The Awakening Summary and Analysis
by Kate Chopin
After Robert proposes a swim, everyone is ready to follow him, but he lingers at the rear of the crowd with the two lovers. The Pontelliers and Ratignolles walk ahead, and Mrs. Pontellier wonders why Robert sometimes chooses not to spend every waking minute with her. She misses him whenever he's not there.
The walk to the beach provides a lot of sensory stimulation: people are singing; the sea, earth, and flowers each give off a pungent smell; and the seascape appears calm and mystical. Mrs. Pontellier, who has been trying to learn how to swim the entire summer, suddenly and miraculously begins to swim through the ocean, much to the surprise of her companions. Feeling strong and exuberant, she swims out alone and suddenly panics. When she returns, she tells her husband she might have died, but he assures her that he was watching her the entire time. She decides to leave, and her friends are somewhat surprised by the abruptness of her departure.
Robert catches up with Mrs. Pontellier, who complains that she's just very tired and overwhelmed by emotion. Robert teases her, saying that since it's August 28, she has been inhabited by a spirit and may never again rejoin the land of the mortals. He feels like he understands exactly what she's feeling, but he doesn't know how to communicate to her except by offering her his arm. When they get back to the house, Mrs. Pontellier says that she wants to sit out in the hammock to wait for her husband. Robert helps her get settled and decides to sit and wait with her. They say nothing, but both feel unspoken desire. When he hears voices approaching, Robert leaves and says goodnight. Mrs. Pontellier pretends to be asleep and watches him leave.
In this climactic chapter, the link between Edna's awakening and the ocean becomes even clearer. For the first time, Edna can swim: she is gaining control over her body and becoming aware of its full potential. She is discovering herself as a full human being, with sexual desires, intellectual capacities, and emotional needs. The ocean helps her to realize that her body is her own, and this moment of physical awakening accompanies and heightens her mental and emotional awakening.
However, Edna nearly swims too far. She panics when she realizes how far out she has gone, and she feels like she's going to drown. Afterwards, she abruptly leaves her friends. If Edna's learning how to swim is a metaphor for her awakening, then her sudden terror in the middle of the ocean represents how difficult Edna's journey to personal self-fulfillment will be. Edna may not be able to go as far as she thinks she initially can and may have to turn back. In addition, there is also the possibility that as a wife and mother, Edna will be traveling a solitary path that no other woman has traveled before, and her decision to do so may very well destroy her.
Even though Robert tells Edna that the reason she is feeling so overwrought is because a spirit has possessed her, he does understand what she is going through. Unlike her husband, Robert is there for her and may therefore be able to accompany Edna on her path to self-discovery. The narrator holds out such a possibility by describing both Edna's frustration at her husband after panicking in the ocean and Robert and Edna's first sensations of mutual desire.
In this chapter Mr. and Mrs. Pontellier participate in a battle of wills. When Mr. Pontellier gets back from the beach, he asks his wife to come inside. She tells him not to wait for her, at which point he becomes irritable and more forcefully tells her to come inside. Mrs. Pontellier resolves not to go in and thinks about how, on another occasion, she would have just done what her husband asked, simply because of inertia. Feeling stubborn and strong, she realizes that she had never taken such a stand against her husband before.
Mr. Pontellier then decides to join her outside. He drinks glasses of wine and smokes a number of cigars. After awhile, Mrs. Pontellier feels like she is being awakened from a dream and realizes that she is quite fatigued. It is almost dawn. Finally getting up from the hammock, Mrs. Pontellier asks her husband if he's going to join her. He replies that he will, after he finishes his cigar.
This chapter builds on the climactic moment of the preceding chapter, as we immediately see the first signs that Edna has moved onto a new life path. When she refuses to go inside to bed when her husband calls her, she is acknowledging that she can make choices in her life, no matter how trivial. No longer will she blindly obey what her husband tells her to do; instead she will decide what she wants when she wants.
At the same time, Edna and her husband's stand-off is very childish and immature. They are fighting over the most banal matter, and neither of them is ready to concede that it really makes no difference whether or not Edna goes inside at that minute. In describing Edna's awakening, the narrator is not holding Edna up as a model of wisdom and virtue. Rather, the narrator is taking a very balanced, neutral, and non-judgmental tone and is showing how Edna's new self-assertion can easily be interpreted as being foolish and relatively insignificant. Edna is not making any great advances for humanity or discovering things people didn't know before; indeed, she may be asserting herself no more than a child would. What is remarkable about her, however, is that at that time and place, her awakening was rare and generally unheard of for a woman. Thus, while the narrator doesn't exalt the character that is being described, by presenting her honestly and straightforwardly, the narrator reveals the limitations and low expectations surrounding women of that time period.
Asleep for only a few, troubled hours, Mrs. Pontellier wakes up early and without any forethought, goes over to Robert's house. Only a few other people are awake: the lovers, a lady in black, and Monsieur Farival. For the first time ever, Mrs. Pontellier summons Robert and asks him to join her on a boat to the Chênière. Robert doesn't say anything, but he is visibly pleased by Mrs. Pontellier's request. They have a standing breakfast and join the lovers, the lady in black, and Monsieur Farival on the boat.
A young, barefoot Spanish girl named Mariequita is on the boat, and she looks flirtatiously at Robert and bickers with the captain. Mrs. Pontellier is having a good time and watches Mariequita. Speaking in a dialect Mrs. Pontellier cannot understand, Mariequita asks Robert why Mrs. Pontellier is looking at her and if she's his girlfriend.
As the boat moves quickly through the ocean, Mrs. Pontellier feels like she has suddenly broken free of the constraints that generally bind her in her daily life. She and Robert speak intimately to each other, dreaming about day excursions that they can make together. They imagine finding gold and sharing it together forever, and Robert flushes. When they arrive on shore, they all go to church, while Mariequita glares at Robert as he walks away.
In this chapter, Edna begins to do things without thinking much about why she's doing them. In asking Robert to go in the boat with her, she is simply acting in the moment, without planning for the excursion or worrying about what he or anyone else might think. She will continue to act without really considering future consequences or public opinion throughout the rest of the novel. While her behavior is freeing, in that she no longer has to worry about certain social constraints, it is also a little bit naïve. Edna will discover that, like it or not, her actions will affect others and that she cannot always do what she wants.
In the meantime, however, Edna and Robert are simply enjoying themselves on the boat. In this passage Mariequita plays the part of the flirtatious little tart, and she will reappear in the rest of the novel in this role. She is the exact opposite of everything that Edna represents. While Edna is married, upper class, educated, and basically inaccessible to Robert, Mariequita is a young poor girl who does not speak Englishessentially someone whom Robert could sleep with at a moment's notice. While Edna has no real reason to be jealous of Mariequita, the two women form a striking contrast to each other.
When Robert and Edna start imagining their future together, Edna does so unself-consciously, whereas Robert becomes embarrassed when he reveals too much emotion. This brief interaction both foreshadows and epitomizes their future relationship: while Edna is open and unrestrained about her feelings, Robert is constantly careful not to cross certain invisible boundaries.
The Awakening Essays and Related Content
- The Awakening: Essays
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- The Awakening: Questions
- The Awakening: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Kate Chopin: Biography
- The Awakening Summary
- About The Awakening
- Character List
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-3
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 4-6
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-9
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 10-12
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13-15
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-18
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 19-21
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 22-24
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 25-27
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 28-30
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 31-33
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 34-36
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 37-39
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