Introduction to The Awakening

The influential feminist novel The Awakening, written by Kate Chopin, was published in 1899. The novel follows the identity crisis of Edna Pontellier, a Southern woman living in New Orleans just before the turn of the twentieth century, a period often referred to as the Gilded Age. Edna’s struggle with her identity and individuality captures the numbing and oppressive roles that women were placed in during that period.

Chopin captures Edna’s social and psychological struggles as Edna grapples with the expectations of her husband and her society. Edna is to be a devoted wife and mother, but these roles do not align with her natural inclinations and desires. These struggles are complicated when she meets and falls for Robert, a handsome but careless young man in her community. Edna undertakes a journey toward independence that illustrates the conflicts faced by individuals—particularly women—living within the limited boundaries of society.

A Brief Biography of Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin (1850–1904) was born to an Irish immigrant father and a French American mother. Though she was the third of five children, her older half-brothers died in their early twenties, and her younger sisters died in infancy. Her father died when she was four.

Kate Chopin’s life and work, considered together, show how difficult it is to define female identity in America. Chopin’s greatest works (The Awakening, “The Story of an Hour”) are defined by portraits of women becoming aware of their own desires, struggling to realize them, and dying. In her own life, it was Chopin’s loved ones who died and Chopin herself who lived to juggle artistic, social, and sexual desires while raising six children alone and dealing with her late husband’s debts. Her works repeatedly refuse to provide simple answers and instead draw readers into the complexities created by passion, racial bias, and the demands imposed by society.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Awakening

The Awakening

In The Awakening, Adèle worries that Edna will take Robert too seriously. This occurs in the first part of the novel when Edna, Robert, and Adèle are all on Grand Isle. Robert is a flirt. He loves...

Latest answer posted September 20, 2021, 8:29 pm (UTC)

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The Awakening

In Kate Chopin's The Awakening, Edna Pontellier is an extremely unhappy woman because she feels deeply unfulfilled. Edna married young, and while she thought Léonce Pontellier was a compatible...

Latest answer posted September 20, 2021, 1:42 pm (UTC)

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The Awakening

In Kate Chopin's The Awakening, Léonce Pontellier goes to see his friend and physician Dr. Mandelet because he is concerned about his wife, Edna. Mr. Pontellier believes that the doctor is a wise...

Latest answer posted September 19, 2021, 7:39 pm (UTC)

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The Awakening

In The Awakening, the sea symbolizes liberation. The expansiveness of the ocean becomes an apt representation of Edna's own awakening. She learns to swim in the waters at Grand Isle and, through...

Latest answer posted September 19, 2021, 11:14 am (UTC)

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The Awakening

Though it can be argued that The Awakening is both a realist and naturalist novel, the book as a whole contains elements more closely associated with realism. Naturalism depicts nature as a force...

Latest answer posted September 20, 2021, 1:52 pm (UTC)

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The Awakening

At the start of The Awakening, Edna is a dissatisfied woman, despite having everything women in her culture are supposed to desire: a husband, children, and a prominent social position. And yet,...

Latest answer posted September 17, 2021, 11:18 am (UTC)

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The Awakening

Edna's great realization is that she is not satisfied with her life as a wife and mother. Victorian society demands that women are meant to live their lives in these roles, and if a woman never...

Latest answer posted September 20, 2021, 11:11 am (UTC)

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The Awakening

It can be easy to see Edna in The Awakening as a negatively selfish and self-centered character. As she comes alive to her sensuality and emotions, she seems to care only for herself: "She began to...

Latest answer posted September 20, 2021, 11:49 am (UTC)

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The Awakening

At the end of Kate Chopin's The Awakening, Edna Pontellier walks out into the sea at Grand Isle. She swims again, recalling the freedom that she felt when she learned how to swim for the first time...

Latest answer posted September 19, 2021, 4:57 pm (UTC)

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The Awakening

When Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening was published in 1899, it received many negative reviews. The book was controversial because it went against society's gender norms. The main character, Edna,...

Latest answer posted September 17, 2021, 1:32 pm (UTC)

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The Awakening

Edna and Adèle Ratignolle's friendship begins during their summer vacation at Grand Isle. We learn that Madame Ratignolle was very fond of Mrs. Pontellier, and often she took her sewing and went...

Latest answer posted September 19, 2021, 11:39 am (UTC)

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The Awakening

Adèle Ratignolle's "condition" is pregnancy. The narrator says that Adèle has been married for seven years and that she has a baby approximately every two years or so; thus, she has three babies...

Latest answer posted September 19, 2021, 1:11 pm (UTC)

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The Awakening

In The Awakening, Edna Pontellier, the protagonist, commits suicide at the end of the novel because her lover Robert Lebrun has left her but also because she has failed to find her true place in...

Latest answer posted September 17, 2021, 1:47 pm (UTC)

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The Awakening

Kate Chopin's novel The Awakening is fiction rather than a true story. Set in 1890s Louisiana, the narrative revolves around Edna Pontellier, a mother and a wife who tries to uncover her own...

Latest answer posted September 17, 2021, 2:54 pm (UTC)

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The Awakening

In The Awakening, Edna Pontellier comes to the realization that there is more to life than marriage and family, which she was taught would give her fulfillment. For her, her supposedly ideal life...

Latest answer posted September 17, 2021, 11:38 am (UTC)

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The Awakening

The Awakening is told from a third-person omniscient point of view. This means that the narrator is not a participant in the action of the story; they never use the first-person pronoun "I" or "we"...

Latest answer posted September 18, 2021, 1:50 pm (UTC)

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The Awakening

The novel is called The Awakening because the main character, Edna Pontellier, experiences a kind of personal and sexual awakening in the text; it is her story of transforming from a passive...

Latest answer posted September 18, 2021, 1:37 pm (UTC)

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The Awakening

Edna undoubtedly has a sexual relationship with Alcee. At first, she resists his charm and good looks, though the two of them do spend time together at the races while Edna's husband is away on...

Latest answer posted September 18, 2021, 11:41 am (UTC)

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The Awakening

The catalyst for Edna's awakening is her relationship with the handsome Robert Lebrun. Robert is besotted with Edna, and she falls in love with him in turn. However, Robert leaves Grand Isle before...

Latest answer posted September 18, 2021, 11:12 am (UTC)

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The Awakening

Adèle Ratignolle is Edna's friend but also her foil, or opposite. Adèle is content, as Edna is not, with being a wife and mother. She is glad to subordinate her own needs to her family....

Latest answer posted September 18, 2021, 11:40 am (UTC)

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Summary