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Kate Chopin's masterpiece, The Awakening, isn't really a novel about love and relationships, it is a novel that conveys the importance of how each individual chooses to live his or her life, and love is just one component of that decision. By looking at these three main characters, we can see that Edna Pontellier is deeply affected by her marriage to Leonce and by her infatuation with Robert Lebrun.
Leonce Pontellier seems to love his wife in the manner in which he is expected to love her as defined by Creole society. We know that he pursued her ardently and that she was won over by that. He is loyal and faithful and provides for her financially. They have a beautiful home in the city, and she and the children are able to vacation at Grand Isle for the summer. He is upset by her seeming to have turned her attentions away from the family as represented by her being a bit dismissive of her boys and her not keeping up her social engagements with her "Tuesdays at home." But in the end, he leaves her some space to "figure it out" and tries to smooth over the whole issue of her moving to the pigeon house. He represents a solid, if not romantic, love.
Edna, on the other hand, is revealed to be a woman who was never really in love, but wooed over and thought that she would make the best of this relationship. She hoped that they would find enough in common to be happy. By the time the novel opens, it is fairly clear that she feels like the caged bird described on page one of the novel. She realizes that she is not a Creole mother-woman and that she wants more from her life. She fancies herself in love with Robert Lebrun, a man two years younger than her, when they spend much time together on Grand Isle. While no physical intimacy occurs, there is a clear, emotional connection between the two. She feels a passion for him that she doesn't for Leonce. Robert teaches her to swim, but that act of freedom and independence carries over into other aspects of her life.
Robert Lebrun fully understands that he has crossed an emotional line with Edna. He has always befriended the ladies of Grand Isle in the summertime, but this time is different. He is so afraid of how he feels and how inappropriate it is that he runs away to Mexico to avoid Edna and his feelings for her. He only reveals himself to Reisz in letters home. Even upon returning, he acknowledges the feelings, but runs again when he realizes that he can't ever really have Edna. She can't divorce and doesn't or isn't willing to even try to do that in order to marry Robert. Robert wants Edna to be a wife, but Edna has had enough of that institution.
Edna learns about true love through her relationship with Robert. Robert has a true love for Edna, but does the honorable thing and leaves it alone. Leonce has a husband-like love for Edna and his family.
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