What is Edna's response to the music of Mademoiselle Reisz in The Awakening?How is this related to the "awakening" theme in the novel? This is from Chapter 9.

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Edna has a very emotional reaction to Mademoiselle Reisz's piano playing. Before we see her reaction in Chapter 9, we hear from the narrator about Edna's love of music. The narrator explains,

Edna was what she herself called very fond of music. Musical strains, well rendered, had a way of evoking pictures in her mind. She sometimes liked to sit in the room of mornings when Madame Ratignolle played or practiced. One piece which that lady played Edna had entitled "Solitude." It was a short, plaintive, minor strain. The name of the piece was something else, but she called it "Solitude." When she heard it there came before her imagination the figure of a man standing beside a desolate rock on the seashore. He was naked. His attitude was one of hopeless resignation as he looked toward a distant bird winging its flight away from him.

Here, we can see that Edna connects on a personal level with music and is able to engage with it to the extent that she associates particular imagery with each song. This example is especially significant. When she has heard her friend Adele Ratignolle (not a professional pianist, but she plays for the entertainment of her family and friends) play this song, she imagines a naked man alone on a beach. A bird is flying overhead and he looks "hopeless." This image is an example of foreshadowing, as Edna herself will recreate this scene almost exactly at the end of the novel when she drowns herself in the Gulf of Mexico.

Further, Edna's reaction to the piece by Mademoiselle Reisz, a professional musician, at the party in Chapter 9 is typical of her "awakening" in that it is sensual and emotional. She reacts instinctively to what she hears. When she listens to this song, no images enter her mind. Instead,

The very passions themselves were aroused within her soul, swaying it, lashing it, as the waves daily beat upon her splendid body. She trembled, she was choking, and the tears blinded her.

She is connecting with the music on an even deeper level than she has experienced in the past. Her passions are described "as...waves," and this simile links the scene to Edna's awakening more generally, as we know the sea is an important factor in her changing identity. The sea's sensuality speaks to her, as does the music. Her reaction is both emotional and physical, as "She trembled" and "was choking." She is crying so intensely that her "tears blinded her." Her physical reaction is instinctual, and we see that Edna's behavior is dictated by her instincts rather than social norms or constraints as the novel progresses.

dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mademoiselle Reisz's music evokes feelings within Edna that she has never experienced before.  Edna is "fond" of music, and certain pieces rendered by Madame Ratignolle have in the past brought to her mind images which are beautiful, both plaintive yet calm.  One piece, which Edna has entitled "Solitude", calls to her imagination a "figure of a man standing beside a desolate rock on the seashore...naked...his attitude...one of hopeless resignation as he look(s) toward a distant bird winging its flight away from him".  Others bring to her mind pictures of "a dainty young woman...taking mincing dancing steps", and "a demure lady stroking a cat".  In contrast to these lovely but tightly controlled images, the "first chords which Mademoiselle Reisz (strikes) upon the piano (send) a keen tremor down (Edna's) spinal chord".  Instead of feelings of longing, hope, and despair, she responds with passions which jolt her soul with their intensity, "swaying it, lashing it; as the waves daily beat upon her splendid body",  Edna Pontellier trembles and chokes, her eyes blinded by tears.

Edna's reaction to Mademoiselle Reisz's music mirrors the theme of awakening in the novel.  Her response is passionate and unfettered, reflecting the deep longings she discovers within herself which lead her to throw off conventionality and leave her life of conformity and quiet domesticity to seek independence and personal fulfillment.  Edna's response to the music, like her personal awakening, involves feelings which are infinitely more intense than those which she has until now allowed herself and which are socially acceptable, and it includes a physical aspect as well as a spiritual one.  The fact that it occurs at a time in her life when her whole being is being awakened to new possibilities is perhaps because it is "the first time she (is) ready, perhaps the first time her being (is) tempered to take an impress of the abiding truth" (Chapter 9).

Read the study guide:
The Awakening

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