By Audrey Lambert, TIWP Alumna
On the day before I started my junior year through a computer screen, I watched a praying mantis walk into the ocean. I tried to stop it, but the surf rolled over the top of my barefoot and I watched it get washed away with sand and sea foam.
All I could think about was the ending of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening when Eda strips naked and walks into the ocean to gain her freedom, to earn her self-ownership, and I thought, what could possibly be oppressing this insect? What could be plaguing it to the point of carrying itself all the way across the sandy beach and into the ocean to its own death? Was there some sort of biological reason, some genetic instinct that made it do that, or was this just an incredibly tortured insect? And even so, why did it happen right in front of me? Was it a sign, a message, an omen?
I couldn’t stop thinking about this moment, about what it could possibly mean. Then of course, I looked it up and it had a perfectly reasonable, scientific, and not at all spiritual reason.
When a praying mantises is infected with a parasite called a hair-worm, that worm secretes a chemical which alters the insect’s polarized-light perception. This causes them to walk into the water, attracted to the way the light hits the flat expense of the ocean.
So I suppose there was something oppressing that praying mantis. It was a parasite. And I thought back to The Awakening and how, like Edna, many so-called “hysterical” women were sent to live on the coast by their husbands who had talked to male psychiatrists, believing that ocean air was enough to cure mental-illness. Those men were like those hair-worms, in total control of their wives, leading them to the nice bright light of the ocean, just for them to die.
Aphrodite was formed of sea foam, the original little mermaid cursed to become it. There is something so feminine about drowning, about returning to the sea. Maybe it’s something to do with the moon, how it’s cycles sometimes sync ours, how its pull creates the waves. Or maybe it’s some sort of ingrained feeling, because, as established, the ocean is where women are sent to die.
A female praying mantis will eat her mate after sex. I suppose, since they don’t have husbands to oppress them, parasitic worms rose to the task.