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One of the first lengthy descriptions of Alcee Arobin in Kate Chopin's short novel The Awakening appears in Chapter 25 and reads as follows (with key words placed in bold):
He was a familiar figure at the race course, the opera, the fashionable clubs. There was a perpetual smile in his eyes, which seldom failed to awaken a corresponding cheerfulness in any one who looked into them and listened to his good-humored voice. His manner was quiet, and at times a little insolent. He possessed a good figure, a pleasing face, not overburdened with depth of thought or feeling; and his dress was that of the conventional man of fashion.
Each of these five words is suggestive and even symbolic in its own way.
For example, the fact that Alcee is a "familiarfigure at the race course" suggests that he spends most of his time in shallow, superficial ways. Apparently he likes to gamble and considers himself a kind of sportsman -- both at the track and in other ways and places. He fancies himself an expert both with horses and with women, although the most important thing in Alcee's life is Alcee himself. He is willing to gamble with Edna's reputation by having an extra-marital affair with her, knowing full well that his own reputation cannot be damaged by such shenanigans because he has little reputation left. He enjoys the sport of competing for the sexual favors of another man's wife. He is "familiar" -- indeed, overly familiar -- in all the worst senses of that word.
Alcee is "good-humored" in the sense that he takes little very seriously. He likes to joke and be witty, but he shows little interest in anything of substance, especially any kind of ethical conduct. He uses his good humor to make himself attractive to people like Edna, but the consequences of such humor can often be anything but humorous. Thus, Alcee helps put Edna's marriage in jeopardy, including her relationship not only with her husband but also with her sons. The sons, in fact, are the people most likely to suffer if Edna and Leonce divorce, but concern for innocent children (or for anyone besides himself) is not anything that matters to Alcee Arobin.
Alcee is "quiet" is the sense that is subtle and unobtrusive. He insinuates himself into Edna's company and affections not in any blatant, obvious way (he does not, for instance, suddenly kiss her after a few hours' acquaintance). Instead, he works quietly, rather slowly, taking his time, worming his way into Edna's company and good graces before (apparently) making his way into her bed. Indeed, the eventual sexual contact between Alcee and Edna is described so subtly that one might almost miss it.
Alcee has a "good figure." Apparently he is an attractive man with an appealing body, and it is partly this physical appeal that makes him most attractive to Edna.
Perhaps the key word of these five, however, is "insolent," which suggests such meanings as bold, rude, disrespectful, contemptuous, impertinent, and insulting. Beneath his superficially attractive exterior, Alcee is in fact a supreme egotist whose only real concern is himself. He claims to love Edna, but in fact self-love is his key motivation. His relationship with Edna can result in nothing good for her, her husband, and her children, but Arobin could not care less. He shows contempt for the normal rules of civilized, ethical behavior; in the deepest senses, he shows little respect for Edna and little respect for the anything but himself, and perhaps not even that.
- According to Edna, he had a good figure. He was attractive.
- He was seductive.
- His intentions always seemed sincere, and sometimes even fooled himself.
- He was familiar with the horse track and how to seduce women, like Edna.
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