The Awakening Theme
The central themes in The Awakening are independence, civil expectations, and wish. Women who refuse these expectations, like Edna and Mademoiselle Reisz, face isolation. Desire: Edna’s decision to squeezes her sexuality and artistic ambitions gives her a sense of liberty and independence that is otherwise denied to women.
The Awakening Analysis
So what was in the story that made critical reception so poor? The answer is that the main character, Edna Pontellier, subverts the gender roles of the time. And the story is about her awakening to her position in society and wanting more out of it. This does come at the cost of her person and the cost of her kids. But I think getting right into the nitty-gritty of the story will help out! So there are three portions to this story: You’ve reached your obligatory beach episode where Edna, our main character, starts her awakening. (The awakening summary by chapter)
The Awakening Summary Begins
You’ve got the second portion of the story where all of the shipping of the characters falls flat as the beach episode ends. All the characters head back to New Orleans. The last one up, you have the resolution. Edna gets into a pretty romantic relationship with not one but two playboys and resolves her familial strife. Don’t let these categorizations fool you. Isn’t the awakening a romance novel in the same vein as something like twilight, I guess, having a hard time thinking of romance novels at the moment.
The story is more so a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age tale because of Edna’s maturity and growth. Our main character goes through as she continues to push the boundaries of the status quo and tries to attain her Freedom. Her Freedom — that is, So in the first part of the story, we are introduced to our leading lady Edna Pontellier. Who is vacationing off in Grand Isle, a resort in Louisiana, for summer?
Here, we are introduced to her love interest, Robert Lebrun, a conventionally attractive man. Who makes her heart feel things in a way that she didn’t know she could feel again. Edna, who marries her husband, Leonce Pontellier, doesn’t want to move on to Robert because she knows she shouldn’t. Still, after being verbally berated by her husband a few times and being told she is a bad mom. She eventually caves in to her passions and spends entire days with Robert. Another of Edna’s friends, Adele Ratignolle, is vacationing in Grand Isle.
It is actually through Adele that she meets Robert. Robert consistently flirts with Edna and because they are culturally quite different, Edna being from Kentucky, and Robert is a catholic from Louisiana. There are boundaries of flirtation that are misconstrued and misinterpreted. Adele tells Robert that he needs to stop flirting with Edna and effectively says they are her NO-T-P. This makes Robert sad. But Edna and Robert reconnect at dance as the summer goes on. Robert gets Edna’s favorite composer, Madam Riesz, to make a surprise visit and play her a super particular song. The song touches everyone’s hearts and souls.
After Mic dropping Riesz, he goes to Edna and says, “You’re the only one worth playing for,” and bounces. Stars truck Edna is super thankful to Robert, and they end up going to church together the following Sunday. Now this entire time, it’s essential to know that Edna is starting to “awaken” and realizes that. She doesn’t want to be in a passionless marriage that she wants to have more control over the things in her life.
So — back to the church. Robert and Edna take a trip on a boat to head to church. Edna had just gotten out of a feud with her husband because she’d realized that she doesn’t quite like being ordered around, so she was up all night and passed out during the service. Robert notices and heads to a local BnB, where Edna knocks out on a bed for most of the day while Robert reads a book outside. She realizes that she yearns for Robert, but that night he lets everyone know that he’s heading to Mexico for business and isn’t going to be back for quite some time.
Summer effectively ends there, and they all head back to New Orleans to resume their normal daily circumstances, but Edna is a changed woman. She isn’t doing any of her matronly duties anymore, such as being a smiling face for appointments for Leonce any longer. She wants to go off and paint, and visit friends and live her own life. This pisses Leonce off quite a bit, and the two of them begin arguing. Leonce effectively commands her to do things, but she doesn’t have it anymore.
She is her own woman and doesn’t need to listen to orders that bark at her. She starts reconnecting with friends, like Adele Ratingolle, who is just an Okay-ish friend. Oh, by the way, she also represents motherly femininity, so she serves as a foil for Edna. But the friend that stands outback in New Orleans is her favorite musician, Madame Riesz, who lives in a tiny little ratty apartment in town. She unsurprisingly represents complete female Freedom in the society of that time, Turns out that Riesz is also still in mail contact with Robert Lebrun, so Edna now has the incentive to continue seeing Reisz regularly.
Leonce is still angry that his wife is constantly out and about, so he plans to see a physician get her fixed. The physician is confused and tells Leonce to “cool it” and be supportive. She’ll be back to the way she was soon. Then when Leonce is out of earshot wonders if Edna is cheating on Leonce. He even puts a name on it: Alice Arobin Part three starts with Edna’s Dad coming to town, and the two of them reconnect and go to the horseraces where she and Alice Arobin, another playboy in New Orleans, have a meet-cute Alice likes himself a strong independent woman, and so they start planning more trips to the horse races so that he can be with Edna more.
Edna Enjoys the company but eventually pushes Alice away because she feels like she would be unfaithful. Not to Leonce, but to our man Robert Lebrun who is currently residing in Mexico. Things start to hit a fever pitch as Edna is still playing the field, waiting for Robert to come back when he finally sends a letter to Madame Riesz saying that he will be coming back soon. This makes Edna very excited, but now she’s in a pickle. She can’t see Alice and Robert simultaneously because polyamory isn’t seen in that great light. Edna decides it’s time to move out of Leonce’s house into her tiny flat, called the Pigeon House.
She finds a place and uses her own money to buy it, and she throws a big party to celebrate her coincidental 29th birthday and her moving out. When the party ends, she and Alice have a romantic evening, and there is some heavily implied fun between them. Leonce finds out through the letter that Edna moved out. Being a shrewd businessman, he tries to make a smokescreen that makes it seem like Edna moved out because they are renovating their old house to save face. Edna doesn’t care.
Adele stops by and says she’s worried about Edna because Alice is poison to her reputation as a mom. Adele is there to stop another No-tp because she ships Leonce and Edna — Leodna if you will. It just so happens that Robert comes back and meets Edna at Madame Riesz’s house, and the two of them don’t immediately hit it off. Robert has heard things about Alice, and Edna is mad that he didn’t come back for her needs in particular. She gets jealous of Robert’s new things, like his handmade tobacco pouch, which a Mexican woman lovingly stitched. But, she invites Robert to her new place regardless after they sort of mend their issues.
Robert never shows up, so Edna spends the night with Arobin because she needs some passion in her life. But the following day, she meets up with Robert on accident, where the two of them once again fix the issues they had with each other. She takes Robert back to her place to make out Robert mentions that he can is with Edna because he doesn’t want to intrude while she is in Leonce’s possession.
Edna is confused and tells him that she’s no one’s possession. She’s her own woman; when they’re rudely interrupted because Adele is pregnant and having a baby. Edna goes alone to the birthing and is horrified at the idea of motherhood again. Adele looks at Edna, and says “think of the children.” Edna takes off from there shortly after and comes home to a note from Robert that says “Goodbye– because I love you,” and she shuts down.
She had shipped Robedna so hard that she couldn’t come to grips with the fact that he would leave without her. She heads to grand Isle on her own and goes out to the ocean, swimming as far as she can go until she is exhausted, and thinks to herself a phrase she said way back in part 1. Then it fades out, Edna drowning out at sea. So: big themes! The story has a massive one. Freedom is worth chasing. It’s something that Edna dies in the report for, and it’s something that drastically increased her quality of life.
Though this isn’t quite an issue for us in the US today, since, for the most part, men and women have equality in Freedom of choice, it was a vast controversial topic. Before the feminist movements, this was no societal backing for Chopin’s ideas in the story. But there’s a caveat to the Freedom in the report (mainly due to society). Freedom is inherently selfish. Edna can only achieve her Freedom through mostly ignoring her motherly duties, she isn’t there for her kids, and she isn’t taking care of the household.
The Awakening Ending
I want to be clear here: I don’t think women “belong in the house,” but when this story wrote in the 1890s. It was more than just commonplace, so breaking that mold is even more taboo. It’s essential to look at the character representing true female Freedom, Riesz, because she is happy with how her life has turned out.
Still, she understands the struggles of trying to attain Freedom. It is not easy. It doesn’t always reward people lucratively. I mean, she lives in a tiny apartment. She even states: This lays out how Riesz feels about Freedom, it’s hard to attain, and if you cant take the brunt of going against society, you’ll fall back down to the earth. The higher you fly, the more you’ll lose. Edna just so happens to fall in that trap.