From the Victorian era, Chopin startled critics with her tale of a woman’s abortive struggle towards independence in an oppressive society. By using women as her protagonists, Chopin highlights their sexist roles in literature; however she restricts their development through a controlled, authorial third person narrative. It thus seemed conducive to transform The Awakening into a series of English sonnets, revealing the undeveloped characterisation of Edna with Robert, through their separation. Therefore, the audience for my piece would be educated readers who enjoy reading poetry that has a challenging and unconventional form. I shed new light on the short story by elucidating Edna’s role in society through highlighting the narrow and stereotypical way in which women are often portrayed in literature.
The short story distances the protagonist from her emotional development, because it is written in the third person narrative. Hence, the form does not offer the opportunity for character expansion in the same way the sonnets do. My transformation moves from a third person, omniscient narrator in the novel to dual first person narrative. For example, Edna openly declares her love for Robert, at the time of her death: “I’m the person who deserves your love.” The narrative voice appears more autonomous in the sonnet because the author’s evaluation of the moral choices that her characters make is lost. The sonnet form successfully enables Edna to reveal her true emotions to the reader, whilst shedding light on the character’s relationships in the short story.
The form of English sonnets enabled me to phonetically create the sound of a heart beating through the strict meter of iambic pentameter. Therefore, when the two characters reveal their feelings to each other the meter is tight, mirroring the natural sound of a heart beating. For example, Robert declares: “The bonds we made grew deeper than the sea.” Robert uses a comparative analogy to describe his love for Edna, which suggests there is positive emotional relationship between the two characters. The extended metaphor of the sea has been used to satirize the literary archetype of Edna by communicating the narrow portrayals of women within literature. For example, in the story, Chopin describes the sea as “seductive,” “soft” and “sensuous,” which are typical modifiers that are used to describe women. Hence, I took the initiative to mimic Chopin’s stereotypical portrayal of Edna by including imagery of the sea, within Robert’s sonnet.
I have crafted the structure in the final sonnet where the iambic pentameter deliberately fails after the first quatrain, creating the sound of a dying and irregular heartbeat. This phonetically indicates Edna’s death at the end of the story as the strict rules of the sonnet are broken. A key linguistic device used is the semantic field of death: “drowned,” “black” and “took my breath.” The verb “drowned,” clearly reveals Edna’s death to the reader, as this is not explicitly stated in the story but merely implied. Also, the modifier “black” describes Edna’s death as fatal which contrasts to the story, where it is implied that Edna will be re-awakened by the sea. This makes the reader believe that Edna’s conflicting relationship with Robert has ended because she has resorted to suicide. In this sonnet, Edna blames Robert for her emotional downfall and suicide, mirroring Eve, who according to the Bible, led Adam to the forbidden fruit, causing the corruption of mankind.
Juxtaposition of Edna’s beauty has been used in the third sonnet to highlight her cunning and manipulative ways as a female protagonist. For example, the final line: “But now, you’re bad as hell and dark as night,” highlights Robert’s eventual realisation of Edna’s tarnished internal beauty. The similes “bad as hell,” and “dark as night,” uses bleak imagery of nature to highlight Edna’s wicked transformation to the reader. This contrasts to Edna’s beauty initially being compared to the ocean in the first sonnet: “your beauty’s liberal like the sea.” However, in the final sonnet Robert no longer perceives Edna as beautiful, but Edna herself. For example, her vanity is revealed in line five: “since my beauty and fairness enticed you…” The lexical choice: “my” arrogantly used by Edna implies that she possess all beauty, above nature which also depicts Eve’s attraction to her own image when she sees her reflection in the water. This ties the sonnet in with the theme of beauty in the short story and succeeds in reinforcing to the reader the view that many authors recycle archetypes of women in literature.
Antithesis has been used in the first line of the final sonnet to demonstrate Edna’s transition from life to death. For example, “the calm, seducing sea turned black with death.” The contrast metaphorically uses the sea, describing the change in nature to indicate Edna’s change. This was successful as English sonnets often refer to love, beauty and nature, thus I endeavoured to include this in the first line to create a dramatic beginning. The conflicting emotions between the two characters stemmed from Robert when he says: “…he can only be the love for thee.” Robert refers to Léonce in the third person, which distances him from Edna and Robert’s relationship; implying that he has realised his mistakes with Edna.
The transformation has used the satirical portrayal of the protagonist in The Awakening to highlight the strict gender constraints placed upon the character and in doing so, shedding light on the emotional development of Edna and Robert while they are separated in the short story. The sonnet form has endeavoured to capture a first- hand perspective of the two characters in an attempt to elucidate characterisation in the story.