Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Edna Pontellier (pohn-tehl-YAY), a sensitive, impressionable twenty-eight-year-old who feels out of place in the French-Creole society into which she has married. She has two small children whom she loves, although she feels temperamentally unsuited for the confining roles of wife and mother, which are the only roles available to women of her social class in the late nineteenth century. She has regarded sex as an unenjoyable if not actually unpleasant wifely duty and has been unaware of her repressed sexuality until the time that the novel opens. Her whole life is changed by her physical and psychological “awakening.”
Léonce Pontellier (lay-OHNS), Edna’s husband, who is forty years old, kind, and attentive, as well as being an exceptionally good provider for her and her two children. He is absorbed in business affairs, however, and prefers to associate with men. He is often smoking, drinking, and going off to play cards with cronies. He does not understand his wife; he regards her as a valuable possession, a sex object, and the mother of his children.
Adèle Ratignolle (ah-DEHL ra-tee-NYOHL), a beautiful young married woman who is Edna’s friend and confidante. She serves as a foil to Edna because she is...
(The entire section is 580 words.)
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Themes and Characters
The Awakening tells the story of Edna Pontellier and the changes that occur in her thinking and lifestyle as the result of a summer romance. At the start of the story, Edna is a young mother of two and the wife of a successful New Orleans businessman. While the family is vacationing at a seaside resort, Edna becomes acquainted with Robert Lebrun, a younger man who pays special attention to her. Moonlit walks and intimate conversations with Robert spark feelings that Edna has forgotten. When she returns to the city, Edna throws off the trappings of her old life—devotion to family, attention to societal expectations, and adherence to tradition—to explore independence in love, life, and sexual fulfillment.
Edna's rediscovery of feelings that she has long repressed underlie her search for freedom, self-expression, and love. Her relationship with Robert Lebrun awakens forgotten physical needs and prompts Edna to think about her life. For the first time, she begins to open up to others. She shares confidences with Robert Lebrun and Adele Ratignolle and allows herself to be stirred by Mlle. Reisz's music. She learns to swim, further experiencing the power of the connection between mind and body. She finally acknowledges her feelings toward Robert and realizes that she can take action to control her own life. The new Edna results from a marriage of flesh and spirit.
The Awakening that Edna experiences at the Grand Isle is the...
(The entire section is 1269 words.)
Alcée Arobin provides for Edna the distraction she needs from her involvement with Robert. Arobin is a "womanizer." A single man who is known to go from one woman to another, Alcée recognizes in Edna a vulnerability from which they can both benefit. He does not have to commit to Edna, and she does not have to deny herself for him. While he has no intentions of marrying Edna—nor she him—they satisfy each other's needs for companionship and sexual gratification.
The Colonel is Edna's father, a man who believes in tradition and constancy. He visits briefly with the Pontelliers while in the city to purchase a wedding gift for another daughter. A retired Confederate who enjoys his "toddies," the Colonel is tall, thin, and rugged-looking with white hair and a mustache accenting his bronzed face. Every bit the military man, as well as the Southern gentleman, he expects to be waited on and catered to. He also expects Edna to attend her sister's wedding as a womanly gesture and a matter of family respect. When Edna refuses to attend, the Colonel tersely advises Léonce to control Edna with a firmer hand.
See Dr. Mandelet
Robert Lebrun, though clean-shaven, has nearly the same brown coloring as Léonce, but his youth makes his common look appear handsome. Robert is single and enjoys his holidays...
(The entire section is 1597 words.)