The themes of Kate Chopin's The Awakening is a matter of perennial debate; some consider the themes to include adultery or lesbianism. A safe--and meaningful--understanding of the collection of themes represented by The Awakening certainly includes the theme of feminine self-discovery. The novel is can appropriately be considered Edna...
The themes of Kate Chopin's The Awakening is a matter of perennial debate; some consider the themes to include adultery or lesbianism. A safe--and meaningful--understanding of the collection of themes represented by The Awakening certainly includes the theme of feminine self-discovery. The novel is can appropriately be considered Edna Pontellier's Bildungsroman, as she develops a sense of identity apart from her role as wife and mother. Her identity as a women includes important female friendships and a trademark dalliance with one Robert Lebrun.
The primary elements of a novel include its plot, setting, and characters. It can be seen that all of these elements in The Awakening support the theme of feminine self-discovery. First, the plot finds Edna with her husband and two sons on vacation at the Grand Isle. It is here that Edna encounters the son of the resort's owner, Robert. Another major development upon which Edna's own fulfillment hinges includes her husband's absence to New York City (at which point her children go to stay with his mother). This gives Edna time to experience life outside the confines of marriage and motherhood, and gives her an opportunity to have her first (and brief) extra-marital affair with one Alcée Arobin. Another plot point on which Edna's experience hinges is Mademoiselle Reisz's acquaintance and communication with Robert. If not for Reisz, Edna and Robert might never have brought their mutual passion to fruition, and Edna would not have experienced the consummation of her love for another man than her husband.
In addition to the plot, the setting is an apt choice for Chopin to portray the development of Edna's female sensibilities and freedoms. New Orleans is a progressive city among Southern cities in its environments, and is (symbolically) situated on the sea, which can be taken to suggest freedom. New Orleans is Edna's experimental zone, while New York (where Edna's husband travels) is a city of business and responsibility.
Finally, several characters are important to Edna's development as a woman. Robert, of course, is her locus for sexual and emotional fulfillment outside of marriage. Equally important is Mademoiselle Reisz, who serves as an example to Edna of what a woman can look like and achieve outside of the traditional roles of wife and mother. Conversely, Adèle Ratignolle serves as a constant reminder to Edna of what a woman's life looks like within such confines. These women allow Edna to make an informed decision and thus play an active role in her own development as a woman.