Study Guide Prepared by Michael J.
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
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.
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.
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
forty-year-old husband, a successful New Orleans
businessman. He wears eyeglasses and has a neatly
Raoul: Children of
Lebrun: Widow who operates a pension (place of
lodging) on Grand Isle. Mr. and Mrs. Pontellier are
among the New Orleans residents who vacation
Lebrun: Son of Madame Lebrun. He and Edna fall
Lebrun: Outspoken younger son of Madame
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.
Ratignolle: Husband of
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.
Fourteen-year-old pianist vacationing at Madame
Lebrun's pension. They entertain guests at Madame
of the Farival twins.
Girl: Girl who performs a skirt dance at
Madame Lebrun's party.
of Dancing Girl: Woman who plays the piano
while her daughter dances.
Arobin: Womanizer and
admirer of Edna Pontellier. He has a brief affair
Antoine: Friend of Robert Lebrun. She opens
her home to Edna Pontellier when the latter feels
ill, allowing her to nap there.
Son of Madame Antoine.
Boatman who takes passengers to and from Grand Isle.
in Black: One of Madame Lebrun's lodgers. She
constantly prays the rosary or reads
from a prayer book.
Friend of Robert Lebrun. He helps Robert look for
career opportunities in Mexico.
Young girl who flirts with Robert and Victor Lebrun.
Duvigne: Woman who
once lodged at Madame Lebrun's pension and with whom
Robert Lebrun was friendly. Mademoiselle Duvigne
Mother of children who befriend the Pontellier boys
at their grandmother's home in Iberia.
Youth who works in the Pontellier home.
Servant of the Pontelliers.
Nurse attending Adèle Ratignolle when the
latter is in labor with her fourth child.
Jasper: Uncle of Étienne and Raoul. He
takes the boys fishing during their stay in
Belthrop: Wealthy man
who does business with Léonce Pontellier.
Belthrop: Wife of Mr.
Belthrop. She is on Edna Pontellier's guest list for
Tuesday-afternoon social gatherings.
Young Lovers: Vacationers at Madame Lebrun's
Mortimer Merriman, Mrs. James Highcamp: Dinner guests
at the Pontellier home on a Thursday evening.
Highcamp's Daughter: Young lady
whom Mrs. Highcamp invites Victor Lebrun to call
upon. He accepts her invitation.
Art teacher. Edna Pontellier takes lessons from
Margaret: Sisters of Edna Pontellier.
Young black servant of Madame Ratignolle.
Ratignolle's Sister: She lives on
a plantation and cannot be present when Madame is
Victor's cook when he resides on Grand Isle in the
winter to maintain Madame Lebrun's pension.
worker at the home of the Pontellier boys'
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.
Youth who works for Madame Lebrun.
Young brother and sister and give recitations at a
party held by Madame Lebrun.
of the Pontelliers.
Pouponne: Part of a
family occupying the former residence of
Makers: Two black
women women who make the dessert for Madame Lebrun's
Boy: Youth who gives water to Edna Pontellier
and Robert Lebrun after they leave church.
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
The tone is generally
serious and objective. However, there are moments of
.......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
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 resumes reading.
.......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
.......“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
.......Mrs. 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
.......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
.......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
......."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
.......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 it.
.......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. . . . “
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
.......On the way, Adèle asks Robert to “let Mrs.
Pontellier alone,” saying she might take his
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
.......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.
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
.......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
.......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
.......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
.......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.
......."She isn't a musician, and
I'm not a painter. It isn't on account of painting
that I let things go."
......."On account of what,
.......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 annihilation.”
.......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
.......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
.......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.
.......Meanwhile, she continues
preparations for moving into her new house even
though she has not conferred with her husband on the
.......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 says.
.......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
.......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 again."
.......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
.......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,
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
.......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
.......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
.......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
.......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
.......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 letters.
.......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.
......."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.
.......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."
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
and Thriving as Women
.......The novel measures
Edna Pontellier against three women who survive and
thrive: Madame Lebrun, Mademoiselle Reisz, and
.......After her 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):
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
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
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.
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
attractive. (Chapter 9)
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.
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. (Chapter 17)
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."
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)
Pontellier seems more concerned about his
finances than his wife.
[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.
drive toward liberation coincides with her
progress as a painter, as if her new life were a
work of art.
resolved never again to belong to another than
herself. (Chapter 26)
resolution is a key turning point.
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)
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)
sums up the meaning of the title.
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
narrator presents Edna's thoughts on the burden
with a broken wing was beating the air above,
reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down
to the water. (Chapter 39)
bird symbolizes Edna at the moment when she is
about to drown herself.
examples of symbols in the novel.
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.
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."
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, which resemble a phallus, represent manhood
and success. Léonce Pontellier regularly
smokes them. Robert Lebrun cannot afford them.
Pontellier house and its elegant interior symbolize
Léonce's fondness for material possessions.
He apparently views Edna as one of them.
The rings worn by Edna Pontellier represent the ties
that bind her to her old life.
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.
Knitting, and Needlework: Symbols of
Adèle Ratignolle's acceptance of domestic
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
examples of figures of speech in The Awakening.
For definitions of figures of speech, see Literary
gathered in and reflected the light and languor of the summer day. (Chapter
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
long line of little gray, weather-beaten
houses nestled peacefully among the orange trees.
She took off her shoes and stockings and stretched herself in the very center of the high, white bed. (Chapter 13)
was the first time she was ready, perhaps [it was] the first
being was tempered to take an impress of the
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
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.
The little stinging, buzzing imps
succeeded in dispelling a mood. . . . (Chapter
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.
Mademoiselle Duvigne's presence to sunlight
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
the sky to copper and gold
still it was, with only the voice of the sea
whispering through the reeds that grew in the
salt-water pools! (Chapter 13)
the sounds of the sea to a whispering voice
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
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
voice of the sea speaks to the soul. (Chapter 6)
the sea to a speaking person
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)
anguish to a shadow and a mist
blue eyes that were like nothing but sapphires
the eyes to sapphires
hair, artificially crimped, stood out like
fluffy black plumes over her head. (Chapter 9)
the hair to fluffy black plumes
shadows lengthened and crept out like stealthy,
grotesque monsters across the grass.(Chapter 13)