbands, going against the social norm.
These two women decide to achieve freedom and escape from their unpleasant realities by drowning themselves. When this occurs, there is specific white imagery. Edna’s “white feet” and “white body” are emphasized moments before she drowns. Désirée’s “white garment” is also specifically mentioned. The color white in literature usually represents innocence and goodness. This shows that their deaths have life and good in them. Even though their deaths are sad, they are good in the sense that they are now free from what oppressed them.
The death scenes are a bit different when it comes to the imagery used when describing them. Moments before Désirée drowns herself, she walks through a “deserted field, where the stubble bruised her tender feet, so delicately shod, and tore her thin gown to shreds” (185). This represents Désirée’s difficult journey and awakening. In Edna’s experience, she is invited by “the touch of the sea,” which “is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace” (155). The imagery of this scene is much more pleasant, representing her more gradual awakening in which she was able to experience a little more freedom.
The motivation and basis for both awakenings is their children. Before Edna’s death, she describes her children as “antagonists who had overcome her; who had empowered and sought to drag her into the soul’s slavery for the rest of her days” (154). The responsibility of taking care of her children drained her, causing her to seek for freedom. In Désirée’s case, her baby was the cause of her downfall. Upon the discovery of the baby’s race, Armand responds harshly, “leaving her alone with their child” (184). Their children are at the root of their problems.
There is foreshadowing of a significant event at the end of each story. In Désirée’s Baby, there is foreshadowing of Armand’s race. There is mention of him in “La Blanche’s cabin” and a resemblance of La Blanche’s child to her own. This insinuates that they may have the same father, Armand. The incident of Désirée’s child being of a mixed race is what drives her awakening and causes her to leave home. In The Awakening, Edna’s failure to become independent is foreshadowed when Mademoiselle Reisz feels Edna’s “shoulder blades, to see if [her] wings were strong” because it would be upsetting to see her “bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth,” instead of soaring “above the level plain of tradition and prejudice” (111). Before Edna drowns herself, she noticed a bird “reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water” (154). Edna was unable to gain her freedom and instead fell to the water hopeless.
Edna was more successful in her awakening as she really tried to break through society’s expectations to become independent, such as when she moved out to a house away from her husband and children. Désirée’s awakening was a lot more sudden. Unlike Edna, Désirée was not able to experience much freedom before drowning herself. Although neither woman was able to become completely free in their lives, they were free from their responsibilities and expectations in death.