The Awakening Summary

Overview

The Awakening

Summary of the Novel
The Awakening begins in Grand Isle, where the Pontellier family is vacationing for the summer. Leonce Pontellier’s newspaper reading has been interrupted by the loud talking of the caged parrot so he returns to his own cottage. Edna Pontellier returns from bathing in the ocean with Robert Lebrun, and her husband criticizes her for bathing so late in the day. She and Robert share laughs over something that happened at the ocean, but Leonce is bored with the conversation. He leaves to go to a men’s club at a hotel called Klein’s. Robert stays with Edna.

When Mr. Pontellier returns late that night, he reprimands Edna for her neglect of the children. She begins to cry, feeling an “indescribable oppression.” The next day we meet Adele Ratignolle, who is pregnant and a classic “mother-woman.” Edna, Adele, and Robert spend the afternoon together, and Robert is very attentive to Edna; they later go swimming together.

At the ocean with Adele, Edna remembers the times she was in love and how she “accidentally” married Leonce. Adele warns Robert to stay away from Edna. Some weeks later, all the summer guests gather together for an evening’s entertainment. We are introduced to Edna’s love of music. At the end of the evening, everyone goes swimming and Robert walks Edna home. Later Edna defies Leonce and stays out in the hammock after he instructs her to go inside.

The next day Edna and Robert go to Mass together at Cheniere Caminada and spend the whole day together there. Some time later Robert announces that he is leaving for Mexico that night, and Edna tries to hide her feelings, from herself as much as from anyone else. After he is gone, she misses him very much.

At the beach one day, Edna tells Adele that although she would give her life for her children, she wouldn’t give herself. Adele doesn’t understand.

After the summer, they go home to New Orleans, and Edna starts to forego her usual social engagements, for which she is reprimanded by Leonce. She begins taking long, solitary walks. She has lost interest in her home and family and takes up painting. She visits Mademoiselle Reisz and reads a letter from Robert, which makes her cry.

Leonce is worried about his wife and talks to Dr. Mandelet who advises him to let her have her way and maybe it will pass. After Edna’s father comes to stay for a while, Leonce and the children go away, and Edna is happily left alone. She paints, reads, and visits with friends. One of her new friends is Alcee Arobin, who is known for being a womanizer. They often go to the track together, and begin to spend time alone together in the evening.

While her family is still away, Edna decides to move out of her house to a smaller one around the corner. One day she goes to visit Mademoiselle Reisz and learns that Robert is coming home; she admits that she loves him. That night she begins her affair with Alcee Arobin and says of his kiss, “It was the first kiss of her life to which her nature had really responded.” Later she is disappointed that the response wasn’t brought on by love. The night before she moves, Edna has a dinner party, and Alcee stays the night.

One day Edna goes to visit Mademoiselle Reisz and finds Robert there. She is hurt that he has not called on her since his return. He dines with her at her house that night but does not call or come visit after that. She spends more and more time with Alcee, although she still longs for Robert.

Luckily Edna runs into Robert accidentally, and he goes to her home with her. They finally both declare their love, and kiss, but then Edna has to leave to be with Adele Ratignolle, who is giving birth. When she returns, Robert is gone.

The novel ends with Edna leaving New Orleans and going back to Grand Isle. Shortly after her arrival there, she swims out as far as she can into the ocean, with no strength left to return.

Estimated Reading Time

The average reader should be able to complete The Awakening in four to five hours. The short chapters make it easier to read, and certain chapters can be grouped together to aid the reader in understanding the story.

Chapters I through VI take place in Grand Isle and introduce the major conflicts of the novel and set the tone for Edna’s awakening.

Chapters VII through XVI are the remaining chapters that take place in Grand Isle. Here we see Edna’s various awakenings set in motion.

Chapters XVII through XXX take place in New Orleans. Here we see significant growth in both Edna’s rebellion and her resulting conflicts.

Chapters XXXI to XXXVIII also take place in New Orleans and are about Edna’s independence.

Chapter XXXIX should be read alone. The story moves back to Grand Isle, and it is the resolution of the novel.

The Awakening Summary (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The Awakening, Kate Chopin’s masterpiece, is a psychologically realistic portrait of a fin de siècle woman’s search for her identity. The novel, which chronicles Louisiana society woman Edna Pontellier’s quiet rebellion against the strictures of a male-dominated society, shocked contemporary readers with its theme and its frank presentation of women’s sexuality, but its compelling presentation of the quest for self-fulfillment has earned it classic status.

On Grand Isle, a Gulf of Mexico resort where she is vacationing with her somewhat dull husband and their two children, Edna becomes aware of “her position in the universe,” and she begins to yearn for an escape from the cage of bourgeois matrimony. She realizes that she wishes to be more than merely one of the “mother-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.”

Edna falls in love with handsome young Robert Lebrun, who reciprocates her feelings but who dares not overstep the bounds of convention with a married woman. After Lebrun leaves for Mexico and her husband leaves on an extended business trip, Edna begins an affair with a young roué, Alcée Arobin, who completes the sexual “awakening” that Lebrun had begun; she also moves out of her husband’s house into a smaller one, where she revels in her newly found independence.

Oceanic imagery suffuses the novel, the shore marking the boundary of the patriarchal mainland. Edna learns to swim, and her education in swimming is also a larger lesson in staying afloat. Her swimming is about survival after getting in over one’s head; it is also a spiritual baptism into a new life. As Edna swims away from the beach while her husband watches, she swims away from the shore of her old life to a female fantasy of paradise—freedom and fulfillment.

At the novel’s end, Edna is overcome by a desire to swim away from the shore, “on and on,” until exhaustion overcomes her and she drowns. Her swim away from the empty summer colony is equated with a retreat from the empty fictions of marriage and maternity, back into her own life and vision. Ultimately, whether or not Edna intentionally commits suicide is a moot point because the ambiguity makes The Awakening a daring vision of a woman’s sexual and spiritual development. Chopin’s contemporaries, however, received the novel with derision, feeling no compassion for Edna’s torment. Not until the feminist movement of the 1970’s revived interest in Chopin’s work was The Awakening appreciated as a masterful exploration of the search for personal fulfillment.

The Awakening Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Pontelliers, residents of New Orleans, are vacationing at Grand Isle, a resort in the Gulf of Mexico. The Lebrun and Ratignolle families, also Creoles of New Orleans, are companions of Edna, who is unhappy with the limited role dictated to her by her husband Léonce. Madame Lebrun’s caged parrot symbolizes Edna’s feeling of being trapped in a loveless marriage and in an economically oriented social system in which women are only wives and mothers. Her husband expects her to be like Adèle Ratignolle, who exemplifies the type of submissive and sacrificial wife that Léonce expects and thinks he deserves. Edna, however, is not willing to submit to such traditions or to sacrifice herself for the sake of her husband and their two sons.

When Léonce notices that Edna was sunburned after spending a time on the beach with Robert Lebrun, his main concern is that a “valuable piece of personal property . . . suffered some damage.” In contrast to her husband’s business-based value system, Robert offers her companionship and sympathy. She talks to him of her girlhood in Kentucky. Meanwhile, Léonce complains about her “habitual neglect of the children.” Edna realizes that she can never be a good mother like Adèle if it means stifling her independence. “A certain light was beginning to dawn” in Edna that nurtures her dissatisfaction with her life and leads her to recognize that her marriage to the forty-year-old businessman (twelve years her senior) is a mistake. She was flattered by Léonce’s devotion to her, but the violent opposition to the marriage by her father and her sister Margaret (because Léonce was a Catholic) may have been Edna’s prime motive in marrying. Léonce belongs to another culture, a French American society quite different from the strict Presbyterian environment of Kentucky. One thing, however, is the same in both worlds. Women are regarded as necessary but inferior beings whose place is in the home.

Edna, who is interested in the arts, is introduced to Mademoiselle Reisz, a noted pianist. While the latter plays, Edna envisions a naked man in an attitude of resignation as he watches a bird fly away from him. The music inspires Edna to a sense of power, and, when the party moves to the beach, she overcomes her fear of the water and learns to swim. Gaining confidence, Edna challenges her husband by refusing his sexual entreaty. By withholding herself sexually, she feels that she is in possession of her body.

One Sunday, Edna asks Robert to attend church with her on a neighboring island. During the service, however, she flees from the stifling atmosphere of the church, much like the time in Kentucky when as a child she ran away from the Presbyterian prayers that were “read in a spirit of gloom” by her father. She believes that the churches are part of the status quo that keep women in their places. At the end of the Grand Isle vacation, Robert goes to Mexico. His departure depresses Edna, but it does not impair her rebellious nature. She tells Mademoiselle Reisz that she will not sacrifice herself for anyone, even her children. When the family returns to New Orleans, Edna’s first act of nonconformity is to ignore Reception Day. Léonce is amazed that his wife does not observe the tradition. It is not just a social convention, it is business. He angrily leaves to have dinner at his club. Edna throws her wedding ring on the carpet and breaks a vase on the hearth. In a rebellious mood, Edna visits Mademoiselle Reisz. Edna discusses her attempt to paint, to become an artist. The pianist declares that an artist needs a courageous soul, a “soul that dared and defied.”

Meanwhile, Léonce complains to Dr. Mandelet about the change in Edna, particularly her sexual withdrawal. She even refuses to go to her sister’s wedding. The doctor advises him to let Edna have her way for a while. Edna’s father, a Kentucky colonel, arrives in New Orleans to buy a wedding present for Janet, his daughter. The real purpose for the visit is to coerce Edna into attending Janet’s wedding, but Edna still refuses to go. Fond of bourbon, of horses, and of women who know their domestic duties, Edna’s father angrily leaves. Soon after, Léonce leaves on one of his many business trips, and his mother takes the children to Iberville. Edna is happy to be alone. For inspiration, she reads Ralph Waldo Emerson, the famous champion of self-reliance and nonconformity. Edna, in a bold act of independence, decides to move out of her husband’s house, ignoring his letter of disapproval in which he claims he is “simply thinking of his financial integrity.” Before she leaves, she has a dinner party. One of the guests, Alcée Arobin, begins to court Edna. In the absence of Robert, Edna responds to Arobin’s sexual advances. She had not heard from Robert since he went to Mexico. When Robert returns, he avoids her. One day, they meet accidentally, but he seems distant and uninterested. Arobin, on the other hand, continues to visit her. Another chance meeting with Robert occurs, however, and he confesses that he loves her and that he avoids her because she belongs to another. Edna says that she is no longer one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions. They make plans to meet again.

In the meantime, Edna helps Dr. Mandelet while Adèle is giving birth, an act that gives Edna a sense of dread. She explains to Mandelet that she wants nothing but her own way, even if it means trampling on the hearts and prejudices of others. He is unable to understand the depth of her commitment to finding a life of her own. Edna goes to her little house, around the corner from the big house on Esplanade Street, expecting Robert to be there. Instead, she finds a note: “I love you. Good-bye—because I love you.” She realizes that the man she loves is not as brave as she is. She also realizes that she has another major decision to make. Grand Isle beckons to Edna again. She walks to the beach, to the seductive voice of the sea. She sees a bird with a broken wing descend to the water. She thinks about the courageous soul and about Robert’s note and his failure to understand. Edna swims far into the ocean until her strength is gone. It is too late to go back.

The Awakening Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Awakening begins with a seemingly insignificant event: Léonce Pontellier is disturbed while trying to read the newspaper. As Chopin reveals, however, this incident reflects the patriarchal structure of most late nineteenth century American marriages in which the entire family’s activities are inordinately structured around the husband’s wishes and moods, no matter how trivial.

The summer resort of Grand Isle is a setting that allows Léonce’s wife, Edna, to confront her dissatisfactions with her marriage. Further, she can explore first her awakened sexuality through the attentions of Robert LeBrun and then the subsequent desires for an alternative lifestyle that this awakening creates. While they are at Grand Isle, Léonce has no objections to Robert’s flirtations; indeed, he seems indifferent to the developing intimacy between Edna and Robert. When the family returns to New Orleans, Léonce assumes that Edna will return to the duties of a supportive wife.

Edna has awakened, however tentatively, to the excitement of personal liberty, and she discovers within herself a growing desire to control her own life. She has within her social circle two role models for women’s lives: the beautiful Madame Ratignolle, “a faultless Madonna,” who dedicates her life to her husband and children and who is, therefore, honored by everyone in the community; and Mademoiselle Reisz, a single woman who has dedicated her life to her music but who, therefore, is distinctly a social outcast and whose life seems stale and isolated. Not surprisingly, neither choice appeals to Edna’s growing excitement about the prospect of personal freedom.

Each woman counsels Edna on the decisions she is about to make: Madame Ratignolle asserts that Edna must place her children’s needs before her own. Mademoiselle Reisz, though cautiously encouraging Edna, also notes that an artist must possess a courageous soul; she adds, “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings.” Each woman’s advice represents societal truths. If Edna chooses to remain a traditional woman, the needs of her children and her husband must come before her own. If she seeks new avenues of self-fulfillment, however, she must recognize that she will be confronting tempest-like winds of controversy that will lead to social banishment.

At first, Edna believes that she can reject traditional wisdom and weather the brunt of conventional reactions. In spite of warnings, she becomes involved with the infamous Alcée Arobin, and she eventually moves into a home of her own. Yet, as the designation for her new residence—the pigeon house—suggests, Edna has not escaped the trappings of her marriage; she has only exchanged them for an illusion of freedom. Although she begins to paint and finds some success in selling her creations, Edna discovers that independence and art alone cannot fulfill her. Her sexuality has been awakened, and she does not want to confine herself to the sterility of an existence like Mademoiselle Reisz’s.

If Edna’s awareness of options for women has changed, society’s perspective has not. Edna finds herself unable to escape the numerous demands and desires of her old and new lives: Though she is able to leave her husband, she cannot escape her maternal status, and her new independence is quickly separating her from old friends without affording her new support systems. She is unable to attain success as an artist and at the same time satisfy the sensual self that she has discovered. In the face of these irreconcilable realities, Edna returns to Grand Isle.

The conclusion of The Awakening has created interpretive controversies since its first publication and remains a point of debate among scholars. Some critics see Edna’s final swim out into the ocean as one more instance of her capricious behavior; they believe that her death is an accident. Most critics, however, recognize Edna’s act as a conscious recognition of the inescapable limitations of her life that continue to stifle her creative and sensual endeavors. That Chopin intended the ending to be ambiguous is indicated in the shifting allusions that surround Edna’s final act: a broken-winged bird falls to the water, suggesting that Edna has been unable to withstand the social prejudices about which Mademoiselle Reisz had warned her.

As Edna contemplates her movement into the water, however, she removes all of her clothing, freeing herself of the symbols of society and suggesting that it is her awakened self that is preserved in this final act. By forcing the reader to consider these shifting perspectives, Chopin also forces the reader to confront the causes behind Edna’s inability to find personal fulfillment; the oppressive nature of nineteenth century America is symbolized in the waves that wash over Edna as she enters the water. It is only by swimming far beyond the boundaries of the shore that she finally escapes and finds freedom. The tragedy is that this is the only kind of freedom a woman such as Edna could find in her society.

The Awakening Overview

The Awakening opens at the summer resort of Grand Isle, a small hotel located fifty miles off of the coast of New Orleans. Grand Isle...

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The Awakening Summary

Grand Isle
The Awakening opens at the summer resort of Grand Isle, a small hotel located fifty miles off of the...

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The Awakening Chapter Summary and Analysis

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Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Edna Pontellier: the protagonist of the novel; a 28-year-old married woman with children who yearns for more out of life; the novel is about her journey of discovery

Leonce Pontellier: Edna’s husband; by all accounts, a good man, but treats Edna like a possession rather than an equal

Madame Lebrun: the owner of the resort at Grand Isle where the Pontellier family spends their summers

Robert Lebrun: the 26-year-old son of Madame Lebrun; falls in love with Edna

The Farival Twins: two young guests at Grand Isle who play the piano for the entertainment of the other guests

Raoul and Etienne: the Pontellier’s two young children

...

(The entire section is 558 words.)

Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis

Summary
The chapter begins with a description of Edna Pontellier. She has bright yellowish brown eyes and hair, and her eyebrows are a shade darker. She is handsome rather than beautiful, wears a frank expression, and has an engaging manner. Additionally, there is depth to her eyes and a subtlety to her features.

Robert Lebrun is also described for the reader. He is smoking a cigarette because he cannot afford cigars, although he has one that Leonce Pontellier had given to him. He is clean shaven and similar in complexion to Edna.

Robert and Edna chat together about their adventure in the water, and everything that is going on around them, including the children who are playing croquet...

(The entire section is 465 words.)

Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Leonce returns from Klein’s at eleven o’clock that evening, in high spirits and very talkative. Edna, who was sleeping when he came in, only half answers him as he talks. Leonce finds her lack of interest very discouraging.

Leonce forgot the bonbons and peanuts for the children, but he goes into their room to check on them. He reports back to Edna that Raoul has a fever and needs looking after. Then he sits down and lights up a cigar. Edna responds that Raoul went to bed perfectly well.

Leonce reprimands Edna for her neglect of the children, reminding her that it is a mother’s place to look after them. He is busy with his business and cannot do both. Edna gets out of bed...

(The entire section is 596 words.)

Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Adele Ratignolle: a friend of Edna’s; a beautiful woman who is devoted to her husband and children; she is pregnant

Summary
This chapter begins with a description of Edna’s mothering. Leonce cannot define exactly Edna’s failings in this regard, but as an example, if one of the Pontellier children fell, he would not rush to his mother’s arms for comfort. Edna is not a “mother-woman”: a breed who idolize their children and worship their husbands and have no selves of their own.

One such mother-woman is Adele Ratignolle, who is described as “the embodiment of every womanly grace and charm.” She is very fond of Edna and is with her,...

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Chapters 5 and 6 Summary and Analysis

Summary
In Chapter V, Adele continues to sew, while Edna and Robert sit idle, exchanging occasional words and glances that suggest intimacy. Every summer Robert devotes himself to one woman, and this summer it is Edna. The summer before it was Adele, and they joked a bit about it as Robert described his passion to Edna. It was understood that his words of love were not to be taken seriously. Edna is glad Robert does not speak that way to her.

Edna has her sketchbook with her and begins to draw Adele. Robert praises the work, but Edna crumples it up because it does not look like Adele. While Edna is drawing, Robert rests his head against her arm. Even after she pushes him away, he does it again....

(The entire section is 729 words.)

Chapter 7 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
The Lovers: a young, unmarried couple who are oblivious to all but themselves

Summary
Edna, usually a woman of outward reserve, is beginning to loosen up a bit at Grand Isle, mostly under the influence of Adele’s beauty and candor.

One morning the women go together to the beach, and although the children are left behind, Adele brings her needlework. Both women are described as tall, with Adele having a feminine and matronly figure, while Edna’s is “long, clean and symmetrical.” Similarly Adele is dressed in white ruffles while Edna is wearing white and brown linen.

At the beach, the Pontelliers and Ratignolles share adjoining...

(The entire section is 639 words.)

Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Victor Lebrun: the younger brother of Robert

Summary
As soon as Robert and Adele begin their walk away from the beach, Adele asks Robert to leave Edna alone. She is afraid that Edna might take him seriously. In his defense, Robert tells a story about Alcee Arobin and the consul’s wife and several other sordid stories. Then he declares that Edna would never take him seriously. He makes Adele a cup of bouillon and leaves for the main house.

On his way, he passes the lovers, who are oblivious to everything around them. He looks for Edna and the children, but not seeing them, he goes to his mother’s house. She is busy at her sewing machine.

...

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Chapter 9 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Mademoiselle Reisz: a loner at Grand Isle; a gifted pianist who becomes very close to Edna

Summary
It is now Saturday night, a few weeks after the conversation between Robert and Adele. The main house is all lit up and decorated, and all the guests are there for relaxation and entertainment. Even the children are permitted to stay up later than usual, until after ice cream and cake are served. The Farival twins perform the same songs as always on the piano, a little girl performs a dance, and a brother and sister give recitations. Then everyone dances while Adele plays the piano.

While Adele is playing, Edna conjures up an image of a naked man...

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Chapter 10 Summary and Analysis

Summary
The guests walk in little groups down to the beach, but Robert lingers behind with the lovers. Edna wonders why he is not coming; she misses him when he is not around her. The sea is quiet and the moon is bright.

Edna had been trying all summer to learn to swim, but tonight she finally is able to swim. She is so happy she shouts for joy and swims out by herself as far as she can go. While out there, she feels a momentary twinge of panic, but manages to swim safely back in. After that she changes into dry clothes and leaves, despite protestations from the other guests.

Robert overtakes her as she is walking home, and they chat about spirits and the dreamlike quality of the...

(The entire section is 433 words.)

Chapter 11 Summary and Analysis

Summary
When Leonce returns to the cottage, he finds Edna lying in the hammock and asks, then demands, that she come inside. Edna refuses, realizing that this is the first time she has ever done so.

Leonce had prepared for bed already, but he goes outside and sits in the rocker with a glass of wine and a cigar. After a while, Edna feels her will leaving her; she begins to feel helpless again. She arises and goes inside and asks Leonce if he is joining her. He tells her he will come in after he finishes his cigar.

Discussion and Analysis
Edna’s refusal to go inside at Leonce’s command marks her first rebellion, powered by her swim and the spirits of the night....

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Chapter 12 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Mariequita: a “mischievous,” carefree Spanish girl who works at Grand Isle

Baudelet: an old sailor who takes people by boat to Mass at Cheniere Caminada

Summary
Edna sleeps badly and is up and dressed early. Only a few others are up, those who intend to go to mass at the Cheniere. Edna sends Madame Lebrun’s servant to wake up Robert, to tell him to come to mass with her. They each have coffee and a roll, and then join the others at the wharf. The lovers are there, the lady in black, old Monsieur Farival, and a young girl named Mariequita whom Robert knows and speaks to in Spanish.

Edna stares at Mariequita, and Mariequita asks...

(The entire section is 375 words.)

Chapter 13 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Madame Antoine: a village woman at Cheniere Caminada whose house Edna stays in when she feels ill

Tonie: the son of Madame Antoine

Summary
Edna begins to feel tired and sick during the service and leaves before it is over. Robert follows her outside and suggests they go to Madame Antoine’s. Madame Antoine welcomes them in and brings Edna to a room with a large, white four-posted bed. Robert sits outside with Madame Antoine to wait for Tonie. Edna bathes in the basin, undresses, and luxuriates in the smell of the bed and the feel of her body. Eventually she falls asleep.

When Edna awakes, she feels as if she has been asleep a long...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Chapter 14 Summary and Analysis

Summary
When Edna returns to her cottage at nine o’clock, Adele, who has been watching the children, tells Edna that Etienne, the younger of Edna’s sons, would not go to sleep. Edna sits in the rocker with him and soothes him to sleep. Leonce, after being dissuaded from fetching Edna back earlier, has gone to Klein’s.

Robert leaves and goes for a solitary walk after Edna points out that they have been together the whole day. Edna, too, stays alone, in the cottage, rather than join the others. She realizes that she has changed since last summer and that in fact she is different than she has ever been before.

She wonders why Robert has not stayed, and wishes that he had. She begins...

(The entire section is 252 words.)

Chapter 15 Summary and Analysis

Summary
A few days later, Edna enters the dining room a little late and learns from several people at once that Robert is going away to Mexico and he is leaving for New Orleans that very evening. This comes as a surprise to her, and she shows it. Robert looks embarrassed and uneasy. He explains to everyone at the table, in a defensive voice, that he is going to meet someone in Vera Cruz and that he just decided that afternoon to go.

The lovers, as usual, speak only to each other. Everyone else is buzzing about the trip. Adele warns him about the Mexicans, whom she does not trust. Edna asks him what time he is leaving and then leaves the room.

She goes back to her cottage where she...

(The entire section is 455 words.)

Chapter 16 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Mademoiselle Reisz asks Edna if she misses Robert. In fact she misses him greatly and feels that her life has been dulled. She talks about him constantly and looks at old family pictures with Madame Lebrun. She wishes there were a recent picture for her to look at. Madame Lebrun shows her a letter Robert had written, and Edna feels jealous that he wrote to his mother rather than her.

Even Leonce assumes that Edna misses Robert. Leonce saw Robert in the city before he left for Mexico and Edna pesters him with questions. She does not find it at all “grotesque” that she is making so much of his absence; in fact, she does not think much about it at all and does not feel the need to voice...

(The entire section is 527 words.)

Chapter 17 Summary and Analysis

Summary
The story has now moved to New Orleans. There is a description of the Pontelliers’ house on Esplanade Street, which is very beautiful and luxurious. Leonce is very fond of walking around the house and taking pleasure in his possessions.

Since her wedding six years earlier, Tuesday has been a reception day for Edna. There is a constant stream of female callers all afternoon, and sometimes at night the men would join their wives. One Tuesday night at dinner, several weeks after their return to the city, Leonce notices that Edna is not in her reception dress but is wearing an ordinary housedress. Edna tells him she went out for the day and thus was not home to receive the callers.

...

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Chapter 18 Summary and Analysis

Summary
The next morning Leonce asks Edna to meet him in the city to go shopping; she does not want to go shopping. He notes that Edna is not looking well; she is pale and very quiet. Edna watches him leave and watches the children playing. She feels no interest in anything around her. In fact she feels the outside world, including her children, has suddenly become alien and antagonistic.

Although Edna criticizes most of her sketches, she gathers up some of them and leaves the house to go visit Adele. She is thinking about Robert, feeling an “incomprehensible longing.”

The Ratignolles live not far from the Pontelliers, in spacious apartments over Monsieur Ratignolle’s drugstore....

(The entire section is 558 words.)

Chapter 19 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Edna realizes that her outburst with the ring and vase had been childish and futile. Instead she begins to do and feel exactly as she pleases, including more painting. She completely abandons her Tuesday receptions and makes no efforts toward running the household. Leonce, who had always been courteous as long as Edna had been submissive, now grows angry at her insolence. He compares her to Adele, who keeps up with her music but also with all her responsibilities. Edna tells him to leave her alone, and he does. However he wonders if Edna is growing mentally unbalanced. He cannot see that she is actually becoming her true self.

Edna goes to her atelier at the top of the house to paint. She...

(The entire section is 533 words.)

Chapter 20 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Edna decides to visit Mademoiselle Reisz, despite the bad feeling she had gotten from their last conversation. She feels the need to hear her play the piano. Unfortunately, Mademoiselle Reisz has moved, and Edna has some trouble locating her. She decides to go to the Lebruns to ask Madame Lebrun. Victor answers the door, and after having an argument with his servant, he sends her to fetch Madame Lebrun.

Edna waits on the porch, and Victor sits down with her and amuses her with a story about a woman he had met the night before. Mrs. Lebrun comes out just as Victor is about to get into sordid details. She sends Victor in to get two letters from Robert to read to Edna. The letters are about...

(The entire section is 452 words.)

Chapter 21 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Mademoiselle Reisz lives in an apartment under the roof with open windows that let in soot and dirt along with the light and air. Everything is fairly dingy except for a “magnificent piano” that crowds the apartment.

Mademoiselle Reisz is glad to see Edna and expresses her surprise that Edna has actually come. As Mademoiselle Reisz pours coffee for them, she tells Edna she has a letter from Robert in which he writes of nothing but Edna. Edna asks to see it, but Mademoiselle Reisz refuses at first. Edna asks her to play the piano and tells her she has been painting, that she is becoming an artist. Mademoiselle Reisz replies that one must have more than talent to be a true artist; she...

(The entire section is 388 words.)

Chapter 22 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Dr. Mandelet: good doctor who tries to help Edna

Summary
One morning Leonce decides to visit Dr. Mandelet, the family physician. He wants to talk about Edna, explaining that she is acting odd. He says that her whole attitude has changed and hints that they were no longer having sex. Dr. Mandelet inquires if Edna is spending time with a certain group of pseudointellectual women. Leonce explains that she has been isolated, not spending time with anyone. At this Dr. Mandelet grows concerned. Leonce tells him about Edna’s sister’s upcoming wedding and how Edna refuses to attend.

Dr. Mandelet advises Leonce to let Edna alone for a while, assuring him...

(The entire section is 304 words.)

Chapter 23 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Alcee Arobin: a young man-about-town with whom Edna has an affair

The Highcamps and the Merrimans: society people who are social friends of Edna’s

The Colonel: Edna’s father

Summary
Edna’s father is in the city to purchase a wedding gift for Edna’s sister Janet. He is a retired colonel and still has his military bearing. Edna and her father are not very close but are companionable. He sits still for a sketch, happy to sit rigidly for hours.

Edna takes her father to a party at the Ratignolles’ where Adele flirts with him. Edna notes that she is unable to do that. Leonce does not attend these parties; he prefers to...

(The entire section is 481 words.)

Chapter 24 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Edna and her father have a fight over Edna’s refusal to attend her sister’s wedding. Leonce, on Dr. Mandelet’s advice, stays out of it, but he plans to go himself to atone for Edna. Edna’s father disapproves of the way Leonce is handling the situation. He advises him to put his foot down, asserting that “authority and coercion” were necessary to handle a wife. Even Leonce realizes that the Colonel had probably coerced his own wife into an early grave. Edna is very glad when he leaves.

Just before Leonce leaves for New York shortly thereafter, Edna grows affectionate and feels she will miss him. The children leave, too, off to stay with their grandmother in the country. When...

(The entire section is 401 words.)

Chapter 25 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Edna cannot work when it is dark and cloudy; she needs the sunlight to inspire her. On rainy days she goes out to see friends or sits home alone feeling as if her life is passing her by.

She begins frequenting the racetrack. One afternoon, Mrs. Highcamp and Alcee Arobin invited her to the track. She plays for very high stakes and wins; she feels intoxicated.

After dinner at the Highcamps, Alcee drives Edna home, and she agrees to go to the races with him again. After Alcee leaves, Edna feels hungry, restless, and excited. She wants something exciting to happen and regrets she did not ask Alcee to stay and talk for a while.

A few days later Alcee calls on Edna to go...

(The entire section is 565 words.)

Chapter 26 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Alcee writes Edna a note of apology, and Edna feels silly for having made a fuss over a kiss on the hand. Soon they are spending time together again, growing closer and more intimate. Sometimes he talks in a way that makes her blush, but after a while she enjoys it; there is something in her that responds to it.

When Edna needs a lift, she visits Mademoiselle Reisz; her music “seemed to reach Edna’s spirit and set it free.” Upon arriving at Mademoiselle Reisz’s apartment, Edna informs her that she is moving out of her house to a smaller one around the corner. When pressed for a reason, Edna says it is because she wants a place of her own. She has her own money now because of her...

(The entire section is 597 words.)

Chapters 27 and 28 Summary and Analysis

Summary
That evening, in Chapter XXVII, Alcee says he has never seen Edna in such a good mood. He sits close to her, letting his fingers lightly touch her hair, which she enjoys. Then she tells Alcee she needs to figure out what kind of woman she is; she feels wicked but doesn’t really think she is. Alcee responds that she needn’t think about it because he can tell her what kind of woman she is.

Then Edna recounts something Mademoiselle Reisz had said to her about how birds that want to soar above tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. Alcee responds that Mademois-elle Reisz must be demented, but Edna argues that she seems wonderfully sane to her.

Alcee notes that Edna’s...

(The entire section is 524 words.)

Chapter 29 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Without waiting for an answer from Leonce regarding her decision to move, Edna hastens her plans. There is no thought involved, she just moves. She takes only what is hers. Alcee arrives in the afternoon, walking in unannounced, and finds Edna on a stepladder taking a picture off the wall. He then helps out. She tells him the dinner party will be two days later with the very finest of everything; she is going to let Leonce pay for it. She says goodbye to Alcee, and he is dismayed that he can’t see her again before the party.

Discussion and Analysis
Edna hastens her preparations to move out after spending the night with Alcee. She realizes now more than ever her...

(The entire section is 273 words.)

Chapter 30 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Edna’s dinner party and its guests are described in detail. There are nine guests, and Edna seats herself between Alcee and Mademoiselle Reisz. The table is set lavishly, with satin, lace, silver, gold, and crystal. There are fresh red and yellow roses on the table.

The conversation is lively and loud, and the food is abundant. Mrs. Highcamp, seated next to Victor Lebrun, spends the evening trying to capture his attention.

Edna is dressed in satin and is wearing a diamond tiara, a birthday present from Leonce which had arrived that morning. Edna is 29 years old. Seated at the head of the table, her bearing is regal. Yet she feels her old ennui creeping in, and seeing...

(The entire section is 419 words.)

Chapter 31 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Celestine: the Pontelliers’ servant

Summary
After everyone leaves, Edna and Alcee lock up and leave for the new house. Celestine, the Pontelliers’ servant, is moving in with Edna into the new house but will go back and clean up at the old house in the morning. Edna is quiet and seems disheartened.

When they arrive at the new house, it feels homey and hospitable; Edna had been working on it already. It is also filled with flowers that Alcee had sent over earlier.

Edna tells Alcee that she feels tired and miserable and that she just wants to rest. She puts her head down on the table, and Alcee begins stroking her hair, then moves to...

(The entire section is 270 words.)

Chapter 32 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Leonce, who is too late, sends word to Edna that he disapproves of her move, mainly because he is afraid that people will think their finances have taken a turn for the worse. He takes care of it in a businesslike manner, immediately planning reconstruction of the old house so that it will seem like they had no choice but to move.

Edna is very happy in her new home. She feels that although she may have descended the social scale, she has moved up on the spiritual scale and is able to see and understand things with her own eyes.

Edna goes to visit her children who are staying with Leonce’s mother on the farm. She weeps with joy to see them and truly enjoys their company for...

(The entire section is 401 words.)

Chapter 33 Summary and Analysis

Summary
One day, Edna sets out for Mademoiselle Reisz’s to rest and talk about Robert. She had a talk with Adele earlier in the day, and Adele had noted that Edna seemed to act without reflection—like a little child. She worried what people would think about Alcee’s visits. Then she made Edna promise that she would come when Adele gives birth.

Edna is waiting in Mademoiselle Reisz’s apartment for the lady to come home and begins to softly play the piano. There is a knock on the door, and Edna says to come in. It is Robert; he clasps her hand. Then Edna sits by the window, and Robert sits on the piano stool. He tells Edna he has been home for two days. She is very upset and wonders if he...

(The entire section is 488 words.)

Chapter 34 Summary and Analysis

Summary
The dining room is small and intimate, but dinner makes them both more formal. They talk about what they have been doing since they last met. After dinner Robert goes out to get cigarette paper. Edna notices that his tobacco pouch is new, and Robert admits that a girl gave it to him. Edna asks him lots of jealous questions, but he says the woman wasn’t important.

Robert says Edna can throw him out any time, but Edna reminds him of all the time they spent together in Grand Isle. Robert responds that he remembers everything from Grand Isle.

Then Alcee drops in, and Robert takes that as a cue to leave. Edna tells Alcee to leave. Alcee does not want to leave but compiles with...

(The entire section is 345 words.)

Chapter 35 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Edna wakes up filled with hope. She believes that Robert’s love for her will surmount his reserve, whatever his reasons for it. She imagines him coming over that evening.

She receives letters from her children and from Leonce. Leonce writes that when he comes back they would take a trip abroad, as he had recently made a lot of money on Wall Street. She also receives a letter from Alcee saying good morning and assuring her of his devotion.

Edna writes back to the children and to Leonce. In Leonce’s letter she is evasive, not on purpose, but because she had lost a sense of reality. She feels she has abandoned herself to Fate. She does not answer Alcee’s letter.

...

(The entire section is 334 words.)

Chapter 36 Summary and Analysis

Summary
When Edna is out walking, she often stops in a small quiet garden in the suburbs, where the proprietress sells and serves excellent food. It is not a place that is known to many people, and she never expects to see anyone she knows.

One afternoon, when she is eating dinner there, Robert walks in; he is uneasy and embarrassed when he sees Edna. Edna had intended to be reserved if she saw Robert but her reserve melts when she sees him. She asks him why he is staying away from her. Robert becomes almost angry and begs her to leave him alone.

Edna tells him he is selfish, not caring how she feels. Robert replies that she is being cruel, trying to force him into a disclosure that...

(The entire section is 644 words.)

Chapter 37 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Edna arrives at the Ratignolles and finds Adele on a sofa in the salon, clearly in pain. She is berating Dr. Mandelet to her servant for being late. She is getting a little hysterical.

Finally Dr. Mandelet arrives, and Adele goes into her room. Edna stays with her, but she feels uneasy. She is recalling her own experiences with a feeling of dread. She begins to wish she had not come, but she stays. Although she is in agony, she stays to witness the birth that she considers a torture.

She is stunned and speechless when she says goodbye to Adele later. Adele is exhausted but whispers to Edna to think of her children.

Discussion and Analysis
...

(The entire section is 284 words.)

Chapter 38 Summary and Analysis

Summary
When Edna gets outside, she still feels dazed. Dr. Mandelet offers her a ride home, but she says she wants to walk. Dr. Mandelet decides to walk her home. He tells her that she shouldn’t have been with Adele.

Edna responds that Adele was right, that she has to think of the children some time, preferably sooner than later. She tells Dr. Mandelet, in response to his question, that she will not be going abroad with Leonce when he returns. She tells him she just wants to be left alone and that nobody has the right to force her to do things, except children, maybe.

Dr. Mandelet seems to understand her. He says that youth is given to illusions, the illusions being the way to trap...

(The entire section is 625 words.)

Chapter 39 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Back in Grand Isle, Victor is working and Mariequita is watching him. He is talking about the dinner at Edna’s exaggerating every detail. Mariequita thinks he is in love with Edna, and she becomes jealous and sullen but then lets Victor reassure her.

To their surprise Edna appears before them, looking tired from her trip. She tells them she is just here for a rest and that any room will do. Then she asks what time dinner would be served.

Edna tells them her intention to go to the beach and take a swim. They warn her that the water is too cold, but she says she would dip her toes at least.

Edna walks down to the beach without thinking about anything in particular....

(The entire section is 834 words.)