Study Questions & Essay Topics
1. What is the symbolic importance of the lady in black and of the two lovers? These characters often appear at the same points in the novel; what is the significance of this pairing?
2. What is the symbolic meaning of Edna’s first successful attempt to swim?
3. Early in The Awakening, the narrator remarks that Léonce thinks of Edna as “the sole object of his existence.” What evidence does the novel provide to support this declaration?
Suggested Essay Topics
1. How does the text use clothing and garments (or the lack thereof) to portray Edna’s rebellion against Victorian norms?
2. Of the many awakenings Edna undergoes in the novel, which are most important to her progress? Which may be considered “rude” or unexpected awakenings?
3. Explore the full implications of the various images of birds in the novel. How do the different species of birds mentioned—parrots, mockingbirds, pigeons—symbolize different ideas?
4. Throughout the novel, Edna feels caught between the way others see her and the way she sees herself. Identify several moments in which this struggle is apparent. How does the text portray Edna’s growing awareness of these contradicting views?
5. Some critics view Edna’s suicide at the end of the novel as a failure to complete her escape from convention—an inability to defy society once stripped of the motivation of a man by her side. Others view her suicide as a final awakening, a decision to give herself to the sea in a show of strength and independence that defies social expectation. Which interpretation do you find more compelling, and why?
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