Langston

Hughes And Kate Chopin

Langston Hughes and Kate Chopin use nature in several dimensions to demonstrate
the powerful struggles and burdens of human life. Throughout Kate Chopin^s The

Awakening and several of Langston Hughes^ poems, the sweeping imagery of the
beauty and power of nature demonstrates the struggles the characters confront,
and their eventual freedom from those struggles. Nature and freedom coexist, and
the characters eventually learn to find freedom from the confines of society,
oneself, and finally freedom within one^s soul. The use of nature for this
purpose brings the characters and speakers in Chopin^s and Hughes^ works to
life, and the reader feels the life and freedom of those characters. Nature, in
the works of Chopin and Hughes serves as a powerful symbol that represents the
struggle of the human soul towards freedom, the anguish of that struggle, and
the joy when that freedom is finally reached. In The Awakening, the protagonist

Edna Pontellier undergoes a metamorphosis. She lives in Creole society, a
society that restricts sexuality, especially for women of the time. Edna is
bound by the confines of a loveless marriage, unfulfilled, unhappy, and closed
in like a caged bird. During her summer at Grand Isle she is confronted with
herself in her truest nature, and finds herself swept away by passion and love
for someone she cannot have, Robert Lebrun. The imagery of the ocean at Grand

Isle and its attributes symbolize a force calling her to confront her internal
struggles, and find freedom. Chopin uses the imagery of the ocean to represent
the innate force within her soul that is calling to her. ^The voice of the sea
is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul
to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in a maze of inward
contemplation.^ (p.14) Through nature and its power, Edna, begins to find
freedom in her ! soul and then returns to a life in the city where reside the
conflicts that surround her. Edna grew up on a Mississippi plantation, where
life was simple, happy, and peaceful. The images of nature, which serve as a
symbol for freedom of the soul, appear when she speaks of this existence. In the
novel, she remembers a simpler life when she was a child, engulfed in nature and
free: ^The hot wind beating in my face made me think ^ without any connection
that I can trace ^ of a summer day in Kentucky, of a meadow that seemed as big
as the ocean to the very little girl walking through the grass, which was higher
than her waist. She threw out her arms as if swimming when she walked, beating
the tall grass as one strikes out in the water.^ (p.17) Chopin^s reference to
swimming occurs many times in the novel, and through the ocean and her
experiences swimming, she not only confronts nature, but she challenges and
discovers her true self. The use of nature is especially significant as a memory
in her childhood because it marks a time in her life when she was happy and
free. This image of swimming returns to her when her soul is beginning to
reopen, at Grand Isle. When Edna finally learns to swim, she finds herself
frightened, alone, overwhelmed, and surrounded in a vast expanse of water. Her
experience swimming in the ocean for the first time parallels her discovery and
immersion in the true nature of her soul: ^As she swam she seemed to be reaching
out for the unlimited in which to lose herself . . . A quick vision of death
smote her soul, and for a second of time appalled and enfeebled her sense.^
(p.28) She is frightened by her own self-discovery ^ yet is enraptured by it. It
is this contradiction and this confrontation with nature that is brings about

Edna^s self-discovery and metamorphosis within the novel. It is more than love
for Robert that drives her to be free from the restrictions of this society.

Instead, it is her discovery of her own self that causes her to shun the
confines of society. Edna^s ^self-discovery^ awakens her, and she is able to
greet her own soul, a soul filled with passion and sexuality. However, ev! en
though she has found freedom within her own soul, she cannot be truly free in
this urban society. The symbol of the ocean appears again after Edna has been
awakened and discovered the power of her self. Edna, with an inner sense of
freedom, confronts the realization that the shackles of society that require her
submission are