Essay on Rhetorical Strategies in 'The Awakening'

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Throughout the novel, The Awakening, Kate Chopin generally uses formal diction to express the character's thoughts and actions. Chopin uses certain diction to express emotions, desires, and fantasies of characters, such as Edna Pontellier’s and Robert Lebrun’s. For example, surrounding Edna’s feelings towards her husband, Chopin uses lengthier wording to describe Edna’s thoughts. In doing so, the reader sees the connection between strong formal words with Edna’s perceptions in regard to her despised marriage. For example when Edna feels the freedom she has,

“The acme of bliss, which would have been a marriage with the tragedian, was not for her in this world. As the devoted wife of a man who worshiped her, she felt she would take her place with a certain dignity in the world of reality, closing the portals forever behind her upon the realm of romance and dreams” (Chopin 33).

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After Edna’s realization that her marriage is a mistake, the narrator voices her passionate thoughts in a negative way, reinforcing how strongly she feels about her freedom of fantasies being lost. In a way, the flowery words also relay the dream-like perspective Edna has towards leaving her marriage. On the other hand, the diction surrounding her thoughts towards Robert is not as harsh and annulling. For example, after spending the day with Robert, Edna thinks about him and his voice,

“Robert’s voice was not pretentious. It was musical and true. The voice, the notes, the whole refrain haunted her memory” (Chopin 68).

In contrast to how Edna’s thoughts circulate towards her husband, her feelings towards Robert are expressed in a more lyrical language. The comparison between Robert’s voice and the song he sang is recognized in a lighter, more positive tone. Chopin writes using flowery and lyrical language to conclude how the character’s feelings are complex and intricate. Along with this, the use of imagery is seen aligned with the text, in this example, displaying his voice to haunt Edna’s memory. Imagery is also seen throughout the novel when circulating around Edna’s awakening process, fully describing the emotions she is feeling. For example, as Edna holds a party at her own small house she finds experience,

“It was something which announced itself; a chill breath that seemed to issue from some vast cavern wherein discords wailed… The moments glided on, while a feeling of good fellowship passed around the circle like a mystic cord, holding and binding these people together with jest and laughter” (Chopin 148).

In the midst of her party, the feelings are expressed illustratively by the diction. Using more concise language, Chopin displays how imagery is used to compare Edna’s sensation of freedom to a breeze overcoming her, and the party bonding the guests together with a cord. Overall, Chopin’s use of language and imagery throughout the novel reinforces the feelings of the characters.

Syntax:

Throughout the novel, Chopin uses a rhetorical question along with different sentence structures such as simple and compound sentences that contribute to the rhythm and flow of the story. The simple sentence structures tend to be short and straightforward using in between formal and informal diction. Simple sentence structures are most seen in dialogue, when the characters are speaking to each other, the conversation is quick and unequivocal. For example, a conversation between Edna and her husband displayed this idea,

“‘On account of what, the?’

‘Oh! I don’t know. Let me alone; you bother me,’” (Chopin 96).

The bluntness between the two creates a choppy and fast-paced rhythm upon reading the text. The dialogue within this particular conversation is also informal, adding to the tone of the conversation. Another example of simple dialogue is seen between Alcee Arobin and Edna as well,

“‘I’ve heard she’s partially demented,’ said Arobin.

‘She seems to me wonderfully sane,’ Edna replied.

‘I’m told she’s extremely disagreeable and unpleasant. Why have you introduced her at a moment when I desired to talk of you?’

‘Oh! Talk of me if you like,’ cried Edna, clasping her hands beneath her head; ‘but let me think of something else while you do’” (Chopin 138).

In Alcee and Edna’s conversation, Alcee uses lengthier, concise wording, along with more formal language. This further leads to the flow of the conversation being slower as the words are elongated to be more specific and descriptive. On the other hand, complex and compound sentences tend to be lengthier and more formal and concise than the dialogue. For example, in this instance, when the speaker narrates Edna’s thoughts, they use a compound sentence, “She could not work on such a day, nor weave fancies to stir her pulses and warm her blood” (Chopin 97). When using a compound sentence, the flow of the poem is paused at the comma and “nor”, slowing the novel down while also disrupting the flow of the sentence. At the same time, a rhetorical question is repeated throughout the story. Once Edna comes to the realization of her infatuation with Robert, she begins to question her actions. For example, when Alcee kissed her hand, “The thought was passing vaguely through her mind, ‘What would he think?’ She did not mean her husband; she was thinking of Robert Lebrun” (Chopin 129). This rhetorical question constantly is repeated throughout the novel, continuously displaying the focal point of Edna’s awakening. This further exemplifies her longing for Robert although having an affair with another man. The question also sets a confused, desperate tone within the novel. In general, syntax from sentence structures to literary devices, influences the rhetorical question that further influences the awakening of Edna, the main theme. The flow and rhythm create a sense of reaction throughout, displaying the different changes the characters go through.

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