In the novel, The Awakening there are several motifs or images that assist in developing Edna Pontellier in her “awakening”, the birds, the lovers and the woman and black all prove to be important parts in this. It is significant that The Awakening opens with two caged birds. Throughout the novel, Edna feels that marriage enslaves her to an identity she for which she is not suited. The parrot is an expensive bird valued for its beauty. The mockingbird is fairly common and plain, and it is valued for the music it provides. These two birds function as metaphors for the position of women in late Victorian society. Women are valued for their physical appearance and the entertainment they can provide for the men in their lives. Like parrots, they are not expected to voice opinions of their own, but to repeat the opinions that social convention defines as proper or respectable.” The parrot shrieks Go away! Damnation!” These are the first lines of The Awakening, and they signal the essentially tragic nature of the novel. The parrot speaks French, a little Spanish, and a language which nobody understood.” Again, the parrot serves as a metaphor for Edna’s predicament. As she becomes more defiant, she voices unconventional opinions about the sacred institutions of marriage, gender, and motherhood. Later in the novel, Mademoiselle uses wings as a metaphor for Edna’s decision to defy social conventions. She warns Edna, “138” When she asks where Edna wants to soar, she means to ask Edna if she is sure that she can escape her gilded cage. If she fails, she will become one of the sad spectacles of the birds that fail. At the end of the novel, a bird with a broken wing sinks into the surf. The bird symbolizes Edna’s failure to achieve the very goal that has driven her actions the entire time. In the end, Edna’s freedom takes place in death. This is the choice that social convention allows her.
Throughout the entire novel, the two young lovers are usually represented in conjunction with the woman in black. The two lovers are important symbols in The Awakening. Since the lovers always appear in conjunction with the woman in black, they foreshadow the eventual failure of Robert and Edna’s love for one another. The contrast between the woman in black and the young lovers has a symbolic relationship to the love between Robert and Edna. The woman in black represents the logical conclusion to the conventional woman’s life if her husband dies first. However, there is no old couple to represent Robert and Edna’s contented futures. Therefore, the lovers and the woman in black foreshadow the failure of their love. Furthermore, there is no figure to symbolize the old age of the rebellious woman represented in Edna. The absence of this figure foreshadows Edna’s suicide at the end of the novel. It implies that Edna must choose between conforming to social conventions or disappearing from the symbolic scene of the stages of a Victorian woman’s life.