Symbolism As An Important Tool In Literature
Freedom and Rebellion
Symbolism is an important tool in literature that allows authors to unveil the truth in a subtle way. Mark Twain and Kate Chopin effectively use this method in their stories to expose the harsh realities that the characters faced. Twain uses multiple symbols in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to represent freedom. In The Awakening, Chopin uses symbols to reveal the restrictions that women dealt with in the late nineteenth century. She uses symbolism to tell Edna’s journey towards discovering herself. The settings of these novels are fundamental in establishing the characters and the hardships they encounter.
The Mississippi River is unquestionably the strongest symbol Twain uses throughout the novel. It represents freedom and hope for Jim, who is a slave. It is the ultimate escape, not only to take Jim away from enslavement, but it takes Huck away from those who tried to civilize him. However, the river flows freely and sometimes it can be overwhelming. There are storms and the river overflows. It is impossible to control. The Mississippi River is wild and difficult to obtain much like freedom itself. The setting in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn plays a vital role in conveying Twain’s message. “And it did seem so good to be free again and all by ourselves on the big river, and nobody to bother us.”
Throughout the novel, there is a strong opposition between life on the river and life on shore. The life on shore consists of uncivilized civilization, absurd feuds, and meaningless rules. (De Koster 48) However, the river is often a threat to the freedom that Jim and Huck desire. It is the river that sends bounty hunters past them and where they encounter two conmen known as the king and the duke. Most importantly, it is the river that pushes them past Cairo, Illinois, which is where they were hoping to catch a steamboat that would lead them into the free states. Another symbol used to represent freedom is the ocean in Chopin’s The Awakening. The ocean symbolizes an awakening within Edna. The ocean attaches Edna with a raw feeling inside herself that she did not know was there. She describes the ocean as sensuous and it surrounds her body in its soft, close embrace. (Chopin 15) She is depicting the sea as mothering and feminine. The sea awakens something in her and baptizes her like a newborn child.
The setting in The Awakening takes place during the Victorian era in New Orleans, Louisiana. This is significant in the novel because during this period, women had no authority and were expected to obey and submit to men and societal standards. Chopin uses this setting because the story would not make sense if it took place where divorce is accepted. (Toth) The societal pressures eventually take a toll on the female protagonist, Edna. In the beginning of the story, she is known as a reputable woman but struggles with her identity. She becomes rebellious and acts on her sexual desires. She leaves her family in hopes of discovering herself. Another symbol Twain utilizes to convey freedom is the raft. The raft, which is Huck and Jim’s transportation and home on the Mississippi River, symbolizes freedom from the rules of society. (De Koster 26) As they float down the river, they are free to act as they wish and at their own pace. Jim is no longer a slave and Huck is no longer a runaway. Twain uses the raft to show that Jim and Huck are essentially masters of their own destinies.
Chopin displays numerous symbols throughout The Awakening. At the beginning of the novel, she uses a parrot, which has two different meanings. We first see it in a cage, and it is speaking a different language. She uses this symbol to relate the bird to the character Edna. Of course, Edna is not literally in a cage, but she is living in a time where women were confined by societies expectations. However, even when Edna does find freedom by painting pictures and moving into her own home, no one around her understands. She is essentially speaking a language that is foreign to them. The parrot symbolizes Edna, but it also symbolizes all women during this time. Women of the Victorian era were limited and trapped by their society, in the same way the parrot is trapped in its tiny cage. Chopin and Twain’s use of symbolism unveils the truth in the characters of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Awakening. The settings of these novels play a vital role in understanding the dimensions of the characters. Using these tools, we can see through the facades of the characters and how they are affected by societal standards.
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