Art & Identity in New Orleans

HNRS 109 Spring '18

Power of the Ocean


Kate Chopin has demonstrated that she is a masterful writer when it comes to lexicon, but she also utilizes symbols in a unique way. In using water – the ocean – to not only entice her character but represent her character, the readers get glimpses throughout the novel as to how conflicted and unsettled Edna Pontellier can be.

“She could hear again the ripple of the water, the flapping sail” (78, Chopin). At this point in the novel, Edna has begun to fully “awaken,” shedding the drowsy fog that had currently surrounded her countenance and made her a placable character, wife, and woman. The memory of the waves and “the glint of the moon upon the bay” (78, Chopin) incite a restlessness in her that drives her to seek out Mademoiselle Reisz, a superb pianist with a sharp tongue. Mademoiselle Reisz appears to be one of the only characters who can sense the unrest and the reasons for the abrupt changes in Edna. However, Mademoiselle Reisz remains indifferent and does not react to Edna’s outbursts.

“The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude” (18) writes Chopin as Edna is first introduced. And in that paragraph, the whole of Edna’s personality can be found. The moods of the sea, so reminiscent of her own, hold a beauty and power to them that Edna does not understand at this point. It begins with whispering, the lure of freedom and independence. It escalates to clamoring, as she branches away from her husband and her children for a brief time, reveling in an exciting lifestyle as she revels in he own existence. Yet, she returns to gentle “murmurings” before Mr. Pontellier’s departure to New York. The fluctuation continues as she struggles to realize her freedom, while battling the “reality” that constantly coats her in fog.

Not only can Edna’s emotions be described by the ocean, but her reaction to the water as well. The warmth and glints of the ocean either soothe her, or agitate her need to feel something & react. It resembles Albert Camus’ The Stranger, in which Mersault is driven to react aggressivly as a result of the sun’s heat and the glare of the waves. The ocean is a deity to whom they answer and to which they will always return.

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