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The Awakening Summary

The Awakening Summary

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Setting

The awakening is set on grand isle, off the coast of Louisiana, the city of New Orleans, and on the island Cheniere Caminada across the bay from the grand isle.

Main Characters

Edna Pontellier- she is the protagonist of the novel, who is a twenty-eight-year-old wife of a New Orleans businessman, Edna suddenly finds herself dissatisfied with her marriage and the limited, conservative lifestyle that it allows.

Mademoiselle Reisz- she may be the most influential character in Edna’s awakening. Reisz is unmarried and childless, and she devotes her life to her passion: music. She is a talented pianist and represents independence and freedom and serves as a sort of muse for Edna.

Adèle Ratignolle- she is Edna’s close friend. Adèle Ratignolle represents the Victorian feminine ideal. She idolizes her children and worships her husband, centering her life around caring for them and performing her domestic duties.

Robert Lebrun- he is the twenty-six-year-old single man with whom Edna falls in love. Robert is Dramatic and passionate and has a history of becoming a devoted attendant to a different woman each summer at Grand Isle.

Alcée Arobin- he is the Don Juan of the New Orleans Creole community. Arobin enjoys making conquests out of married women, and he becomes Edna’s lover while her husband is on a business trip to New York.

Léonce Pontellier- he is a forty-year-old, wealthy New Orleans businessman. Leonce is Edna’s husband and although he loves Edna and his sons, he spends little time with them because he is often away on business or with his friends.

Doctor Mandelet- he is Léonce and Edna’s family physician. Doctor Mandelet is a fairly enlightened man, who silently recognizes Edna’s dissatisfaction with the restrictions placed on her by social conventions.

The Colonel- he is a former Confederate officer in the Civil War and Edna’s father. The colonel is a strict Protestant and believes that husbands should manage their wives with authority and coercion.

Victor Lebrun- he is Robert’s wayward younger brother. Victor spends his time chasing women and refuses to settle down into a profession.

Madame Lebrun- she is the widowed mother of Victor and Robert. She owns and manages the cottages on Grand Isle

Plot Summary

Edna, her husband Léonce, and their two children are vacationing for the summer on Grand Isle. They are staying at a pension where the Ratignolle family is also staying. Madame Ratignolle is Edna’s close friend. In contrast to Madame Ratignolle's character is Mademoiselle Reisz, a brilliant pianist also vacationing on Grand Isle. Although Mademoiselle Reisz offends almost everyone with her brutal assessments of others, she likes Edna, and they become friends. Mademoiselle Reisz's piano performance stirs Edna deeply, awakening her capacity for passion and engendering the process of personal discovery that Edna undertakes that summer.

Another Grand Isle vacationer is the young and charming Robert Lebrun. Robert devotes himself each summer season to a different woman, usually married, in a sort of mock romance that no one takes seriously. This summer, Edna is the object of his attentions. As Edna begins the process of identifying her true self, Robert unknowingly encourages her by indulging her emerging sensuality. Unexpectedly, Robert and Edna become intensely infatuated with each other by summer's end. The sudden seriousness of his romantic feelings for her compels him to follow through on his oft-stated intention to go to Mexico to seek his fortune.

Edna is distraught at his departure, remaining obsessed with him long after she and her family have returned to New Orleans. As a result of her continuing process of self-discovery, she becomes almost capricious in meeting her desires and needs, no longer putting appearances first. Always interested in art, she begins spending more time painting and sketching portraits than one household and social duties. Léonce is shocked by Edna's refusal to obey social conventions. He consults Dr. Mandelet, an old family friend, who advises Léonce to leave Edna alone and allow her to get this odd behavior out of her system.

Edna continues her friendships with Mademoiselle Reisz and the pregnant Madame Ratignolle. Mademoiselle Reisz receives letters from Robert, which she allows Edna to read. Meanwhile, as a result of her awakening sexuality, Edna has an affair with Alcée Arobin, a notorious womanizer. Her heart remains with Robert, however, and she is delighted to learn that he is soon returning to New Orleans. She has grown ever more distant from Léonce, and also become a much better artist, selling some of her work through her art teacher. These sales provide her a small income, so while Léonce and the children are out of town, she decides to move out of the mansion they share and into a tiny rental house nearby, called the "pigeon house" due to its small size.

Edna encounters Robert accidentally when he comes to visit Mademoiselle Reisz and she happens to be there. She is hurt that he did not seek her out as soon as he returned. Over the next weeks, he tries to maintain emotional and physical distance from Edna because she is a married woman, but she ultimately forces the issue by kissing him, and he confesses his love to her. Edna tries to express to Robert that she is utterly indifferent to the social prohibitions that forbid their love; she feels herself to be an independent woman. Before she can explain herself, however, she is called away to attend Madame Ratignolle's labor and delivery, at the end of which Madame Ratignolle asks Edna to consider the effect of her adulterous actions on her children. Edna is greatly disturbed to realize that her little boys will be deeply hurt if she leaves Léonce for another man. To this point, she had considered only her own desires.

When she returns to the pigeon-house, Robert is gone, having left a goodbye note. Crushed, she decides to kill herself, realizing that she cannot return to her former life with Léonce but is also unwilling to hurt her children personally or socially with the stigma of divorce or open adultery. The next morning she travels alone to Grand Isle, announces that she is going swimming, and drowns herself.

Themes

  1. Femininity. In the social world of New Orleans, femininity was controlled and defined with severity. At every stage of life, a young woman faces myriad rules and prescriptions; a little girl should be, a teenage girl should be, an engaged woman, a young married woman, a mother, a widow, and so on.
  2. Action and Reflection. Edna senses a gulf between action and thought, between "the outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions.” She feels more comfortable in the inner life, which she has rediscovered very recently. As she questions her habitual actions, her thoughts often seem separate from her body. Other women in the novel are represented by their hands, which are expressive, which do things. Edna’s central feature is her eyes, which are reflective.