The Awakening

Kate Chopin

BACKGROUND

In 1899, when this book was published, women weren’t exactly told to express themselves. In fact, they were supposed to just groove on being mothers and wives and nothing else. Well, that’s not true, women were complimented on their sewing skills. Anyway, in this story, Kate Chopin makes a statement about how important it is to find out who you are as a person, regardless of what works with society. At the time, this book caused quite a ruckus since it’s pretty sexy, not to mention filled with ideas about women doing what they want when they want.

 

MAIN CHARACTERS

Edna Pontellier: She main woman in the story. She’s 28, married to Leonce and mother to their kids. At the beginning of the book, she’s sort of frustrated – but later, her passions and spirit are, yup, you guessed it, awakened.

Leonce Pontellier: He’s Edna’s husband. He’s 40 years old, neat, clean, and pretty traditional. He wishes Edna were more into being a mom and wife than into finding out about herself.

Madame Lebrun: The woman who owns the Grand Isle, she’s also Robert’s mom.

Robert Lebrun: Madame Lebrun’s son. He’s 26 and always infatuated with some woman at Grand Isle. He latches onto Edna and she ends up falling for him.

Adele Ratignolle: A hotel hottie. She’s like the ultimate woman and mom, pretty, nice, and always pregnant, she’s also a kick-ass sewer.

Monsieur Ratignolle: Adele’s husband. He is cheery and sensible.

Monsieur Farival: A guest at the hotel. He’s the dad of the twins.

The Farival Twins: Twin girls who play the piano.

Mademoiselle Reisz: A hotel guest who plays the piano. She likes to play for Edna because Edna has an emotional reaction to the music.

The Colonel: Edna’s dad. He and Edna get along but aren’t that close. He thinks he’s the man.

Mrs. Highcamp: A guest at Grand Isle. She’s in her 40’s, pretty, smart, and a little aloof.

Alcee Arobin: One of the cool crowd in town, good looking, slutty, he wants Edna and gets her for while.

 

Plot

During the course of the family summer vacation at Grand Isle, off the coast of New Orleans, Edna Pontellier falls for Robert, the hotel owner’s son. Edna has been pretty closed off emotionally, but near the sea and outside on the island, she finds herself expressing herself more and more. The more she gets to know herself, the more she controls her world instead of letting her world control her. When Robert leaves the island to go to Mexico, Edna’s sad. She’s not too into being a mom to her two kids and she thinks her husband’s kinda lame, so she’s pretty bummed.

Back in town, Edna rebels. She does what she wants without caring about what she’s supposed to be doing (being a wife, entertaining guests, etc.). Mr. Pontellier is not happy with her new attitude. She still hangs with the old Grand Isle crowd (Adele Ratignolle, Mademoiselle Reisz). When Leonce goes away, Edna decides to move out. Also, she starts to date Arobin, the town chic slut. Edna reads the letters Robert writes to Mademoiselle Reisz about how he loves Edna. Edna loves Robert, too, and when he comes back, she tells him. They get it on for a moment, and Edna finally gets love in her life, but then he leaves because he loves her too much. Back at Grand Isle, Edna doesn’t care about what she does with her romantic life. She knows that she loves Robert but that even that will fade. She swims too far out in the ocean and drowns. Can you say suicide?

 

CHAPTER BY CHAPTER

CHAPTERS 1 - 3

  • It’s summer and the Pontelliers are vacationing on Grande Isle, an island resort near New Orleans.
  • Mr. Pontellier is very neat and controlled. His environment is not; a parrot squawks, there’s noise and people run around. He thinks of his wife like property.
  • Mrs. Edna Pontellier and Robert, the hotel owner’s son, hang out. They laugh about something private.
  • Mr. Pontellier goes to play cards at a nearby hotel, Klein’s, and takes off after kissing the kids goodbye and telling Edna that he may or may not come back for dinner.
  • Even though Edna isn’t totally hot, she’s attractive and holds your attention.
  • Robert and Edna talk. He talks a lot about himself because he’s young and doesn’t know any better. She sort of keeps to herself since she does know better.
  • Robert says he wants to go to Mexico.
  • Edna opens up a little and talks about her background (she’s from Kentucky, her sister’s engaged, blah blah blah).
  • Edna senses her husband won’t be back for dinner. She’s right.
  • Robert plays with the kids. They like him.
  • Mr. Leonce Pontellier comes back at 11pm. He’s psyched cause he won at cards. He wants to share his psychedness with Edna, but she’s asleep. He’s annoyed that she doesn’t focus more on him. He tells her how hard he works and how she should pay more attention to him.
  • In a totally passive-aggressive move, he kisses the kids goodnight and tells Edna one of them has a fever when the kid’s actually fine.
  • After she checks on the kids, she goes outside and cries. She’s all down and doesn’t know why.
  • In the morning, Mr. Pontellier goes to work back on the mainland
  • A couple of days later, Edna gets a fancy basket of fruit from her husband. All the other women think she is sooooo lucky. Hey, it’s just fruit.

CHAPTER 4 - 6

  • Mr. Pontellier thinks Edna’s not that great as a mom. She’s just not motherly.
  • Most women at Grande Isle are motherly.
  • Adele Ratignolle is the embodiment of womanhood. She’s hot, she’s a good mom, she’s a good wife, and pregnant all the time.
  • Edna and Adele hang out and sew.
  • Robert hangs out, too. Edna actually eats bonbons – candy and does nothing.
  • All the people at Grande Isle are Creole (New Orleans French) except Edna, but since she married one, she’s sort of thrown into the mix. The Creole people are very open and expressive -- when a sexy book got passed around the resort, people talked about it at dinner. Edna just read it by herself. Alone. In her room. Hmmm.
  • Edna and Robert keep checking each other out.
  • Robert obsesses over one woman a summer. It used to be Adele, who just ordered him around.
  • Edna wants to sketch Adele (who wouldn’t?) so she does.
  • Robert tries to touch Edna’s hand. She negs him.
  • The sketch is good but looks nothing like Adele. Edna crumples it up.
  • The kids come back from the beach. Adele feels faint. Edna and Robert help her.
  • Robert gets Edna to agree to go swimming -- she wanted to, but felt like she had to say no first.
  • Edna has big time thoughts about life and who she is. Figuring these things out can be confusing but in the long run, it’s very freeing to know yourself.
  • The sea is very sexy. Edna is drawn to it.

CHAPTER 7

  • Edna’s a private person. On the outside, she conforms, but she has an active inner life.
  • At Grand Isle, Edna loosens up a little and talks to the sensuous Adele while they sit on the beach.
  • Adele is feminine but Edna has another kind of appeal.
  • Edna looks at… the sea!!
  • They talk more. Adele takes Edna’s hand. First, this is weird for Edna, then she remembers how affectionate the Creoles are, and relaxes.
  • Edna’s friends, unlike Adele, are usually cold and intellectual.
  • When Edna was younger, she had giant crush on some soldier. The she liked some random guy who stopped by her dad’s plantation. Then someone else. She hasn’t felt passion since then.
  • Edna’s marriage was an accident. Since she was secretly in love with someone else, she didn’t really pay attention until Leonce proposed. Also, she wanted to piss her family off by marrying a Catholic.
  • All in all, Edna likes her husband and the kids but she’s not deeply involved.
  • She tells some of this to Adele, puts her head on her friend’s shoulder, and feels good.
  • Robert and the kids come. Adele gets a cramp in her leg. Robert escorts her home.

CHAPTER 8 - 10

  • Adele asks Robert to leave Edna alone. He says she’s jealous.
  • Adele warns Robert that, unlike the other women he’s liked, Edna will take him seriously.
  • Robert goes to his see his mom. She asks about Edna.
  • Out the window, they see Robert’s brother, Victor, taking the wagon. Victor is a dickhead.
  • A few weeks later, all the dads that are usually away working are hanging out at Grand Isle. Everyone’s partying.
  • Edna dances with Leonce, Robert, and Mr. Ratignolle and then goes and looks at the ocean!
  • Robert gets another guest, Mademoiselle Reisz, to play piano. Edna asks her to play "Solitude."
  • During the song, Edna imagines a bunch of things: a naked dude on a beach, a young woman in a gown, kids playing, and then a woman stroking a cat. Hmmm…
  • Edna feels passionate.
  • When Mrs. Reisz asks Edna if she liked the music, Edna cries.
  • Robert gets everyone to go swimming in the moonlight.
  • Edna’s just learned to swim that summer, so she hasn’t been that comfortable in the water. Once she starts, she "wants to swim where no woman had swum before!"" Hmmm...
  • Edna tells Robert how emotional she’s been.
  • Robert tells her that there’s some full moon spirit that comes out on August 28th (that day) and that tonight it found Edna.
  • Edna thinks he’s full of crap but lets him put her into the hammock near the house where they stay and sit in silence until Robert says goodnight and she doesn’t answer.

CHAPTERS 11 - 14

  • Leonce wonders what the heck Edna’s doing in the hammock and tells her to come inside.
  • Even though he demands her to come in , Edna says no.
  • As Leonce smokes and drinks, Edna feels alone.
  • Edna doesn’t sleep well.
  • She asks Robert to take a boat ride with her to go to church. On the boat, she feels free.
  • Edna doesn’t feel well in church.
  • Robert takes her to Madame Antoine’s where she mellows. She wakes up alone and tears into some bread and chugs some wine.
  • On the boat back, Robert says Leonce won’t be worried about her since she’s with him.
  • Adele was watching Edna’s kids. Etienne, the youngest son, wouldn’t go to bed. Edna hugs him.
  • It turns out that Leonce was concerned about Edna, but Mr. Farival explained the situation.
  • Robert and Edna say goodnight. They comment on how much time they’ve spent together.
  • When Robert leaves, Edna wonders why he had to go. His voice haunts her.

CHAPTERS 15 and 16

  • Everyone at Grand Isle eats dinner together. Edna learns Robert is going to Mexico that night and wants to know why.
  • Madame Lebrun asks Edna to come by. Edna can’t decide what to do. She’s too much of a mess to do anything so she sends Adele.
  • Robert comes by later to say goodbye to Edna. Edna’s pissy with him and tells him how she pictured seeing him back at home during the winter. He says he did, too, but stops himself mid-sentence before he says why he’s leaving.
  • Edna tries not to cry. She realized she feels that same passion she felt earlier in her life. She feels like she is "awakened" but not able to have the thing that did the waking.
  • Madame Reisz asks Edna if she misses Robert – she does. In fact, her life is really dull without him. All she does is go swimming.
  • When her husband bumps into Robert in town, Edna asks all about it. She doesn’t think it’s odd to ask Leonce about another guy.
  • Madame Reisz says that Victor, not Robert, is Madame Lebrun’s favorite son and that Victor and Robert had fought over a bad girl named Mariequita.

CHAPTER 17 - 19

  • The Pontelliers go home to their phatty pad in New Orleans.
  • On Tuesdays, Edna always had a lot of people stop by to see her. The visits are the social norm.
  • One day, she ignores the visitors and just does what she wants. Leonce is pissed – he’s got a rep to protect.
  • That night, after he storms out to have dinner at his club, Edna smashes a vase on the floor and chucks her wedding ring down and steps on it.
  • Edna has no interest in anything. She looks at her sketches.
  • Even though she tried to forget him, Edna still thinks of Robert as she walks to Adele’s.
  • Adele looks hotter than ever in her funky pad.
  • Adele and her husband are such a great pair that Edna is depressed after seeing them.
  • Edna thinks she was an idiot for the whole vase/wedding ring deal.
  • Edna totally does whatever she wants. Not so good for Leonce, who thinks she’s neglecting her duties as a mother and wife.
  • Edna wants to paint. She does. When she paints the nanny, the nanny sings some song that Robert had sung over the summer. This makes Edna think about how happy she had been.

CHAPTER 20

  • During one of her sad days, Edna goes to see Mademoiselle Reisz. Since she lost the address, Edna looks it up in an old directory, and when she gets there, Reisz doesn’t live there. The landlord says Reisz was the local bitch so he was glad she had moved.
  • Edna wants to find Mme. Reisz.
  • She goes to Madame Lebrun’s house to see if she knows where Reisz is. Victor’s there and psyched to see Edna. He’s a stud, even though he’s young.
  • Edna and Victor chat on the porch. When his mom comes she tells Victor to get Robert’s letters. Victor just tells Edna what the letters say – not much.
  • Madame Lebrun gives Edna the address she came for and Victor shows her out.
  • When his mom comments that Edna looked good, Victor’s practically drooling. He says she seems like a different woman.

CHAPTERS 21 - 22

  • Edna goes to Madame Reisz’s apartment.
  • Reisz says she thinks Edna doesn’t like her. Edna says she can’t decide.
  • Robert wrote a letter to Reisz about Edna, but Reisz won’t let Edna read it.
  • Edna says she’s been painting and is "becoming an artist." Reisz doesn’t buy it.
  • Edna asks Reisz to play the piano. Next thing you know, Edna’s bawling and Reisz finds the crumpled letter on the floor.
  • Leonce stops at Dr. Mandelet’s house to talk to him about Edna’s attitude.
  • The doctor says that women are hard to understand (there should be a whole section on Schoolbytes!) but just to leave her alone and that Edna’s "mood" will pass.
  • It seems Leonce will be out of town for a while on business. The doctor says Leonce should let Edna choose whether to go with him to New York or stay home. Alone. Hmmm…

CHAPTERS 23 - 25

  • Edna’s dad comes to town. They get along but aren’t that tight. He’s got a lot of cool friends and is quite the man around town, so Edna’s cool by association. He thinks highly of himself.
  • Mademoiselle Reisz turns down an invitation to hang with them, but Edna takes her Dad to Adele’s for a big bash. Adele wins over the dad by complementing him and stuff.
  • Leonce doesn’t go the Ratignolle’s parties because he thinks they are lame. He goes to his club instead. Adele tells Edna that she thinks Leonce the lame-ass for leaving her alone. Edna is glad to have him out since they’ve got nothing to talk about.
  • Dr. Mandelet is at the party and thinks Edna’s fine.
  • Edna gets drunk on champagne.
  • Edna and her dad fight about the fact that Edna’s not going to her sister’s wedding. Her dad tells Leonce that he’s a wimp for letting Edna do what she wants.
  • Before Leonce goes on his business trip, Edna gets all mushy, thinking about his good side. But then, when she is alone, she is relaxed and psyched.
  • Edna can’t work when the weather’s crappy, so she finds her friends from Grand Isle.
  • She goes to the horse races with Mrs. Highcamp and Alcee Arobin.
  • Arobin likes Edna. Edna digs him, but thinks Mrs. Highcamp is full of herself.
  • At home, Edna’s bored. She wants something to happen.
  • Edna and Alcee Arobin hang out. They get all cozy until he shows her some scar on her wrist that grosses her out. Really, it’s just sexual tension. Then she wants him to leave. He wants to see her again. She’s all freaked out.
  • When Alcee Arobin leaves, Edna feels like she has betrayed – no, not her husband, but Robert Lebrun. But… she still thinks about Arobin.

CHAPTER 26 – 29

  • Alcee Arobin writes Edna a note to say he’s sorry. This makes her feel weird.
  • When Edna goes to see Madame Reisz, she announces she’s moving out of Leonce’s house and into a place around the corner.
  • Edna says she doesn’t want to belong to anyone but herself.
  • Reisz lets Edna read letters from Robert. She finds out that Robert loves her and is trying to forget her and is coming back.
  • Edna says she’s in love with Robert.
  • At dinner, Arobin comments that he’s never seen Edna looking so happy.
  • Arobin touches Edna’s hair and she likes it. At the same time, she says that she wants to step back and look at what kind of woman she is, what her character is.
  • Arobin says he can tell what kind of woman she is.
  • They kiss and Edna, for the first time, actually feels it.
  • Edna’s all horny. She cries a little after Arobin goes. Mainly she’s just overwhelmed by all the stuff she’s been feeling. Though the kiss was sexy, there was no love in it like she feels for Robert.
  • Edna doesn’t tell Leonce she’s moving out. She moves only her stuff over to the rental house.
  • Arobin stops by and asks about the big bash she’s throwing at the old house. She says he’s invited but that she won’t see him until then. But they flirt anyway.

CHAPTER 30 - 32

  • At Edna’s dinner party, she wears a diamond hair thing that Leonce sent for her 29th birthday.
  • The house looks awesome. Everyone hangs out and then Reisz gives Edna a kiss on the shoulder and tells to be smart since Edna’s pretty distracted what with all the stud power around her – Arobin is there and Victor.
  • When Victor sings what Robert used to sing, Edna tries to stop him by putting her hand over his mouth. Edna finds this hot and scary at the same time.
  • After everyone leaves, Arobin and Edna go to her new house where Arobin has put flowers.
  • She feels down. Arobin doesn’t say goodnight until she gives in to his, ah, longings.
  • When Leonce finds out that Edna’s moving out, he writes to say it’s a dumb thing to do. To save face with the townspeople, he gets architects in to remodel the house so it looks like she couldn’t be living at home anyway.
  • Edna digs being alone in her "pigeon house" (what she calls her new pad).
  • Edna sees her kids. She’s glad, but when she says goodbye to them, she’s fine going back to being alone.

CHAPTER 33 - 35

  • When Reisz isn’t home, Edna can still go in because she knows where the secret key is kept. She goes there after a shit day when Adele was all, "You know, you’re like a kid – you do whatever you want. Also, Arobin is a slut and he will ruin your rep." So she hangs by herself at Reisz’s house.
  • When there’s a knock at the door, Edna thinks it’s going to be Reisz, but it’s Robert!
  • The reunion is a bit awkward but they end up going to her place for dinner. When he’s there, Robert sees a photos of Arobin. He comments on it – she explains that Arobin is a friend – of course, he drops by during dinner.
  • After Robert leaves, Arobin wants to stay but Edna kicks him out.
  • Edna wakes up and thinks about Robert but he doesn’t come by. Not that day or the next.
  • Edna and Arobin are still getting it on – he knows a good thing when he’s got it, since she’s still all awakened and everything.

CHAPTER 36

  • Edna and Robert bump into each other at a park. They have some dinner and talk. Edna asks why he hasn’t come to see her. He makes up a bunch of excuses.
  • Back at the pigeon place, she kisses him and he kisses her back – it’s all full of love and Robert explains that this is why he left in the first place and why he’s tried to keep away from her.
  • A maid comes to say that Adele is in labor and needs Edna.
  • Edna and Robert kiss like they’re in a Big Red commercial and Edna says how much she loves him and he says don’t go, but she does – she says they’ll be together when she gets back from Adele’s. She tells Robert how it was he that "awakened" her.

CHAPTER 37 – 38

  • Adele is in labor.
  • Edna feels faint and weird when she sees Adele about to have a baby.
  • After she watches the birth, she talks to Dr. Mandelet outside. He says it seems like she’s in trouble. She tells him about her feelings of waking up to her life.
  • Back at home, she finds a note from Robert saying that he’s leaving because he loves her.

CHAPTER 39

  • The next summer, Edna’s back at Grand Isle. Victor’s there with Mariequita.
  • Edna basically had this great passion for Robert, but since he left, she feels like she can slut around and do as she pleases because none of it matters. And even though Robert’s the one she loves, she knows that someday, she’ll forget about him, too.
  • She looks out at that sexy, sexy sea.
  • She swims way too far from shore. As she sinks, she thinks about all the stuff in the book.

 

THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART

  • This book is a feminist statement of sorts – that women should be able to do what they want and not be considered property.
  • Talk about how Edna is punished for her passions – she finally finds love and not only does the guy not stick around, but she dies.
  • Adele and Edna are opposites in their existences and yet find a connection in their different versions of womanhood.
  • You can tell how much time has gone by in the book by Adele’s pregnancy.
  • Even though Robert is supposed to be Edna’s true love, he also leaves after she goes to help Adele – is it because he "loves her" or because he knows he still can’t totally possess her?
  • The males in this book are all stereotypes – the lover (Robert), the angry dickhead (Victor), the slut (Arobin), the boring husband (Leonce), the good husband (Mr. Ratignolle).
  • Nature plays a role in this book – it is the symbol of passion, of wanting, of lust, of the big time shag.
  • One thing to consider in this book is that Edna's "awakening" seems to be brought on by men. Now, if this is some "girl power" book, why are men so involved? Can Edna even think for herself? Perhaps her "awakening" is the moment she realizes she has no control of her own life, and chooses to walk into the ocean. The first time she really takes control of her destiny.
  • But this, too, would mean that men drove her to suicide, since a) she can't have the guy she wants and b) she feels it's inevitable that she will keep being sexually, if not romantically, involved with them.