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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
Type of Work
.......The Awakening is a tragic realistic novel about a young American woman of the late nineteenth century who seeks to realize her full potential as an independent human being in a male-dominated society. The novel has characteristics of the
Entwicklungsroman, a German term for a novel of character development.
.......Herbert S. Stone and Company published the novel in Chicago in April 1899. Kate Chopin began work on it in 1897 under the working title of The Solitary Soul.
.......The action takes place in Louisiana in the late nineteenth century between the summer of one year and late winter of the next year. The scenes are set on the island of Grand Isle, a resort for well-to-do New Orleans residents; on the island of Chénière Caminada, where Grand
Isle sojourners attend mass at the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes; in New Orleans; and in Iberville.
Edna Pontellier: Attractive twenty-eight-year-old daughter of a Confederate War veteran. As a child, she lived in Mississippi and Kentucky and developed crushes on a cavalry officer, whom she thought resembled Napoleon; an engaged young man who visits her home with his
fiancée; and an actor, whose picture she kept and secretly kissed. While vacationing on Grand Isle, she becomes dissatisfied with her life as a typical wife and mother and begins asserting her independence and seeking fulfillment in doing as she pleases, although she never quite subdues the romantic feelings she knew as a child. While rebelling against social and cultural
traditions of the time, including the treatment of women by men as second-class citizens, she falls in love with a young man.
Léonce Pontellier: Edna's forty-year-old husband, a successful New Orleans
businessman. He wears eyeglasses and has a neatly trimmed beard.
Étienne, Raoul: Children of the Pontelliers.
Madame Lebrun: Widow who operates a pension (place of lodging) on Grand Isle. Mr. and Mrs. Pontellier are among the New Orleans residents who vacation there.
Robert Lebrun: Son of Madame Lebrun. He and Edna fall in love.
Victor Lebrun: Outspoken younger son of Madame Lebrun.
Adèle Ratignolle: Woman who accepts her role
as wife and mother and dotes on her children and husband. She is a good friend and confidante of Edna Pontellier.
Alphonse Ratignolle: Husband of Adèle Ratignolle.
Mademoiselle Reisz: Accomplished pianist vacationing at Grand Isle. The narrator describes her as “a disagreeable little woman, no longer young, who had quarreled with almost every one. . . .” She befriends Edna Ratignolle.
Farival Twins: Fourteen-year-old pianist vacationing at Madame Lebrun's pension. They entertain guests at Madame Lebrun's party.
Old Farival: Grandfather of the Farival twins.
Dancing Girl: Girl who performs a skirt dance at Madame Lebrun's party.
Mother of Dancing Girl: Woman who plays the piano while her daughter dances.
Alcée Arobin: Womanizer and admirer of Edna Pontellier. He has a brief affair with
Madame Antoine: Friend of Robert Lebrun. She opens her home to Edna Pontellier when the latter feels ill, allowing her to nap there.
Tonie: Son of Madame Antoine.
Beaudelet: Boatman who takes passengers to and from Grand Isle.
Old Celestine: Edna Pontellier's servant.
The Lady in Black: One of Madame Lebrun's lodgers. She constantly prays the rosary or reads from a prayer book.
Montel: Friend of Robert Lebrun. He helps
Robert look for career opportunities in Mexico.
Mariequita: Young girl who flirts with Robert and Victor Lebrun.
Mademoiselle Duvigne: Woman who once lodged at Madame Lebrun's pension and with whom Robert Lebrun was friendly. Mademoiselle Duvigne died young.
Lidie: Mother of children who befriend the Pontellier boys at their grandmother's home in Iberia.
Joe: Youth who works in the Pontellier home.
Ellen: Servant of the Pontelliers.
Josephine: Nurse attending Adèle Ratignolle when the latter is in labor with her fourth child.
Uncle Jasper: Uncle of Étienne and Raoul. He takes the boys fishing during their stay in Iberville.
Mr. Belthrop: Wealthy man who does business with Léonce Pontellier.
Mrs. Belthrop: Wife of Mr. Belthrop. She is on Edna Pontellier's guest list for Tuesday-afternoon social gatherings.
Two Young Lovers: Vacationers at Madame Lebrun's pension.
Mrs. Mortimer Merriman, Mrs. James Highcamp: Dinner guests at the Pontellier home on a Thursday evening.
Mrs. Highcamp's Daughter: Young lady whom Mrs. Highcamp invites Victor Lebrun to call upon. He accepts her invitation.
Laidpore: Art teacher. Edna Pontellier takes lessons from him.
Janet, Margaret: Sisters of Edna Pontellier.
'Cite: Young black servant of Madame Ratignolle.
Sister: She lives on a plantation and cannot be present when Madame is giving birth.
Philomel: Victor's cook when he resides on Grand Isle in the winter to maintain Madame Lebrun's pension.
Old Lame Susie: Kitchen worker at the home of the Pontellier boys' grandmother.
Grocer: Merchant whom Edna Pontellier asks for
the address of Mademoiselle Reisz, a former neighbor of his on Bienville Street. He does not have the address and does not care where she lives. He says she was the most obnoxious woman who ever lived on his street.
Yard Boy: Youth who works for Madame Lebrun.
Reciters: Young brother and sister and give recitations at a party held by Madame Lebrun.
Acquaintance of the Pontelliers.
Madame Pouponne: Part of a family occupying the former residence of Mademoiselle Reisz.
Ice-cream Makers: Two black women women who make the dessert for Madame Lebrun's party.
Acadian Boy: Youth who gives water to
Edna Pontellier and Robert Lebrun after they leave church.
Father Fochel: Priest who attempted to explain the theology of indulgences to the Lady in Black.
Point of View
.......Chopin wrote the story in omniscient third-person point of view, enabling the narrator to present the thoughts of the characters.
The tone is generally serious and objective. However, there are moments of laughter.
.......It is Sunday on Grand Isle, an island community off the coast of Louisiana. At a small resort where vacationers from New Orleans lodge in cottages, Léonce Pontellier reads a newspaper in
front of the cottage of the proprietor, Madame Lebrun. A caged parrot jabbers outside the door while a caged mockingbird whistles inside.
Annoyed, Pontellier gets up and goes to his own cottage, the fourth one down from Madame Lebrun's. There, he sits in a wicker chair and
.......Now and then, the forty-year-old looks up to listen and observe. He can still hear the birds. He can also hear the piano duet that the fourteen-year-old the Farival twins are playing. Madame
Lebrun, a pretty woman clad in white, operates the cottages as a pension (a small hotel or boardinghouse). She is giving a yard boy commands as she goes into and out of her cottage. Everyone refers to her cottage as “the house”
.......A lady in black is walking outside a cottage as she prays the rosary. Across the way under trees, children—including Pontellier's two boys, aged four and five—are playing croquet. A quadroon nurse watches over them. Pontellier's wife, Edna, twenty-eight, comes in from the beach with twenty-six-year-old Robert Lebrun. Pontellier tells her it was foolish to go into the water
with the sun bearing down.
.......“You are burnt beyond recognition,” he says.
.......He decides to go to Klein's Hotel to play billiards and invites young Lebrun, but the latter prefers to remain behind to talk with Edna.
Pontellier, an attractive woman with yellowish-brown hair, and Robert talk about various trivial subjects, then about themselves. Robert speaks of traveling to Mexico in the fall. (He always talks about taking such a trip, but never does.) At the New Orleans mercantile house that employs him, his ability to speak English, French, and the language of Mexico—Spanish—makes him an
asset as a correspondent and clerk. He is on summer vacation, lodging with his mother, Madame Lebrun, a widow. The income she receives from the enterprise enables her to lead a comfortable life.
.......Mrs. Pontellier chats
about her father's plantation in Mississippi and about her childhood home in Kentucky. She reads a letter from her sister, who is engaged to be married, then goes inside to dress for dinner. Robert walks out to the croquet game for some amusement with the Pontellier children, who enjoy his company.
.......Léonce Pontellier does not return from Klein's until 11 p.m., when his wife is in bed. He reports the news and gossip he heard during the day. Sleepy, she hardly responds. He is disappointed that she exhibits little interest in his conversation. When he looks in on his children, he
discovers that one of them, Raoul, appears to have a high fever. He reports his discovery to his wife. She doubts that Raoul is sick, saying he was well when he went to bed. Léonce then criticizes Edna for “habitual neglect” of the children and says he himself cannot watch over them constantly because of the
demands that his brokerage business places on him. Edna gets up and checks Raoul, then returns without saying anything. Léonce falls asleep. Edna goes out on the porch and cries profusely, although she is not sure why.
.......In the morning, Mr. Pontellier gives his wife half of his billiard winnings from the day before.
.......“It will buy a handsome
wedding present for Sister Janet,” Edna says.
.......She and the children bid him good-bye as he goes to work. He will not be back until the following Saturday. A few days later, she receives a box of candies, fruits, and
other goodies from her husband in New Orleans. She shares the bounty with the boys' nurses, who declare Mr. Pontellier "the best husband in the world,” the narrator says. Edna agrees.
.......Mr. Pontellier has only a feeling
that his wife is neglecting the children, but no evidence. He regrets accusing her of doing so. He is aware, though, that whenever they injure themselves at play they do not run to their mother for sympathy. Instead, they bear their suffering and return to play. In battles with other children, they stand their ground.
.......“Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman,” the narrator observes.
.......But there are many
mother-women vacationing at Grand Isle—self-effacing women who closely protect their children and adore their husbands. One of them is the beautiful and charming Adèle Ratignolle, who visits Edna on the day that the box of goodies arrived, bringing along her sewing for a baby's night garment. Mrs. Ratignolle
has three children and talks about a fourth. She sits in the rocker while Mrs. Pontellier occupies the top step. Robert is seated nearby.
.......Although Mrs. Pontellier is married to a Creole, she is
generally uncomfortable around other Creoles. And all the guests that summer at Madame Lebrun's pension are, like Adèle Ratignolle, Creoles. They are so open and frank about matters of sex. They have not a hint of prudery.
.......Every summer at Grand Isle, Robert cultivates a friendship with a female resident—perhaps a young girl one summer or a widow or a married woman the next. Mrs. Pontellier is his current favorite. Robert jokingly tells her of his former passion for Madame Ratignolle. While he is filling in
the details, Adèle gives him a running commentary, calling him blagueur (joker), farceur (wag or practical joker), and gros bête (big beast). Edna is not sure whether Robert is joking or is serious.
.......Edna begins brushing a sketch of Madame Ratignolle. Robert sits on a lower step to observe.
.......“That's not bad,” he
says in French. “I recognize her.”
.......One morning, Edna and Adèle go to the beach to be alone and talk. Adèle brings along her
knitting. Edna shares with her a memory of her childhood in Kentucky, when she was walking through a green field.
......."Likely as not it was Sunday," she says, "and I was running away from prayers, from the Presbyterian
service, read in a spirit of gloom by my father that chills me yet to think of."
.......Mrs. Ratignolle takes her hand and says, “Pauvre cherie [poor girl].”
.......Edna is not used to such a show of affection. When she was a girl, she and her sister Janet often argued. Her older sister, Margaret—dignified and practical—did not show her emotions readily. Margaret kept house after their mother died. Edna's girlfriends “seemed to have been all
of one type—the self-contained,” the narrator says. .......She had crushes as a girl on a cavalry officer and on a young man engaged to a neighbor. In addition, she thought often of the image of a tragedian and kept a picture of him. When she was alone, she often kissed
.......When she met Léonce, he fell in love with her and became completely devoted to her. She enjoyed his attentions and
believed that he and she were of the same mind in their tastes and other ways, but they were not. Her father and her sister Margaret opposed the relationship because he was a Catholic. Consequently, the narrator says, “we need seek no further for the motives which led her to accept Monsieur Pontellier for her husband.”
.......She developed an affection her husband. But, the narrator says, “no trace of passion or excessive and fictitious warmth colored her affection. . . . “
She was fond of her children,
at times passionately holding them. However, at other times she forgot about them. A year before, they stayed with their grandmother in Iberville for part of the summer, and Edna got along fine without them except for an occasional intense desire for their presence. Although she would not admit it to herself or others, she felt somewhat relieved to be free of them for a while. She was not
altogether suited to child-rearing.
.......Edna and Adèle's beach interlude ends when Robert brings Edna's boys out, along with
Adèle's little girl. Two nursemaids follow. Edna joins the children. Adèle asks Robert to accompany her back to the pension, saying she has aches and stiff joints.
.......On the way, Adèle asks Robert to “let Mrs. Pontellier alone,” saying she might take his attentions seriously.
"Why shouldn't she take me seriously?" he demanded sharply. "Am I a comedian, a clown, a jack-in-the-box? Why shouldn't she? You Creoles!"
.......When he returns to his mother's cottage, Robert goes to her room at the top, where she is working at a sewing machine. A black girl pumps the treadle. Madame looks out the window and notices that her younger son, Victor, is about to leave with the rockaway. She asks Robert to call to him. When he whistles out the window, Victor does
not look up. Madame Lebrun then calls to him, but he ignores her and drives off. She is irritated and says, “If your father had only lived!” Robert then asks her whether she has heard from Montel, a middle-aged man who has tried to fill in for Monsieur since his death. She says she received a letter from him saying that he will be in Vera Cruz, Mexico, the following month and that Robert could
join him if he wished.
.......On a Saturday evening a few weeks later, Madame Lebrun hosts a dinner in the hall of the pension for her lodgers and their guests, including many husbands of the women residents. There is
entertainment—music, dancing, recitations. Madame Ratignolle plays a waltz while others dance. Mrs. Pontellier dances with Léonce, Robert, and Adèle's husband, Alphonse—a tall, thin man.
.......Robert then goes out to get Mademoiselle Reisz to play. She is a homely, disagreeable, middle-aged woman. After Robert escorts her into the hall, she plays brilliantly, with passion, bringing tears to Edna's eyes. After concluding
her performance, she rises and, on her way out, pats Edna on the shoulder, saying, “You are the only one worth playing for.”
.......Although the hour is late, all the diners go to the beach to bathe. But Edna is
disappointed when Robert drops behind to talk with others. Of late, he has avoided her, and she wonders why. Edna, who been taking swimming lessons to overcome her fear of water, is anxious when she ventures into the gulf. But she stays afloat and exults in her newly found power. When she goes too far out, she panics. But in a moment, she regains herself and swims ashore.
.......While she walks back to the pension, Robert catches up. She tells him the evening has been exhilarating. “A thousand emotions have swept through me tonight,” she says. “I wonder if I shall ever be stirred again as Mademoiselle
Reisz's playing moved me to-night. I wonder if any night on earth will ever again be like this one . . . There must be spirits abroad tonight.”
.......Robert says there is a spirit abroad, one that has been seeking someone
“worthy to hold him company.” The spirit has found her: Mrs. Pontellier. “Don't banter me,” she replies, thinking he is being flippant. When they reach the pension, she lies down in a hammock in front of her cottage while he smokes a cigarette. She feels “throbbings of desire,” the narrator says, just as the other bathers are approaching from the beach. Robert leaves.
.......When Léonce arrives and finds her in the hammock, he urges her to go inside with him—lest she catch cold or the mosquitoes devour her. But she refuses to move. He goes inside, irritated, and paces about. In the past, she would have acceded to his wishes. He
calls to her, softening his voice: “Edna, dear, are you not coming in soon?” She says she is going to remain outside. He then becomes stern and says he will not allow her to sleep outside. She tells him to go to bed, adding, “I don't wish to go in, and I don't intend to. Don't speak to me like that again; I shall not answer you."
.......The next day Edna and Léonce have coffee and a roll before embarking in a boat for church on the nearby island of Chénière Caminada. With them are the lady in
black with the rosary beads, old Monsieur Farival, Robert, a Spanish girl named Mariequita, a couple that the narrator refers to as “the lovers,” and the boatman, Beaudelet. Mariequita speaks with Robert in Spanish, asking whether Edna is his sweetheart. He tells her she is married with two children. Mariequita then notes that a man named Francisco absconded with the wife of a man named Sylvano,
who had four children. They took Sylvano's money, boat, and one of his children.
.......At Chénière Caminada, they attend mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Gothic church. Beaudelet remains
at the boat to tinker, and Mariequita walks off with the basket of shrimp she brought with her.
.......At the mass, Edna feels faint. Robert takes her to the house of a friend, Madame Antoine, a heavy and clumsy but welcoming
lady. When Robert goes back out to smoke, Edna bathes her face, neck, and arms in water from a basin, takes off her shoes, and lies down on a bed. When she hears Robert talking with Tonie—Madame Antoine's son, who has returned from church—she falls asleep. After awakening later in the afternoon, she goes outdoors and spends time with Robert under orange trees. They dine on food he has prepared.
Later, when Madame Antoine and Tonie return from vespers, Edna listens to fascinating stories the woman tells about earlier days on Chénière Caminada. As evening draws on, she and Robert return to Grand Isle in Tonie's boat.
.......At supper one evening with Monsieur Farival, Madame Ratignolle, Victor, Robert, Madame Lebrun, and “the lovers,” Edna learns that Robert is going to Mexico. She is surprised, for he had mentioned nothing of his trip to her while he was reading to her that morning. And he is going that very evening.
......."How can a person start off from Grand Isle to Mexico at a moment's notice,” Edna says, “as if he were going over to Klein's or to the wharf or down to the beach?"
.......The others express similar opinions.
.......Robert says with some measure of irritation that he
has been saying for years that he would be going to Mexico. Then he explains that the best way to meet, Montel, the man who invited him to Mexico is to take a certain steamer from New Orleans. To be on time for it, he must leave at ten that evening with Beaudelet, who is transporting a load of vegetables.
.......After Edna returns to her cottage, she tells the boys a story and then sits out on the porch. Robert comes by twenty minutes before leaving to say good-bye. She chides him for not informing her of his trip and says, “I've grown used to seeing you, to having you with me all the time, and your action seems
unfriendly, even unkind. You don't even offer an excuse for it.”
.......He asks her not to forget him, promises to write her, and walks off toward Beaudelet and his boat. Edna, in tears, realizes that she is
infatuated with Robert. But he is leaving at a time when the new Edna—the awakened Edna—is throbbing with emotions.
.......While talking with Mademoiselle Reisz, Edna says Madame Lebrun must feel lonely without her “favorite son,” Robert. Mademoiselle Reisz laughs and says that Madame Lebrun “lives for her son Victor,” whom she has spoiled and turned into an obnoxious person. She says Robert is
the only Leburn who is “worth a pinch of salt.” He has contributed most of his earnings to the family, she says, and kept only a small portion for himself. Once, Robert beat up his brother for mercilessly insulting the Mexican girl Mariequita, Reisz says. Edna takes a swim and walks back to her cottage with Reisz.
.......After their summer sojourn on Grand Isle, the Pontelliers return to their New Orleans home, a large white house with columns on the veranda and bright flowers in the yard. The inside of the house is elegant and tasteful, with plush carpeting, tapestries, and paintings. Mrs. Pontellier
receives guests on Tuesday afternoons. Maids serve liqueur, coffee, and chocolate. In the evenings, Edna and her husband sometimes attend an opera or a play.
.......At supper one evening, Léonce is dismayed to learn that Edna went out during one of the Tuesday receptions of prominent women. She says she simply felt like getting away. Léonce is especially upset that Mrs. Belthrop was among the attendees. Her husband's
“business is worth a good, round sum to me,” Léonce says. He then complains about the cook, saying the fish, roast, and vegetables were ill prepared. After sampling the soup, he gets up and curtly remarks, “I'm going to get my dinner at the club. Good night.” After finishing her meal, Edna goes to her room
and looks out into the yard and the garden. The narrator says, "All the mystery and witchery of the night seemed to have gathered there amid the perfumes and the dusky and tortuous outlines of flowers and foliage . . . But the voices were not soothing that came to her from the darkness and the sky above and the stars.”
.......She paces, tears up her handkerchief, and removes her wedding ring and flings it to the carpet. She stamps on it. Taking a glass vase from a table, she hurls it into the hearth. A maid hears the crash and enters. She cleans up the glass and finds the ring on the floor. She gives
it to Edna, who slides it back onto her finger.
.......In the morning, Léonce asks Edna to meet him in town to help him select some
fixtures for the library. She declines, saying he should not spend so lavishly but should be saving money now and then. On the porch, he kisses her good-bye and heads off to his office. The boys are playing with their wagon, hauling sticks and blocks, under the supervision of the quadroon. A fruit vendor is passing by. But Edna has no interest in anything she sees. They are all of a world to
which she no longer belongs. .......After she goes inside, she selects several of her sketches and takes them to Madame Ratignolle's. On the way, she thinks of Robert. She is still under his spell. She is not thinking of any one moment with him—just of him, his being. Madame Ratignolle lives
nearby in spacious apartments above her husband's prospering drugstore on the corner of a street.
.......When Edna arrives, Adèle takes her to the salon. There, Edna shows her the sketches, saying she wishes to take more of an interest in art and is thinking of studying with a local artist. Adèle tells her friend that she has enormous ability and points out several sketches that would be ideal for framing. Edna then
gives most of the pictures to Adèle and keeps certain ones for herself. Adèle is genuinely grateful and proudly shows them to her husband when he returns from the store for lunch. Mr. Ratignolle is a good, cheerful,
charitable man—“the salt of the earth,” the narrator says.
.......After they eat an excellent meal, Mr. Ratignolle observes that Edna looks a bit unwell and suggests a remedy. When she leaves, Edna feels depressed.
The happy domestic life she witnessed is not for her, she realizes. She sees in it only boredom.
.......In the ensuing days, Edna begins doing what she wants to do and even stops hosting the Tuesday afternoon parties. She
comes and goes as she pleases; she does not worry about whether she is managing the household properly. Léonce begins treating her rudely. But she does not back down. She can be as insolent as he can. When he scolds her for spending so much time painting, she says, “I feel like painting. Perhaps I shan't
always feel like it.” He compares her with Madame Ratignolle, saying she manages to find time to keep up her music without upsetting family life. And she is a better musician than Edna is a painter, he adds.
a musician, and I'm not a painter. It isn't on account of painting that I let things go."
......."On account of what, then?"
.......Oh! I don't know. Let me alone; you bother me."
.......Léonce goes to his office.
.......On some days, Edna is very happy, satisfied just to be “alive and breathing.” On other days, she is unhappy. Life seems senseless. “Humanity [seemed] like worms struggling blindly toward inevitable
.......On a day that she is unhappy, she looks up Mademoiselle Reisz's address in Bienville Street and goes to her home to hear her play. However, she discovers that Reisz has moved; the people
occupying her former home do not know her new address. When she goes to a nearby grocery to inquire further, the grocer says he does not know where she moved but is glad she is gone. He does not like her. Edna then goes to a familiar address—that of Madame Lebrun—to learn Reisz's whereabouts. She rings at the locked gate, and Victor comes out and opens it. He is pleased to see Edna. While a
servant goes inside to summon Madame Lebrun, Edna seats herself on the side porch. Victor, a handsome boy of nineteen, says he is only in New Orleans for the day. He looks after the cottages during the winter and resides there permanently.
.......Madame Lebrun greets Edna warmly. She has had two letters from Richard, one from Vera Cruz and one from Mexico City. When she asks Victor to fetch them, he says he remembers everything in them and gives Edna an account. Richard had met Montel, who was helping him to advance in the business world. Although he had not yet improved his
lot, the opportunities were promising. He described life in Mexico City, enclosed a check for Madame Lebrun, and sent his love. Edna feels depressed at having not herself received any message from Robert, then inquires about Mademoiselle Reisz, and Madame Lebrun gives her the address.
.......Mademoiselle greets Edna warmly and they chat over coffee. The latter has received a letter from Robert. While Edna reads it, Reisz plays for her. Afterward, Reisz invites her to come anytime. When Edna is gone, Mademoiselle Reisz picks up the letter, damp with tears, and
inserts it into its envelope.
.......Meanwhile, Léonce stops by the house of his family physician, Doctor Mandelet. There, he discusses
with the doctor Edna's recent change in behavior. Mandelet doesn't make much of it and advises Léonce not to bother her for a while and let the phase pass. But he promises to go to supper at the Pontellier home to observe Edna.
.......Edna's father, who had been a colonel in the Confederate Army, comes to New Orleans to visit Edna and to purchase a wedding gift for Janet and a new suit of clothes for himself. Although he and Edna had never been close, she finds him a good companion during his days in the city. They
attend a soirée at the Ratignolles at which Adèle charms him, and he keeps her busy with other activities.
.......On Thursday, Doctor Mandelet comes to supper at the Pontellier home but fails to notice any symptoms of the condition Léonce described to him, although he suspects she is having an affair. Edna and her father had been
to the racetrack that afternoon and talk about their experience at dinner. Other guests at the dinner—Mrs. Mortimer Merriman, Mrs. James Highcamp, and Alcée Arobin—help to enliven the conversation.
.......Later during her father's visit, Edna argues with him over her refusal to attend Janet's wedding. If she does not attend, he says before leaving, Janet and Margaret will never speak to her again. After he goes, she is happy to be rid of him.
.......Her husband, meanwhile, goes on a business trip to New York. His trip coincides with a visit the children are having with their grandmother in Iberville. Thus, Edna is alone, but she enjoys her solitude. When she retires that night,
all is peaceful and quiet.
.......Edna goes to the racetrack with Alcée Arobin, a fashionable young man who admires Edna, and Mrs.
Highcamp, a tall, intelligent blonde in her forties. Later, Edna and Arobin dine at the home of the Highcamps. Then Arobin takes her home.
.......The next day, Edna spends an afternoon on an outing with Arobin, who is easy to
talk to, then dines with him at her home. Before he leaves, he asks her to attend the races again, but she declines the offer. Then he asks whether he may come by to see her pictures the following day. She says no. He presses her further, saying, “Oh, please don't refuse me.” His insistence irritates her, and she tells him to go, saying, “I don't like you.”
.......Edna receives a letter of apology from Arobin. Feeling embarrassed, she writes back and invites him to see her art work. Thereafter, she sees him often. Eventually his presence pleases her, “appealing to the animalism that stirred impatiently within her,” the narrator
.......One day, she informs Mademoiselle Reisz that she is going to move from her house on Esplanade Street to a small house around the corner. She wants more independence. Her present house and the money supporting it
are not hers, she says. However, she has some money saved from her mother's estate, from racetrack winnings, and from her sketches, which are beginning to sell. Reisz shows Edna her most the recent letter from Robert, who says he is returning from Mexico. Edna's reaction prompts the pianist to ask her whether she is in love with Robert, and she admits that she is.
.......However, that evening while entertaining Arobin, she kisses him. “It was a flaming torch that kindled desire,” the narrator says. After Arobin leaves, she cries. She feels irresponsible. She feels as if she has betrayed
Léonce and Robert. But she feels no shame. She does regret, however, that she kissed Arobin out of passion, not love.
continues preparations for moving into her new house even though she has not conferred with her husband on the matter.
.......Edna hosts a party with nine guests, including Arobin, to celebrate her decision to move.
Afterward, she locks up and walks over to her house with Arobin. “He did not say good night until she had become supple to his gentle, seductive entreaties,” the narrator says.
.......When Léonce learns of Edna's decision to move, he expresses strong disapproval in a letter. He thinks people will get the impression that he and his wife have suffered financial problems
and are beginning to cut back. Such an impression would be bad for his business. The letter also contains instructions for an architect who will be remodeling his home. (Long before Edna decided to move, Léonce had made plans to renovate his home during the time he was away in New
.......Edna likes her new house. Although it is unpretentious, it suits the needs of her intellect and spirit. Before settling in, she visits her children in Iberia and weeps with pleasure upon seeing and
holding them. They show her the pigs and the cows and other sights. Their grandmother treats Edna with utmost kindness and is happy to learn that the Pontellier home is undergoing renovations—meaning that she will probably be able to keep the children with her for an extended period.
.......One afternoon when Edna goes to visit Reisz, there is no response when she knocks. She knows where the key is and lets herself in. While waiting for more than half an hour for the pianist, she hears a knock and calls out, “Come in.” It is Robert. Both are surprised to see each other.
.......Under her questioning, he tells her that he returned to New Orleans two days before to resume his old job. She asks why he did not write to her, and he gives excuses. When Edna decides not to wait any longer for Reisz, she gets up
to leave. Robert goes with her. After she reaches her new house, she is pleased that Robert follows her in. She invites him to stay for dinner, and in a short while they warm to each other. She tells him he seems like the old Robert.
.......After dinner, when Robert tells her about Mexico, Arobin stops in. The two men exchange pleasantries and Robert then excuses himself, saying he has been “imposing long enough.” He shakes hands with both of them and leaves. Arobin asks Edna what she wants to do for the evening—a walk or a drive, perhaps. She tells him to go because she
does not feel like doing anything. He leaves without protest, and Edna sits and wonders whether Robert will return.
.......Edna awakens thinking about Robert. She receives two letters that morning, one from her son
Raoul and one from Léonce. Raoul writes about his adventures on the farm. Léonce says he will return in March. He and Edna can then take a trip abroad that they had talked about. She also receives a note from Arobin
vowing his devotion to her. Edna writes letters to her children and to Léonce, answering him with “friendly evasiveness” about the trip. She puts the note from Arobin under a stove lid.
.......Robert does not visit her that day or the following two days.
.......“Each morning she awoke with hope, and each night she was a prey to despondency,” the narrator
.......One evening, she goes out for a ride with Arobin. He drives the horses on at a rapid pace, which Edna likes. Later, they return to her home for dinner. He leaves late and she goes to bed without any despondency
and awakens without hope.
.......Edna and Robert meet again by accident just outside the city in a garden with orange trees. A woman makes fried chicken and coffee for customers sitting at green tables. Edna says she often comes to the place, and Robert says he used to frequent it before going to Mexico.
After dinner, he accompanies her home. There, she kisses him, and he takes her in his arms.
......."Now you know what I have been fighting against since last summer at Grand Isle; what drove me away and drove me back
.......He says he considered her out of reach because of her marriage.
.......“I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier's possessions to dispose of or not,” she replies.
.......She also says that if her husband told him [Robert] to
take her, she would laugh at both him and Robert. Robert asks what she means. But before she can explain, Celestine interrupts her to say that Madame Ratignolle is ill and needs her. Before she leaves, Robert tells her he loves her. She replies that she will return as soon as possible.
.......After Edna arrives at the Ratignolle residence, Doctor Mandelet comes in. A nurse also attends the madame. Later, when it is time for Edna to go, she leans over to kiss her friend, who says, “"Think of the children, Edna. Oh think of the children! Remember them!"
.......When she reaches her house, she reads a note left by Robert: “"I love you. Good-by—because I love you."
.......The next day, Edna goes over to Grand Isle, where she finds Victor making repairs. Then she goes down to the beach, telling Victor she will be back in time for dinner. On the way, she does not focus on any particular thought. She had already done all of her thinking the night before. The narrator describes what went through her
.......She had said over and over to herself: "To-day it is Arobin; to-morrow it will be some one else. It makes no difference to me, it doesn't matter about Léonce Pontellier—but Raoul and Etienne!" She understood now clearly what she had meant long ago when she said to Adèle Ratignolle that she would give up the unessential, but she would never sacrifice herself for her children........In the bathhouse, she finds her old bathing suit, undresses, and put it on. But then she removes that too. Then, naked, she walks out into the water. The shore becomes more and more distant as she leaves everything behind and surrenders her life to the deep.
.......Edna Pontellier is in conflict with her husband's expectations of her, with her role as a mother, and with the prevailing standards and mores of the male-dominated society of late-nineteenth-century America. She also has difficulty reconciling her heart, which seeks love, with her intellect, which seeks
.......The climax occurs when Edna Pontellier tells Robert Lebrun,
"You have been a very, very foolish boy, wasting your time dreaming of impossible things when you speak of Mr. Pontellier setting me free! I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier's possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose. If he were to say, 'Here, Robert, take her and be happy; she is yours,' I should laugh at you
both."Here Edna means she is not an item of property to be traded. She is an independent spirit who will dispense or withhold her affections as she sees fit. Shortly after she makes this statement, Robert leaves her. Apparently, he balks at the idea of loving a woman who refuses to subordinate herself, a woman who arrogates unto herself all the privileges
of a man.
.......One could also argue that her decision to kill herself is the climax. Tragically, she believes that only in death can she attain true independence.
.......The overall theme of the novel is Edna Pontellier's struggle to liberate herself from the social, environmental, cultural, and moral forces that she believes prevent her from achieving her full potential and her heart's desires.
Specific Themes and Motifs
Limitations Imposed on Women
.......The male-dominated culture of the late nineteenth century limited opportunities for women. In general, women were expected to marry, then bear and rear children. In addition, they were to arrange social gatherings and dinner parties, oversee menus and food preparation, and
support their husbands in all their endeavors. Although child-rearing was crucially important, men often looked upon it merely as baby-sitting.
.......Women who did pursue a career found limited opportunities in
low-paying positions—serving, for example, as garment workers, housekeepers, cooks, nursemaids, governesses, and factory or farm laborers. With few exceptions, men were the physicians, lawyers, judges, scientists, merchants, police officers, firefighters, lawmakers, innkeepers, and so on.
.......Despite efforts by women's-rights activists such as Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony, women still had not received the right to vote by the century's end.
.......In Chopin's novel, Edna awakens at age twenty-eight to the fact that she had previously accepted the traditional view of women as subservient to men. She also realizes that she had accepted prevailing views on morals and motherhood. Finally, she acknowledges that she had married for reasons other than love, as many women did at that
time. And she regrets her decisions. Then she begins living her life her way. Rather than holding her Tuesday receptions in the drawing room, she sketches pictures or seizes the whim of the moment. As the narrator says, "She made no ineffectual efforts to conduct her household en bonne menagère, going and
coming as it suited her fancy, and, so far as she was able, lending herself to any passing caprice" (Chapter 19).
.......Her behavior prompts her husband to say, ""It seems to me the utmost folly for a woman at the head of a
household, and the mother of children, to spend in an atelier days which would be better employed contriving for the comfort of her family" (Chapter 19).
.......She answers defiantly, “"I feel like painting. Perhaps I shan't
always feel like it" (Chapter 19).
.......Edna continues to defy social convention to pursue self-fulfillment. In the end, though, social convention wins when Robert rejects her. (See the last paragraph under
Alienation for a further explanation.)
.......As Edna struggles to free herself from the encumbrances of society, she slowly alienates herself. First, she leaves Sunday mass, perhaps symbolizing her rejection of religion and alienation from God. After returning to New Orleans, she stops hosting Tuesday parties, refuses to
go into town to help Léonce select fixtures for his renovation project, and spends long hours in her art studio. Generally, she sees less and less of her friends except for occasional visits to Mademoiselle Reisz's residence to talk with a fellow “alien” and to learn what Robert says in his
.......Edna also increasingly delegates the care of her children to nursemaids and to the children's grandmother. In addition, she refuses to attend her sister Janet's wedding, prompting her father to say
that neither Janet nor Margaret will ever speak to her again. Her father leaves New Orleans in anger. Meanwhile, Edna begins living in her own house. After Robert returns to New Orleans, Edna and he finally vow their love for each other. But she also alienates him after he tells her that he dreamed of a day when her husband would set her free, making it possible for him to marry her. Edna
......."You have been a very, very foolish boy, wasting your time dreaming of . . . Mr. Pontellier setting me free! I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier's possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself
where I choose. If he were to say, 'Here, Robert, take her and be happy; she is yours,' I should laugh at you both" (Chapter 36).
.......Robert grows pale as he wonders what she means by “I should laugh at you both.” She
means, of course, that no one can give her or take her. She is not a possession to be traded. She is an independent spirit who will dispense or withhold her affections as she sees fit. For all his seeming modernity, Robert is apparently a traditionalist. He balks at the idea of loving a woman who refuses to subordinate herself, a woman who arrogates unto herself all the privileges of a man. He
leaves her, and Edna decides to lose herself in the loneliness of the ocean depths.
Women as Objects
.......In the first chapter, Chopin establishes the theme of women as beautiful objects for display by men. Consider the following passage near the end of the chapter: "You are burnt beyond recognition," he [Léonce] added, looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has
suffered some damage."
All or Nothing
.......After Edna's awakening, she decides to live life her way—and her way only. She makes no exceptions, no compromises. She must have all or nothing at all. In Chapter 38, she tells Doctor Mandelet, "I don't want anything but my own way. That is
wanting a good deal, of course, when you have to trample upon the lives, the hearts, the prejudices of others. . . ." In the end, her headstrong attitude leads her to believe that the only way she can truly liberate herself is to end her life.
Surviving and Thriving as Women
.......The novel measures Edna Pontellier against three women who survive and thrive: Madame Lebrun, Mademoiselle Reisz, and Adèle Ratignolle.
husband dies, Madame Lebrun succeeds in a traditional masculine role as the operator of a small enterprise. Her secret is her strength, her ability to assert herself, as the following sentence suggests: "Madame Lebrun was bustling in and out, giving orders in a high key to a yard-boy whenever she got inside the house, and directions in an equally high voice to a dining-room servant whenever she
got outside" (Chapter 1). She is even able to get Robert to give her money from his earnings. .......Mademoiselle Reisz lives alone to pursue her career as a pianist. She dresses as she pleases and refuses to kowtow to men. The grocer's assessment of her hints at how she treats males (and perhaps other females as well):
He knew Mademoiselle Reisz a good deal better than he wanted to know her, he informed his questioner [Edna]. In truth, he did not want to know her at all, or anything concerning her—the most disagreeable and unpopular woman who ever lived in Bienville
Street. He thanked heaven she had left the neighborhood, and was equally thankful that he did not know where she had gone. (Chapter 20).......Reisz is a strong woman with the wherewithal to thumb her nose at her critics.
.......Adèle Ratignolle accepts and even delights in her role as wife and
mother. She exhibits no dissatisfaction with her husband. And she dotes on her children, expressing no regret about taking on the job of caring for them. Perhaps she realizes that motherhood, in any age and in any culture, is an important career—perhaps the most important.
Subservience of Blacks
.......Throughout the novel, the author depicts blacks only as servants, attendants, and menials. This depiction reflects the attitude of American society toward blacks in the 1890s. Though emancipated from slavery in 1863, blacks remained enslaved economically and socially. In a novel focusing on the oppression of
women, it is ironic that the main character seems insensitive to the oppression of blacks. Of course, it is possible that author intended her depiction of blacks as objective; she was merely holding up a mirror to reflect an evil.
.......The following are among the quotations that encapsulate a theme or motif in the novel. An interpretation of the quotation appears in small, boldfaced print.
She was keeping up her music on account of the children, she said; because she and her husband both considered it a means of brightening the home and Symbols
making it attractive. (Chapter 9)
As a traditional mother, Adèle Ratignolle plays to entertain her family and make her home more attractive. By contrast, Mademoiselle Reisz—a single woman who is fiercely
independent—regards the piano as the center of her life.
Why, my dear, I should think you'd understand by this time that people don't do such things; we've got to observe les convenances if we ever expect to get on and keep up with the procession. If you felt that you had to leave home this afternoon, you should have left some suitable explanation for your absence.
Léonce Pontellier unwittingly sums up what Edna Pontellier has decided to oppose in her struggle to liberate herself, namely, "We've got to observe les convenances."
I tell you what it is, Edna; you can't afford to snub Mrs. Belthrop. Why, Belthrop could buy and sell us ten times over. His business is worth a good, round sum to me. (Chapter 17)
Léonce Pontellier seems more concerned about
his finances than his wife.
Laidpore [Edna's art tutor] is more and more pleased with my work; he says it grows in force and individuality. I cannot judge of that myself, but I feel that I have gained in ease and confidence. (Chapter 26)
Edna's drive toward liberation
coincides with her progress as a painter, as if her new life were a work of art.
She had resolved never again to belong to another than herself. (Chapter 26)
Edna's resolution is a key turning point.
"Well, for instance, when I left her to-day, she put her arms around me and felt my shoulder blades, to see if my wings were strong, she said. 'The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.' Whither would you
soar?" (Chapter 27)
Mademoiselle Reisz warns Edna that she must be strong if she is to succeed in the face of tradition and prejudice against women. Unfortunately, it appears that Edna is not strong enough.
"It is better to wake up . . . even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one's life." (Chapter 38)
Edna sums up the meaning of the title.
The children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her; who had overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul's slavery for the rest of her days. (Chapter 38
The narrator presents Edna's thoughts on the burden of
A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water. (Chapter 39)
The bird symbolizes Edna at the moment when she is about to drown herself.
.......Following are examples of symbols in the novel.
Birds in Cages: The caged mockingbird and the caged parrot symbolize nineteenth-century women imprisoned by the limitations that the male-dominated society imposes on them. When the parrot talks and the mockingbird sings, they irritate Léonce Pontellier—just as Edna does when she begins speaking up for herself and when she begins expressing herself in sketching.
Bird With a Broken Wing: The injured bird (Chapter 39) symbolizes Edna before she commits suicide. Here is the reference to the bird: "A bird with
a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water."
Wings: In a metaphor, Mademoiselle Reisz compares Edna Pontellier's shoulder blades to wings (Chapter 27). The wings symbolize the resolve that Edna must have to, as Reisz puts
it, "soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice."
Cigars: Cigars, which resemble a phallus, represent manhood and success. Léonce Pontellier regularly smokes them. Robert Lebrun cannot afford them.
Pontellier House: The Pontellier house and its elegant interior symbolize Léonce's fondness for material possessions. He apparently views Edna as one of them.
Rings: The rings worn by Edna Pontellier represent the ties that bind her to her old life.
Sea: At first, the Gulf of Mexico represents the society that Edna believes inhibits her
ability to function independently. She has a fear of water. However, she has been taking swimming lessons. When she swims far out and remains afloat, she exults in her achievement. She has proven that she can successfully buoy herself against a world that would pull her down. The gulf then becomes a symbol of her liberation. At the end of the novel, she believes she can achieve complete
liberation by surrendering herself to the depths of the gulf. And so she wades into the ocean and drowns herself.
Sewing, Knitting, and Needlework: Symbols of Adèle Ratignolle's acceptance of domestic
.......At the beginning of Chapter 8, Adèle warns Robert to "let Mrs. Pontellier alone," saying Edna might take his flippant romantic remarks seriously. In fact, Edna does take them seriously. Perhaps she realizes that Robert really means what he says.
.......One of the pieces Mademoiselle Reisz plays for Edna Pontellier is a love song from Tristan and Isolde, a tragic opera by Richard Wagner (1813-1883). The opera ends when Isolde commits suicide after her lover, Tristan, suffers a stab wound and dies. This song appears to foreshadow the ending of The
Awakening, when Edna kills herself after Robert walks out of her life.
..Figures of Speech
.......Following are examples of figures of speech in The Awakening. For definitions of figures of speech, see Literary Terms.
His eyes gathered in and reflected the light and languor of the summer day. (Chapter 2)
The young man descended the steps and strolled over toward the croquet players. (Chapter 2)
The mosquitoes made merry over her. . . . (Chapter 3)
the spun-gold hair that comb nor confining pin could restrain (Chapter 4)
The long line of little gray, weather-beaten houses nestled peacefully among the orange trees. (Chapter 13)
She took off her shoes and stockings and stretched herself in the very center of the high, white bed. (Chapter
Perhaps it was the first time she was ready, perhaps [it was] the first time her being was tempered to take an impress of the abiding truth.
She began to set the toilet-stand to rights, grumbling at the negligence of the quadroon, who was in the adjoining room putting the children to bed. She gathered together stray garments that were hanging on the backs of
chairs, and put each where it belonged in closet or bureau drawer. She changed her gown for a more comfortable and commodious wrapper. She rearranged her hair, combing and brushing it with unusual energy. Then She went in and assisted the quadroon in getting the boys to bed. (Chapter 15)
They could feel the hot breath of the Southern night; they could hear the long sweep of the pirogue through the glistening moonlit water, the beating of birds' wings, rising startled from among the reeds in the salt-water
pools; they could see the faces of the lovers, pale, close together, rapt in oblivious forgetfulness, drifting into the unknown. (Chapter 23)
The little stinging, buzzing imps succeeded in dispelling a mood. . . . (Chapter 3)
The crash and clatter were what she wanted to hear. (Chapter 17)
They were alone together. (Chapter 27)
For two consecutive seasons he lived in the sunlight of Mademoiselle Duvigne's presence. (Chapter 5)
Comparison of Mademoiselle Duvigne's presence to sunlight
It was very pleasant to stay there under the orange trees, while the sun dipped lower and lower, turning the western sky to flaming copper and gold.
Comparison of the sky to copper and gold
How still it was, with only the voice of the sea whispering through the reeds that grew in the salt-water pools! (Chapter 13)
Comparison of the sounds of the sea to a whispering voice
The best friend of Edna, a woman who rejects her role as a traditional wife and mother, is Adèle Ratignolle, a woman who accepts her role as a traditional wife and mother.
.......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 mazes of inward contemplation.
.......The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. (Chapter 6)
Comparison of the sea to a
An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish. It was like a shadow, like a mist passing across her soul's summer day. It was strange and unfamiliar; it was a mood. (Chapter 3)
Comparison of anguish to a shadow and a mist
the blue eyes that were like nothing but sapphires (Chapter 4)
Comparison of the eyes to sapphires
Her hair, artificially crimped, stood out like fluffy black plumes over her head. (Chapter 9)
Comparison of the hair to fluffy black plumes
The shadows lengthened and crept out like stealthy, grotesque monsters across the grass.(Chapter 13)
Comparison of shadows to creeping monsters
The foamy wavelets curled up to her white feet, and coiled like serpents about her ankles. (Chapter 39)
Comparison of the wavelets to coiled serpents
.......The following French words or groups of words appear in the novel. The definite article for the (le, la, or les) or a contraction of it (l') appears before a noun to indicate its gender.
l'accouchement (masculine): Confinement; delivery (of a baby).
l'atelier (masculine): Artist's studio.
banquette: Raised sidewalk.
la belle dame: The beautiful woman.
le blagueur: Joker. (Feminine,
Bon Dieu: Good God, Good Lord.
bonne nuit: Good night.
le bon garçon: Good boy.
bonbon: Candy; a sweet.
Ce que tes yeux me disent: What your eyes say to me.
les chambres garnies (feminine): Furnished rooms (for rent).
les convenances (feminine): Prevailing
standards of society; accepted rules.
le coup d'état: Sudden overthrow of a government or a ruler.
en bon ami: As a friend.
en bonne ménagère: As a good housewife.
les entremets (masculine): Entremets or entremet, a side dish served between the main courses of a meal. It is usually sweet, such as a dessert.
farceur: Joker. (Feminine, la farceuse.)
les friandises (feminine): Delicacies.
ma chère: My dear. (Masculine, mon cher.)
Ma foi!: Indeed; upon my word.
ma reine: My queen.
le nom de guerre: Assumed named used in special situations. A spy in a war might use a nom de guerre.
parbleu: By Jove! You bet!
par exemple: For example.
passez! adieu! allez vous-en!: Pass.
Good-bye. Get Going.
pauvre chérie (feminine, la chérie): Poor darling.
pâtés: Pies (meat pies, for example).
la porte cochère: Entrance for horse-drawn carriages.
la soirée: Party in the evening; evening reception.
souffrante (adjective with feminine ending): Suffering;
sick; ailing. (Masculine, souffrant.)
Soyez sage: Be good; behave.
montée: Excited person.
va (third-person singular of aller): Go.
.......The following English words or groups of words appear in the novel. Some of them are derived from French words. However, in English, words from the French language are preceded by the or a instead of the French equivalent.
banquette: Raised sidewalk. In Southern Louisiana, the natives also use bankit.
bouillon: Clear broth of beef, chicken, etc.
cicatrice: Cicatrix, a scar.
coupé: Closed carriage seating two passengers, with a seat outside for the driver.
cravat: Neckerchief; necktie. From the French la cravate (necktie).
Creole: Person of European ancestry who was born in Louisiana or another Gulf state, in Central America or the West
Indies, or in tropical South America.
entre-mets: Entremets or entremet, a side dish served between the main courses of a meal. It is usually sweet, such as a dessert.
houris: In Islam, beautiful young women who await righteous Muslim men in paradise.
lateen: Having a triangular sail. Usage: They embarked in a lateen-rigged boat.
lorgnette: Opera glasses on a handle.
Lucullean feast: Allusion to the lavish banquets given by Lucius Lucinius Lucullus (117–57? BC) after he retired as a Roman general and consul.
lugger: Small boat with two or more sails, each resembling a square.
mets: Main dish or main course.
mulatto: Person with a black parent and a white parent; any person with black and white ancestry.
nom de guerre: Assumed named used in special situations. A spy in a war might use a nom de guerre.
pâtés: Meat pies or meat pastes.
peignoir: Negligee; gown a woman wears to comb her hair.
pirogue: Dugout canoe.
quadroon: Person with one black grandparent.
rockaway: Light four-wheeled
soirée: Party in the evening; evening reception.
Venus rising from the foam: Venus is the Roman name for the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. In
Greek myth, Aphrodite was born from the foam of the sea.
Study Questions and Writing Topics
- Write a short psychological profile of Edna. Support your thesis with passages from The Awakening and with library and Internet research.
- To what extent did Kate Chopin base The Awakening on her own experiences? Explain your answer.
- Chapter 6 is very short, containing just seven paragraphs. Yet it is a significant chapter. Explain why.
- In Chapter 3, the narrator says, "He [Léonce] reproached his wife with her inattention, her habitual neglect of the children. If it was not a mother's place to look after children, whose on earth was it?" Do Edna's actions later in the novel indicate that she is indeed a neglectful mother? Explain your answer.
- In Chapter 38, Edna tells Doctor Mandelet, "It is better to wake up . . . even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one's life." What are the illusions that Edna is referring to?
- Is Edna a selfish person? Explain your answer.
- Write an essay explaining what life was like for a typical American wife and mother of the late nineteenth century.