Edna Pontellier (pohn-tehl-YAY), a sensitive, impressionable twenty-eight-year-old who feels out of place in the French-Creole society into which she has married. She has two small children whom she loves, although she feels temperamentally unsuited for the confining roles of wife and mother, which are the only roles available to women of her social class in the late nineteenth century. She has regarded sex as an unenjoyable if not actually unpleasant wifely duty and has been unaware of her repressed sexuality until the time that the novel opens. Her whole life is changed by her physical and psychological “awakening.”
Léonce Pontellier (lay-OHNS), Edna’s husband, who is forty years old, kind, and attentive, as well as being an exceptionally good provider for her and her two children. He is absorbed in business affairs, however, and prefers to associate with men. He is often smoking, drinking, and going off to play cards with cronies. He does not understand his wife; he regards her as a valuable possession, a sex object, and the mother of his children.
Adèle Ratignolle (ah-DEHL ra-tee-NYOHL), a beautiful young married woman who is Edna’s friend and confidante. She serves as a foil to Edna because she is perfectly content in her role of wife and mother of three children. She thoroughly understands Robert Lebrun’s flirtatious playacting as a cavalier servente but fears that Edna, who is not of Creole extraction, will take it too seriously. Adèle also serves as a spokesperson for the strict mores of Creole society. At the onset of her “awakening,” Edna feels a sexual attraction to Adèle before falling passionately in love with Robert.
Robert Lebrun, a handsome and emotional man, twenty-six years old, who enjoys the company of women and can communicate with them much better than men like Léonce Pontellier because he shares feminine interests in culture and natural beauty. He likes to play at the game of love with married women and is allowed to do so because it is taken for granted that he, as well as the women involved, will conform to the strict rules of chaste behavior of their conservative Creole society. Unlike the passionate Edna Pontellier, Robert is unable to defy the moral laws of his society. When he realizes that his playacting at romance has involved himself and Edna in a terrible spiritual crisis, he flees, leading to Edna’s suicide.
Alcée Arobin (al-SAY ah-roh-BA[N]), a handsome young man of fashion who is cheerful and likable but “not overburdened with depth of thought or feeling.” He functions as a foil to Robert Lebrun. Alcée also is in love with Edna but is far more aggressive in his courtship behavior and apparently seduces her, although the author limits her description of such interludes to some kissing and fondling, leaving the rest to the reader’s imagination. Edna does not love Alcée but puts up with him as a substitute for Robert, who is absent in Mexico during much of the novel.
Mademoiselle Reisz (rayz), a fine pianist who has dedicated her life to her art. She lives alone and has few friends.
Dr. Mandelet (man-deh-LAY), the retired Pontellier family doctor, better known for his insights into human nature than for his professional skills. He recognizes that Edna is troubled and invites her confidence. He understands the plight of women.