The Awakening (novel)

The Awakening (novel)

Infobox Book |
name = The Awakening

image_caption =
author = Kate Chopin
country = United States
language = English
genre = Novel
publisher =
release_date =
media_type = Print
pages =
isbn = NA

"The Awakening" is a short novel by Kate Chopin, first published in 1899. It is widely considered to be a proto-feminist precursor to American modernism.

Plot summary

Edna Pontellier, the wife of a successful New Orleans businessman and the mother of two, vacations with her family at a seaside resort in Grand Isle, Louisiana. She spends much of her time with Robert Lebrun, a romantic young man who has decided to attach himself to Edna for the summer. After many intimate conversations, boating excursions, and moonlit walks, they both realize that they are developing romantic feelings for each other. Edna then realizes that there is much within herself that has remained dormant throughout her adult life.

When vacation ends and the Pontelliers return to New Orleans, Edna frees herself from the trappings of her old life, including her social position, her role as a mother, and her role as a wife. A major part of this freeing in Edna's life is accomplished through her affair with Alcée Arobin. Moving out of her husband's house, she establishes herself in a cottage and hopes that Robert Lebrun will return soon from an extended business trip in Mexico.

Upon Robert's return, Edna discovers that he is unable to come to grips with her newfound freedom. Indeed, she seems hopelessly bound by the traditional values of the French Creole community.

Edna thereupon returns to the seaside resort in the off-season. She makes arrangements for her lunch before heading off to the beach, and carries along a towel for drying off. Unable to resist the lure of the water, she strips nude and swims out as far as she can and, having exhausted herself, it seems, drowns. Most readers interpret this final passage as suicide - the final shedding of constraints foisted upon her by society.

Primary characters

Edna Pontellier

Edna Pontellier is the 28-year old (she turns 29 later in the novel) wife of Léonce Pontellier, a successful New Orleans businessman. She is rich, "handsome", and the only character in the novel to undergo a significant change in perception. When she gives up trying to be a "model wife" in the New Orleans Creole community, her character develops, liberating her inner emotions and artistic ambitions.

Other characters in the novel tend to consider Edna to be flawed as a wife, mother and woman. Edna, on the other hand, does not feel that she should conform to these standards, thus creating the pivotal tension in the story. As she externalizes her struggle, she becomes not only resistant but also somewhat resentful toward the expectations of the society and toward her husband. When she informed her husband of her move into a house that she feels more ownership of, "her letter was brilliant and brimming with happiness."

Léonce Pontellier

Léonce Pontellier is a rather stuffy, prudishly traditional 40-year-old male member of the New Orleans Creole community. As a highly successful businessman, he expects his wife, Edna, to fulfill the role of wife, mother, and socialite. Indeed, he views Edna as a part of his personal property.

He is seen as the traditionalist's ideal husband, never beating or intentionally upsetting his wife. Although he does love Edna, he feels he must counter her bid for freedom in order to preserve his reputation. Léonce is not particularly restricting on Edna, and on advice from Doctor Mandelet he allows her to stay behind while he goes on an extended business trip, hoping that time will cure her of her newfound desire for independence.

Robert Lebrun

Robert Lebrun is a young, flirtatious Creole. He is known to be in the company of at least one woman all summer at his family's resort. He and Edna have an all-consuming love for one another, but he is unable to express these true feelings because she is a married woman. He leaves for Mexico to Edna's dismay, but eventually returns. After Edna's prodding, he does reveal his feelings, but when Edna has to leave to help a friend, he is not there when she returns. A note states that he left because he loved her and did not want to enter into an affair that would harm them both.

Alcée Arobin

Alcée Arobin pursues Edna Pontellier in a casual relationship that stimulates Edna's awareness of her own sexuality. He is fundamentally shallow and self-centered. He wants her in lust without any thought to her marriage or family but later starts to develop more intense feelings for her. There is no doubt that Edna is in control of their relationship.

Adèle (Madame) Ratignolle

Adèle Ratignolle, a close friend of Edna Pontellier, is Edna's foil as a mother and wife. She adores her husband and worships her children. Adèle lives to serve her husband and children, and needs not dream of anything else. Her attempts to counsel Edna ultimately fail. Unwittingly, she also plays a big part in Edna's self-awakening. Adèle is a literary example of the Victorian Angel in the House. She often wears white and feminine clothing to emphasize her role.

Mademoiselle Reisz

Mademoiselle Reisz is an unmarried, independent, elderly lady who is described as rude and ugly by other characters. Her music and independent spirit captivate Edna, and the two become close friends. Mademoiselle Reisz brings out the subconscious feelings of Edna, from her love of Robert to her independent spirit.Edna's view of not only life but love dramatically changes and as a reader this fundamental shift is obvious.


* Women as property. "The Awakening" is set in a time period and culture which regards women as the property of their spouses. This is exemplified at every turn, from Léonce Pontellier's straightforward comments, to the discussion of the topic by the narrator.

* Hopelessness and the power to act. As property, the protagonist is left powerless, feeding a sense of despondency and hopelessness. This state of being is eventually nullified by a desperate act of defiance. Death nullifies the physical body's emotional states.

* The call of art. Superficially, art entertains, exposes one to beauty, and provides escape. Experienced more deeply, however, art calls the individual to migrate into its realm; it is "the call of the wild." Edna's evolving response to Mademoiselle Reisz's music as her own emotional awakening illustrates this along with her developing desire to become an artist in her own mind.

* Isolation versus solitude. In "The Awakening," society uses isolation as punishment for non-conformity, but the isolated individual can nullify isolation by embracing solitude. Isolation is externally imposed; solitude is internally embraced.

* The demands of society versus the needs of individuals. Society, in order to cohere, must impose certain expectations upon its members who are motivated to comply through economic and social rewards. Some individuals may find fulfillment in meeting society's expectations (e.g., Adele Ratignolle), but some, like Edna Pontellier, cannot. Society often sees this as rebellion, failure, and a general character flaw, as well as a threat to its own survival, and so refuses to accommodate such behavior.

* The purity of sexual and artistic desire. In Edna, independent sexual and artistic desire become the highest good. Traditional values, especially those imposed upon women, are swept aside.

* The need to be taken seriously. Léonce Pontellier dismisses Edna's aspirations as frivolous and is confident of his own power to force her to conform. To Edna, this is painful, frustrating, and unacceptable. Her need to be taken seriously transcends her obligations to those who will not take her seriously. Robert Lebrun, while initially seeming to not take Edna seriously which also disappoints her, ultimately shows himself to take her very seriously, although in a way Edna believes he misunderstands.

* Escape from control. For Edna, escape from control by others transcends the value of safety.

* Motherhood versus self-determination. Edna is concerned about the way she wants to be determined by herself and the moral standards in which a mother is expected by society to care for her family. It is a psychological tension in her "moral conscience."

*Birds and wildlife. Throughout the book, birds are placed in various scenes, representing the freedom women are denied. At the end of the novel there is a bird with a crippled wing, but free from a cage, unlike the other birds throughout the story. This is symbolic of Edna's fragility following her newly found independent status.

*Sleep and rest. Along with the obvious reference contained in the title "The Awakening", the protagonist is portrayed as sleeping or just coming out of a nap. This allusion points to a modern Sleeping Beauty in which Pontellier awakens from her life of dullness, triggered by Robert Lebrun's attraction to her.

Critical reception

Immediately after its publication, reviewers frequently denounced the "unwholesome" content of this book, while simultaneously acknowledging that the writing style was outstanding. It was also condemned due to its sexual openness. The harsh reaction to the book probably was the determining factor in the publisher's decision to stop publication after only a single printing.

After its "rediscovery" in 1969, the book has been often praised for its treatment of women's issues, and for its magnificentFact|date=July 2008 lyrical style.

Feminist re-readings of the novel have criticized its treatment of race and class. Edna fails to relate her own social confinement to the subordinate status of the faceless black servants in the novel.

Many critics claim that the constant chapter breaks take away from the book and cause the scenes to be forgettable.Fact|date=July 2008

External links


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