Kate Chopin was born in 1850 as Katherine O’Flaherty in St. Louis, Missouri. Her family were members were fairly well-off, and members of the Creole social elite. She was an American novelist, and wrote many short stories, but is best known for her novel, The Awakening. She married Oscar Chopin in 1870 at the age of twenty, and moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, where many of her stories take place. Her husband died in 1882, leaving Chopin with six children.
Genre(s) and characteristics of genre(s):
The genre of this novel is often debated about. The portrayal of feminism in this novel is somewhat debated by scholars, who view Edna as a “selfish baby”. Even Kate Chopin describes herself as “neither a feminist nor a suffragette.” Feminism in literature is generally characterized by many different approaches. According to the dictionary, feminism is “The belief that women and men are, and have been, treated differently by our society, and that women have frequently and systematically been unable to participate fully in all social arenas and institutions.” Feminism in literature tends to focus on the struggles of women achieving and maintaining equality, and the growth within themselves in discovering one’s self.
Historical information about the period of the novel’s setting (Minimum of five facts):
The novel takes place in Grand Isle, off the coast of Louisiana in the late nineteenth century. This area contains grand cottages and wealthy Creole families. In the Creole culture, property and family were put first. This serves as a contrast to Edna, who puts her family behind her as she focuses on her growth. Women were expected to settle down, get married, and have children.
Brief plot summary (just the highlights please):
This novel follows the so-called “awakening” of Edna Pontellier. She is married to Leonce Pontellier and has two small children. We learn that she is very centered around herself, and would never give herself up for her family. When a man named Robert LeBrun comes into her life, she discovers what she believes to be the meaning of life, and thinks that he has brought her to life. Edna begins to express herself artistically through the inspiration of Mademoiselle Reisz, and begins dropping her responsibilities in her household, such as leaving when guests are visiting. Robert soon announces that he is leaving foe Mexico, after he and Edna fall in love. While he is away, Edna misses him terribly, and becomes much more independent. Her husband becomes worried about her and her lack of concern for her family. Emotions run high when Robert returns, and Edna finally feels complete. However, Robert realizes that she cannot sacrifice herself and her family for him, and leaves her a note that says, “I love you. Good-by-because I love you.” A day later, Edna makes her way down to the beach, undresses, and it is implied that she drowns herself as her final act of rebellion.
Name: Edna Pontellier
Role in the story: Female protagonist, wife
Significance to the story: The title is a portrayal of what happens to her, and all of the actions in the novel revolve around her. She is a very complex character, who I actually did not enjoy. The novel covers her life and her “awakening”.
Adjectives that describe the character: complex, emotional, independent, expressive
Name: Robert LeBrun
Role in the story: Edna’s secret lover
Significance to the story: Robert serves as the source for Edna’s “awakening”. When he ultimately leaves Edna, she commits suicide (or so we are led to believe.)
Adjectives: handsome, charismatic, traditional, passionate
Name: Leonce Pontellier
Role in the story: Edna’s husband
Significance to the story: As the novel progresses, the audience comes to see how strained his relationship with Edna is, and we see how they are not truly in love. He is very concerned with how he and his family appear to the public, and gets angry with Edna when she fails to agree with him.
Adjectives: wealthy, judgmental, hypocritical
Name: Mademoiselle Reisz
Role in the story: She could be considered an outsider, because she is not married and does not have children. Edna seeks her help and advice throughout.
Significance to the story: She represents a part of Edna. She introduces Edna to the arts, and teaches her to think for herself and be independent. Also, she knows of Robert and Edna’s love affair.
Adjectives: artistic, free-spirited, independent, influential, talented
Name: Adele Ratignolle
Role in the story: She is Edna’s friend, despite their great differences.
Significance to the story: Adele represents the typical Creole woman. She devotes her life to her family (and sometimes Edna’s as well) and is the complete opposite of Edna.
Adjectives: simple, ideal, dedicated
Name: The Lady in Black
Role in the story: She is a vacationer on Grand Isle.
Significance to the story: She represents a husbandless woman, and when compared with the two lovers, it can foreshadow something about love, and how it does not last forever.
Adjectives: solemn, depressing, resigned, symbol
Name: The Two Lovers
Role in the story: They are vacationers on Grand Isle.
Significance to the story: The two lovers are a direct contrast to the Lady in Black, and when they are seen together, a sense of foreshadowing about love can be seen. Love can die, and it does not last forever. This can relate to the struggles Edna is going through.
Adjectives: symbols, young, happy
Choose five of the following six literary elements. Identify a significant passage from the story that focuses on each element. Quote the text. After each quote, write the page number, and in at least 2-3 sentences, analyze the significance of your quotation. Why is this important? What does it reveal? Why does the author say it this way? What is the tone or mood of the passage? (Do not simply state plot.)
“The very first chords which Mademoiselle Reisz struck upon the piano sent a keen tremor down Mrs. Pontellier’s spinal column. It was not the first time she had heard an artist at the piano. Perhaps it was the first time she was ready, perhaps the first time her being was tempted to take an impress of the abiding truth. She waited for the material pictures, which she thought, would gather and blaze before her imagination. She waited in vain. She saw no pictures of solitude, of hope, of longing, or of despair. But the very passions themselves were aroused within her soul, swaying it, lashing it, as the waves daily beat upon her splendid body. She trembled, she was choking, and the tears blinded her.” – Pages 34 – 35
This passage focuses on the theme of expression through art, and how to truly be an artist, one must be an outsider. Both Edna and Mademoiselle Reisz are considered outsiders, and both are artistic and influenced by the arts, in this case music and the piano. Edna is mentally stimulated by the music. In a few paragraphs before, Edna spoke of a piece in which she named “Solitude” and how it conjured up images in her mind. However, when Mademoiselle Reisz plays the piano, “the very passions themselves were aroused in her soul.” (pg 34) It is implied throughout the novel that to be solely dedicated to the arts, must forget society’s acceptance.
“Mrs. Pontellier, though she had married a Creole, was not thoroughly at home in the society of the Creoles; never before had she been thrown so intimately among them. There were only Creoles that summer at Lebrun’s. They all knew each other, and felt like one large family, among whom existed the most amicable relations. A characteristic which distinguished them and impressed Mrs. Pontellier most forcibly was their entire absence of prudery.
The society the Edna lives in hardly fits what she needs to thrive. Sometimes I think the audience forgets that Edna is extremely wealthy, and does not have to worry about cooking, cleaning, or other jobs. Because everything is done for her, she has time to focus on herself, and her growing freedom and independence. However, Edna tends to stray from the social class characterization and the Creole society that surrounds her. She stops taking callers, and fails to properly take care of her children, only two examples of how she continuously defies the standard of that time.
“In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman. The mother-woman seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children, worshipped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.
The passage serves to establish the environment in which Edna is vacationing in. She clearly does not fit in, and this stark difference in character is an important aspect of the setting in the Creole society. Had the novel taken place in a less strict community, or a community with a not as strong moral code, the story could have developed very differently.
“Edna had attempted all summer to learn to swim. She had received instructions from both men and women; in some instances from the children. Robert had pursued a system of lessons almost daily; and he was nearly at the point of discouragement in realizing the futility of his efforts. A certain ungovernable dread hung about her when in the water, unless there was a hand nearby that might reach out and reassure her. But that night she was like the little tottering, stumbling, clutching child, who of a sudden realizes its powers, and walks for the first time alone, boldly and with overconfidence. She could have shouted for joy. She did shout for joy, as with a sweeping stroke or two she lifted her body to the surface of the water.” – Pages 36 -37
The ocean and Edna learning to swim are major symbols that are used to symbolize Edna’s “awakening”. When Edna learns to swim, she becomes more independent, and strong. She became “daring and reckless” and “swam out alone” (pg 37) which indicates her new found sense of freedom. The ocean is where she first experiences the feelings or freedom and expression, and the ocean is her final destination. Her life began and ended in the ocean.
“The Pontelliers possessed a very charming home on Esplanade Street in New Orleans. It was a large, double cottage, with a broad front veranda, who round, flouted columns supported the slopping roof. The house was painted a dazzling white; the outside shutters, or jalousies, were green. In the yard, which was kept scrupulously neat, were flowers and plants of every description which flourishes in South Louisiana. Within doors the appointments were prefect after the conventional type. The softest carpets and rugs covered the floors; rich and tasteful draperies hung at doors and windows. There were paintings, selected with judgment, and discrimination, upon the walls. The cut glass, the silver, the heavy damask which daily appeared upon the table were the envy of many women whose husbands were less generous than Mr. Pontellier.” – Pages 66 – 67
This passage describes the Pontellier’s house, and the grandeur in which they live. While Leonce cares about what his house looks like, and how he and his family appear to the public, Edna does not give mind to such things. The passage is also quite ironic at the end, because Edna does not see her husband as generous, but she cannot say otherwise.
Themes stated in complete sentences :
The Awakening contains an array of themes, all relating to Edna’s “awakening”.
On my honor I have read this work in its entirety, and this work is solely my own unless otherwise directed.
Cite This Work
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below: