Chopin's Awakening: Voices, Music, &amp Noise Term Paper

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Thematic Significance of Voices, Music, And Noise, In Kate Chopin's The Awakening

Kate Chopin's novel the Awakening (1895) is replete with human and other voices, cacophonous sounds, laughter, sobbing, ambient noise, and beautiful music. Certain sounds and voices within the story are melodious, inspiring, and beautiful, such as when Mademoiselle Reisz plays the piano for Edna, and Edna, when asked how she liked to music, is so moved by the music that she is "unable to answer; she pressed the hand of the pianist convulsively" (the Awakening, Part IX, Paragraph 22). Other sounds and voices are contrastingly harsh, however, such as Leonce's sharp vocal criticism of the watery soup Edna serves him for dinner after being out all afternoon. In this essay I will analyze voices, conversations, laughter, sobbing, ambient noise, piano music, and various other sounds that are described within the Awakening, especially in terms of how these symbolically underscore the main character Edna Pontellier's "awakening" to her true desires in life.

The first distinct voice we hear in the Awakening is not even a human one (although its rote-memorized squawking phrases turn out to parallel Edna Pontellier's own state of mind). It is, instead, Madame Lebrun's green and yellow parrot. Leonce Pontellier tries to read his newspaper and relax outside Madame Lebrun's cottage as the parrot screams: Allez-vous en! Allez-vous en! Sapristi! (French-Creole for "Go away! Go away! Dammit!) (Chopin, the Awakening, Part I, Paragraph 2). The unpleasant noise of the raucous bird in a sense foreshadows what Edna herself will eventually tell Leonce later on that summer.

At this moment, however, Leonce has no choice but to get up and move away from the bird's insistent chatter, since the parrot and its equally annoying companion, a mocking bird that whistled "flutey notes out upon the breeze" (Paragraph 3) both belong to Madame Lebrun herself, and therefore "had the right to make all the noise they wished" (Paragraph 4). The Awakening is a vivid, deeply moving, sensual, and often disturbing story about 28-year-old Edna Pontellier, the well-off yet emotionally miserable wife of Leonce, a successful French Creole businessman, and the mother of his two small sons. As the story begins, Edna and her family are vacationing on Grande Isle, as they do yearly. Intrusive sounds of early summer, including "more noise than ever,"... "the Farival twins... playing a duet from Zampa [a French comic opera] upon the piano" and Madame Lebrun "bustling in and out, giving orders in a high key... "(Paragraph 8) foreshadow the fact that this summer Leonce will not hear much of anything to his liking.

The most important figure in the novel, to Edna Pontellier, is not her husband, but instead Robert LeBrun, a handsome Creole several years younger than Edna, still casually charming to married women like Edna, with his plentiful, playfully flirtatious chatter. Robert plays at life in a way Edna herself can only wistfully recall. As Chopin tells us of Edna and Robert's private beachside conversations early that summer: "Each was interested in what the other said" (the Awakening, Part II, Paragraph 5). On the other hand, when Leonce returns home late that same night, from Klein's hotel where he has spent several hours gambling, and accuses Edna of neglecting one of their children with a fever, "He talked in a monotonous, insistent way" (the Awakening, Part III, Paragraph 7). After Leonce falls asleep, Edna comforts herself from his harsh and critical remarks by walking outside on her own, where there is "no sound except the hooting of an old owl... And the everlasting voice of the sea" (Paragraph 10).

Once she learns to swim well, Edna loves swimming in the ocean, where, as she glides and propels herself beneath the waves, she experiences an absence of sound. As Chopin also states, when Edna first realizes she can finally swim on her own, that feeling is so exhilarating to her that "she could have shouted for joy" (the Awakening, Part X, Paragraph 7):

that night she was like the little tottering, stumbling, clutching child, who of sudden realizes its powers, and walks for the first time alone, boldly and with over-confidence. She could have shouted for joy. She did shout for joy, as with a sweeping stroke or two... She lifted her body to the surface of the water. A feeling of exultation overtook her, as if some power of significant import had been given her to control the working of her body and her soul.

She grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before. (the Awakening, X,

Paragraphs 7-8)

Food, audibly eaten and well enjoyed (or not) also often plays a significant role in the Awakening. Within this story, well-planned, well-prepared, tasty meals, audibly enjoyed and verbally praised, represent the successful fulfillment of a woman's expected domestic duties, especially in the eyes of others. On the other hand, poorly planned or prepared, or burned food represents their opposite, of which Edna, in one noisy and argumentative dinner scene, is declared guilty by the loud and accusing voice of her husband. The Pontellier's two small boys, Etienne and Raoul, are promised peanuts and bon-bons by their departing father (which Leonce characteristically forgets). Later, the sound of breaking glass symbolizes Edna's feelings of frustration and destructiveness, which later turn into self-destructiveness. After Edna's husband upbraids her for serving him a burned, poorly prepared meal and she retires upstairs to be alone, her loud and deliberate breaking of a glass vase symbolizes Edna's desire to destroy the trappings of her present life in order to create a new one:

In a sweeping passion she seized a glass vase from the table and flung it upon the tiles of the hearth. She wanted to destroy something. The crash and clatter were what she wanted to hear. (Chopin, the Awakening, XVII,

Paragraph 30)

Kate Chopin's depiction of the Creole culture on Grande Isle, its sounds, voices, musical entertainments, and various other auditory stimuli, give this novel its distinctly American regionalist flavor. Creole foods (often eaten with audible delight or (sometimes in Leonce's case) audible disappointment; and the varying sounds of soups or beverages being poured or consumed, of musical entertainments at parties, social and social conversations, between Edna and Robert; Edna and Adele Ratignolle; Edna and Alcee Arobin, and others, punctuate and underscore the main action of the novel.

In a more abstract sense, however, Edna Pontellier's increasing despair springs from her realizations that she herself does not possess a "voice" of her own, nor are Edna's deepest, most personal yearnings clearly "heard," within the traditional, role-proscribed milieu into which she has married, one in which women's roles are extremely traditional and limited to the domestic sphere.

When Edna first recognizes that she returns Robert's fondness, she also remembers wistfully that she is trapped, again without a "voice" in her own destiny. That marks the beginning of Edna's profound, often tearful "awakening," during which she has many, and varied, conversations with others, yet is never clearly heard or understood by any of them. Other examples of sounds within the Awakening include Edna's sobs of despair in various parts of the novel; the sound of the waves, the splashing of spilled liquids; the sounds and words of beachside laughter and conversation between Creole mothers and their children, including Edna and her own children, the rustling skirts of full feminine skirts and other feminine clothing.

Edna is moved to speechlessness by the beautiful music played for her by Mademoiselle Reisz on the piano. This summer of Edna's "awakening," she finds the music played by Mademoiselle Reisz to be not only beautiful and moving, but also to be spiritually meaningful in a way different than ever before. As Chopin states:

Edna was... very fond of music. Musical strains, well rendered, had a way of evoking pictures in her mind.

The very first chords which Mademoiselle Reisz struck upon the piano sent a keen tremor down Mrs. Pontellier's spinal column. It was not the first time she had heard an artist at the piano. Perhaps it was the first time she was ready, perhaps the first time her being was tempered to take an impress of the abiding truth. (the Awakening, Part IX, Paragraph 19)

Edna's pleasant but shallow conversations with her friend Adele Ratignolle, an ultra-feminine Creole woman with three children and another on the way, point out, to Edna and the reader alike, the differences between the ideal Creole woman of that time and Edna herself. In all that Adele says to Edna and others, it remains clear that Adele is domestic and doting, to husband and children, and fully satisfied in that role.

That summer, every conversation in which Edna engages ultimately leaves her wanting, and feeling once again that her authentic new voice is not truly heard or recognized. Edna confesses her wish, to Robert, to become an artist of some sort (she does try her hand at painting that summer, with some success).… [END OF PREVIEW]

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