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(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Edna Pontellier’s “awakening” is a complex physical and psychological phenomenon with many different causes and many different results. Chopin describes this awakening by remaining steadfastly in Edna’s point of view throughout the novel, so that the reader sees people and things from the perspective of a woman whose eyes have been opened for the first time in her life to the cold, hard truths about human existence.

The author also uses symbolism as a traditional poetic means of suggesting what is going on inside the heroine. As a result of her awakening, Edna becomes more susceptible to the beauty around her—the sea, the sky, the flowers, and the romantic music of the late nineteenth century.

The author does not attempt to interpret any of the other characters’ thoughts and motivations but freely enters into Edna’s mind to describe it in detail. Edna is unable to find anyone in her environment who truly understands her, and so she is extremely limited in her ability to discuss her thoughts and feelings through dialogue. The characters indulge in considerable conversation but seldom express their true thoughts or feelings—either because they do not understand themselves or because they are unwilling, in this repressive society, to say what they really think. Edna is the only major character in the novel who is truly awakened to what she describes as “life’s delirium”; the others appear to be content to remain in a dream world.

Edna’s awakening is an ongoing process which does not really end until she dies. It actually begins before she falls in love with Robert Lebrun . Its cause is somewhat ambiguous and has been debated by numerous critics. She is twenty-eight years old and becoming psychologically mature. The hot, humid weather on Grand Isle has a stimulating effect on her sexuality. She has learned to swim for the first time in her life and is sexually aroused by swimming in the warm Caribbean. Her husband is away most of the time, either in the city on...

(The entire section is 672 words.)