STUDENT EXAMPLE: A PASSAGE AND A WRITTEN COMMENTARY.
PAPER ONE EXAMPLE
Write a written commentary on this passage from The Awakening.
Despondency had come upon her there in the wakeful night, and had never lifted. There was no one thing in the world that she desired. There was no human being whom she wanted near her except Robert; and she even realized that the day would come when he, too, and the thought of him would melt out of her existence, leaving her alone. The children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her; who had overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul’s slavery for the rest of her days. But she knew a way to elude them. She was not thinking of these things when she walked down to the beach.
The water of the Gulf stretched out before her, gleaming with the million lights of the sun. The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in abysses of solitude. All along the white beach, up and down, there was no living thing in sight. A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water.
Edna had found her old bathing suit still hanging, faded, upon its accustomed peg.
She put it on, leaving her clothing in the bath-house. But when she was there beside the sea, absolutely alone, she cast the unpleasant, pricking garments from her, and for the first time in her life she stood naked in the open air, at the mercy of the sun, the breeze that beat upon her, and the waves that invited her.
How strange and awful it seemed to stand naked under the sky! how delicious! She felt like some newborn creature, opening its eyes in a familiar world that it had never known.
The foamy wavelets curled up to her white feet, and coiled like serpents about her ankles. She walked out. The water was chill, but she walked on. The water was deep, but she lifted her white body and reached out with a long, sweeping stroke. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace. She went on and on. She remembered the night she swam far out, and recalled the terror that seized her at the fear of being unable to regain the shore. She did not look back now, but went on and on, thinking of the blue-grass meadow that she had traversed when a little child, believing that it had no beginning and no end.
Her arms and legs were growing tired.
She thought of Léonce and the children. They were a part of her life. But they need not have thought that they could possess her, body and soul. How Mademoiselle Reisz would have laughed, perhaps sneered, if she knew! “And you call yourself an artist! What pretensions, Madame! The artist must possess the courageous soul that dares and defies.”
Exhaustion was pressing upon and overpowering her.
“Good-by— because I love you.” He did not know; he did not understand. He would never understand. Perhaps Doctor Mandelet would have understood if she had seen him— but it was too late; the shore was far behind her, and her strength was gone.
She looked into the distance, and the old terror flamed up for an instant, then sank again. Edna heard her father’s voice and her sister Margaret’s. She heard the barking of an old dog that was chained to the sycamore tree. The spurs of the cavalry officer clanged as he walked across the porch. There was the hum of bees, and the musky odor of pinks filled the air.
Chopin, Kate (2014-07-21). The Awakening and Selected Stories of Kate Chopin (Enriched Classics) (Kindle Locations 2399-2405). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
Paper One Student Sample Essay
In this passage from The Awakening, Kate Chopin reveals the culmination of Edna’s struggle to overcome female oppression in the late Victorian Era. Edna commits suicide to either escape a life that is not her own or to ultimately defy societal ideals. Through this particular passage, Chopin argues that only death can bring true liberation and peace in a time as oppressive for women as 1891. Chopin accomplishes this through symbolic language and diction, a stream-of-consciousness point of view outlined by external conflict, and a tonal shift that gradually gains momentum throughout the passage.
Recognizing the setting of this passage is essential to understanding the overall theme of overcoming oppression. By setting The Awakening in the very end of the 19th century, she capitalizes on the plight of women: confined to the domestic sphere with a designated role of motherhood. Women such as Edna recognize society's expectations that women compromise their identities on behalf of their husband and children. In this passage, Edna finally recognizes that she will never be free from this expectation unless she dies.
The diction Chopin uses in this passage is largely symbolic and connotative. Most of the images Chopin describes symbolize something more meaningful for Edna than their literal depiction. For example, when Edna thinks of Robert, she recognizes that “the thought of him would melt out of her existence leaving her alone.” Edna realizes that eventually she will stop thinking of Robert, meaning she will forget the only person she truly loves and who truly loves her. Edna would never actually be alone because she is married and has children, but Chopin suggests that no one can penetrate the metaphysical loneliness Edna feels through her connotative diction. Further, in the final paragraph of the passage, Edna recalls the sounds and smells of her childhood home right before she drowns in the ocean. Through this, Chopin suggests that Edna is figuratively going home, where she will find peace and freedom that accompanies being a child. The symbolic diction Chopin utilizes gives the passage deeper meaning than it otherwise would have, in turn providing meaning to end his death as a means to find peace.
Accompanying Chopin’s connotative diction is her use of symbolic language. Chopin largely personifies the sea, which gives it the appearance of rescuing and comforting Edna from her ceaseless struggles in life. Edna describes the voice of the seas as “seductive never-ceasing... inviting the soul to wander in abysses of solitude.” Later in the passage, she describes the touch of the sea as “sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft close embrace.” But given the ocean a comforting voice and touch, Chopin presents the ocean not as something that cruelly murders Edna, but as someone with whom and that can be at peace. Also, there is the image of a bird with a broken wing that flies down down to the water. The bird serves as a symbol for Edna, who was broken by life and who now seeks solace in the water. Furthermore, Chopin uses a simile to compare Edna to “a newborn creature, opening its eyes in a familiar world it had never known.” As Edna faces her death, she strips naked and feels completely liberated, as if she is casting aside society’s chains for her along with her clothing. The fact that she feels “newborn” suggests that although she is about to die, she finally feels truly free. The symbolism Chopin creates in this passage accentuates the peaceful and liberated emotions Edna experiences as she is released from the world.
The structure through which Chopin writes is characterized by a stream of consciousness and internal conflict. Chopin continually demonstrates the thoughts and emotions of Edna as she realizes she will never be free while she is alive. The flow of thought the reader experiences through Edna personalizes her plight, allowing the reader to gain a better understanding of Chopin’s message; death is really the only true means of finding complete liberation and peace. Additionally, Edna's identity crisis and subsequent realization about escaping oppression occurs not because she is explicitly told, but because her own thoughts and emotions betray society's ideals. In the passage, Edna envisions her children and husband because they symbolize her identity as a mother and wife, which Edna internally rebels against. Edna’s love for Robert also surfaces in Edna's stream of consciousness because this love characterizes Edna as separate from other women as well as something she can never have. Chopin largely personalizes Edna's struggle against society and her own true nature, allowing the reader a deeper understanding of her powerful message in this passage.
The tone of the passage begins as one of despair as if Edna has given up. Edna feels “despondency” and “desires no one thing in the world.” The concept of giving up is closely associated with suicide, yet as the passage progresses, the tone shifts to one of empowerment. As Edna comes into contact with the sea, casting off her clothing and relishing her newfound liberation, she feels not despondent but metaphysically stronger, working past her previous “terror... that the fear of being unable to regain the shore.” The momentum of the tone seems to increase almost as if the speed of the reading increases as Edna finds strength and empowerment in her actions. Instead of suggesting Edna's suicide as her giving up, Chopin gives Edna strength which correlates to the idea that her death is a means of achieving freedom on her own terms.
Throughout this passage, Edna is depicted not as someone who was weak and committing suicide simply to end the pain of living, but instead, Chopin depicts her through symbolic language and end his own stream-of-consciousness as well as an empowered tone as a woman finally finding liberation and peace. Chopin argues that death is the true manner through which to achieve this peace, especially in an oppressive time period as the late Victorian era.