What potentials for conflict are revealed through the presentation of characters and place in the first two chapters?

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lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kate Chopin is an author who manages to create characters and settings that are clear and precise within just a few pages.  In The Awakening she establishes an early theme even before we meet the characters!  The first paragraphs of the novel talk about a pet bird in a cage. While that in itself is important because it immediately suggests a theme of entrapment, what is even more important is her added detail that the bird "speaks a little Spanish, and also a language which nobody understood."  By the end of the first chapter, an observant reader would see that this bird is symbol for Edna Pontellier -- a pretty wife who is regarded a bit like a pet or a possession of her husband. She is caged in her marriage and in this Creole society of which she is a stranger, having grown up in Kentucky.  Edna isn't going to think or behave like everyone else.

We very quickly learn about the attitudes of Leonce, Edna's husband: slightly annoyed by his surroundings on Grand Isle (more at home at work in New Orleans); amused and a bit annoyed by his wife and her interest in learning to swim and be out during the hot weather; aloof from his family (choosing to dine at a club rather than at home with his wife and sons).

Edna is described as "more handsome than beautiful" which might suggest that she is pretty in a non-traditional way and that she is stronger than a simple pretty woman.  From what we can gather from just the first two chapters she seems to be openly engaged in a friendship with a young man, Robert Lebrun, but Leonce doesn't seem all that concerned because he easily leaves the two of them together.  A potential conflict in the novel centers upon Edna and Robert's relationship -- which now appears harmless, but could develop into something else.

From the first two chapters we get a taste of a marriage that seems contented but not perfect, and a male/female friendship that seems very comfortable -- an obvious set-up for a love triangle.