The Awakening Summary and Analysis
by Kate Chopin
While at church, Edna begins to feel dizzy and gets a headache, so she abruptly leaves the service with Robert in tow. Robert brings her to Madame Antoine's house, where it is quiet, cooler, and peaceful. Madame Antoine is very hospitable and lets Mrs. Pontellier sleep in her big, clean bed. Mrs. Pontellier slowly undresses and admires her arms, soon falling asleep. While sleeping, she half hears noises and voices surrounding her, but when she awakes, it is almost completely silent, and everyone seems to have gone away.
After washing her face, she summons Robert, who tells her that everyone has left hours ago. He begins to reheat the food that Madame Antoine left out for her, as well as food that he has foraged for her on the island while she slept. He is pleased that she eats with great relish. When she asks whether it's time to return home, he convinces her to stay even though the sun will soon be down. Together they watch the sunset, with Robert lying next to Mrs. Pontellier on the ground. Having returned, Madame Antoine tells the couple amazing stories about the Chênière island that they are on. When they finally get into the boat to return, it is dark, and there seem to be phantoms and spirits on the ocean.
After refusing to go to bed all night, Edna is finally overcome with exhaustion. While she won the stand-off with her husband and got Robert to come to the island with her, she is feeling the effects of her impetuous behavior. However, the point of this passage is not to depict earlier Edna's behavior as being silly. Instead, it is to make yet another metaphor about her awakening and the dreamlike, unreal sensations that she is experiencing as a result.
Throughout the chapter, Edna continues to experience her body and her surroundings in ways that are new and strange to her. While in church, she is overwhelmed by extreme fatigue and has to leave; she is at the mercy of her body and its sensations. In addition, she notices the beauty of her arms for the first time, and her senses are stimulated by the newness of the places and people around her. She sleeps in a stranger's bed and sleeps a heavy sleep in which dreams and reality become intertwined. When she awakes, she awakes into a new worldone that is quieter, cooler and tinged with the memory of her recent dreams. Edna comments that the island seems a completely different place, and it is, but only because she is seeing it again with new eyes. Her long sleep represents a transition between the old, conventional Edna and the new, freer woman who decides to temporarily forget about her husband and children and stay on the island with Robert.
When Edna returns, Madame Ratignolle tells her that her youngest boy Etienne has been very naughty and refused to go to bed. Edna cuddles with Etienne until he goes to bed, and Madame Ratignolle tells her that Leónce has been worried about her and had wanted to retrieve her from the island. Leónce had been persuaded that Edna had just been fatigued and instead had gone to occupy himself with business. After Madame Ratignolle leaves, Robert and Edna say goodbye to each other, commenting on how they spent the entire day together. Robert squeezes her hand and walks alone towards the ocean.
Instead of joining her friends, Edna sits on her porch and thinks about how this summer is different from any other she has spent on the beach. Realizing only that she herself is different, she does not yet realize that she is acquiring a new perspective and getting to know aspects of herself that she had previously not known existed. Edna begins to sing a song that Robert had been singing earlier, and her memory is haunted by the sound of his voice.
This chapter reminds the reader how irresponsible Edna was in taking off for the Chênière with Robert. Neglecting her children, she forces the pregnant Madame Ratignolle to assume responsibility for them and to put them to bed. Edna's husband had been appropriately worried about her, but his concern for her is not much different from how he feels about his business. He worries about her in the same way that he is concerned about his property, and it is easy for him to make the transition between wanting to find Edna and wanting to go check up on his securities and bonds.
In the following passage the omniscient narrator makes explicit the changes that are going on inside Edna. While Edna herself cannot verbalize what is happening to her, the narrator clarifies the meaning of the swimming and the sleeping metaphors for the reader. In describing Edna's thought processes, the narrator implies that Edna is not particularly self-aware or reflective. Although Edna misses Robert, the narrator points out that she fails to consider that Robert might need a break from her. Edna is a simple being who lives in the present, without really analyzing her own feelings or those of others. Even though Edna is portrayed in such a manner, the narrator does not fault her for her lack of insight, but rather takes a just, matter-of-fact tone.
One day when Edna goes down to dinner with her friends, she hears that Robert has suddenly decided to go to Mexico and is leaving that night. Since he had not mentioned anything to her that day, she is shocked and bewildered and very openly expresses her amazement and consternation. Edna demands from everyone around her why Robert would have decided to leave at a moment's notice, and Robert, feeling embarrassed and somewhat nervous, irritably tells her that he had been meaning to go all along. Amidst the clamor of people talking about Robert's sudden departure, Madame Lebrun attempts to let him speak for himself, but Victor is being loud and obnoxious and gets into some minor squabbles with people asking him to be quiet. Finally, looking at Edna the entire time, Robert explains that he must leave tonight if he wants to meet a gentleman who will accompany him to Vera Cruz. The lovers, the lady in black, Madame Ratignolle, and Victor all begin to babble loudly about Mexico and Mexicans, until Edna leaves and goes to her room.
Edna proceeds to fuss about her room, gets changed for bed, and puts the children away. She gets a message that Madame Lebrun wishes her to join them on the porch until Robert leaves, but after starting to get redressed, she decides to stay in her room. When Madame Ratignolle comes over to try to persuade her to join them, Edna excuses herself by saying that she doesn't want to get dressed again and doesn't feel particularly well. Finally, Robert comes to see her and says that he is leaving in twenty minutes. Their conversation is impersonal and awkward, and Edna expresses anger at his sudden departure. She tells him that she was already planning things that they could to do together in the city after their summer vacation. He reveals that he had similar thoughts of the future and starts to say that that was the reason he was leaving so abruptly, but he cuts himself off before he makes too intimate a revelation. When Edna asks him to write to her, he agrees in a distant, formal manner, and Edna wonders at his uncharacteristic coldness.
When Robert leaves, Edna begins to sob and realizes that she is completely infatuated with him. Having realized what she wants, she has no feelings of past regret or future longing. She simply feels miserable and empty.
In this chapter, the dynamic introduced on the boat to Chênièrethat of Edna's vocal affection and Robert's comparative reserveis further developed. When she hears that Robert is leaving, Edna makes no attempt to hide her surprise and despair. In contrast, Robert is careful to maintain an emotional distance from Edna and explains his actions as being purely pragmatic. In doing so, he seems to indicate that he feels more towards Edna than he is ready to admit. Edna's inability to similarly restrain her emotions suggests one of three possibilities: that she is unable to disguise the way that she feels, that she is unwilling to do so, or that she is unaware that such actions may be in order.
The first possibility would indicate a certain childishness on Edna's part, and indeed, her behavior in this chapter is not the most mature. She leaves the dinner abruptly and refuses to say goodbye to Robert with everyone else, and she petulantly demands an explanation from Robert. According to this hypothesis, Edna's outbursts are the uncontrolled tantrums of an immature woman. The second possibilitythat Edna is refusing to hide her feelings--would suggest that she is consciously dismissing social conventions and refusing to act in a proper, yet artificial and insincere, manner. In displaying her emotion, she is simply acting in the way that she feels, without bothering to consider what other people, including Robert, may think. The third possibility is the most likely. Edna probably does not yet realize the depth and quality of her feelings towards Robert. She knows only that she enjoys his company and feels happy in his presence, not that she may in fact be in love with him. As such, there would be no reason for her to pretend that his departure is insignificant to her.
The Awakening Essays and Related Content
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- Kate Chopin: Biography
- The Awakening Summary
- About The Awakening
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- 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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