The Awakening Summary and Analysis
by Kate Chopin
In this chapter Edna's friendship with Alcée Arobin begins to develop. During this time Edna is moody: sometimes excited by life's possibilities, sometimes depressed that life was passing her by. She starts going to the races a lot, one time with Mrs. Highcamp and Alcée Arobin, a fashionable young man who is pleasant, cheerful, and good-looking. Arobin had long admired Edna from afar, but circumstance never permitted them to meet until the day he saw her and her father at the races. At the races, Edna is knowledgeable and lucky; she gets very excited, and other people in the audience turn around to look at her. Afterwards, they all dine together, and the dinner is unremarkable and a little dull.
Arobin drops her off at home, and feeling restless and awake, Edna has a snack of crackers and cheese. She wants something to do, but after counting her winnings, she goes to sleep. Waking up in the middle of the night, she remembers that she has forgotten to write her daily letter to her husband. A few days later, Arobin drops by to invite her to the races, and they end up going alone. Once again, she has a good time and finds Arobin easy to talk to her. He stays for dinner and while bantering, shows her a scar from a sword on his wrist. While observing the scar, Edna touches his hand and suddenly squeezes it impulsively. She instantly rushes away and makes an excuse, while Arobin follows her closely.
When he asks her to go to the races again and to show him her art, she refuses and tells him she doesn't like him. Arobin kisses her hand and continues to pursue her gallantly, until she tells him that she must have accidentally misled him in some way. He apologizes, saying that she has done nothing except to unwittingly captivate him, and he reluctantly leaves. When he leaves, she looks at her kissed hand and feels unfaithful, not to her husband, but to Robert. However, when she goes to bed, she can still sense the touch of Arobin's lips on her hand and longs for his physical presence.
Like her father, Edna has a passion for horse racing, but unlike her father, she is not a compulsive gambler. Nevertheless, her gambling at the racetrack parallels her sudden change in lifestyle, which itself is a form of high-stakes gambling. In real life Edna is playing a dangerous game: she is trying to live as an independent woman, without following the set rules prescribed by her society. In addition, she is finding that Arobin's intentions are not playful, but are in fact quite serious. In associating with him on such intimate terms, she is risking her marriage and her respectability. While Edna wins at the racetrack, at this point it is unclear how she will do in real life.
In this chapter Edna first exhibits sexual desires of her own. When Arobin shows her the scar on his wrist, she seizes his hand in a manner that is not simply friendly. At the time that the novel was published, it was unheard of for women to be portrayed as having sexual desires of their own, and passages such as these were considered scandalous. By attributing sexual desire to Edna, the narrator makes the relationship between Arobin and Edna one of equality. Arobin is not the hunter, Edna the prey: they both participate in the relationship together and are both equally responsible for their actions.
It is interesting to note that Edna considers herself primarily loyal to Robert, rather than to her husband. For Edna, love rather than marriage is the most significant tie binding a man and a woman. Such thinking is counter to everything that her society believes and is quite radical for her time. Even if Edna is true to herself and acts according to the dictates of love, others will judge her by the conventions of marriage and deem her unfaithful.
Arobin writes Edna a note of apology, which she is upset to receive because she does not know how to properly respond to it. She eventually responds in a casual and friendly manner, and Arobin begins to visit her every day. She finds him adoring and subservient, appreciates his company, and feels pangs of physical desire for him.
One gray and drizzly day, Edna makes one of her customary visits to Mademoiselle Reisz. She tells her friend that she will be moving out of her house to a smaller one just around the corner. At first, she justifies her plan by saying that her current house is too big and too much trouble for just one person, but after pressed, she reveals the true reason: she wants freedom and independence and believes that she can support herself with her racetrack winnings and by selling her sketches. When her husband returns, she wants to be completely self-sufficient so that she will never again feel like someone else's possession. Edna promises to throw a huge party before she moves.
Mademoiselle Reisz then shows her the most recent letter from Robert. She admits that Robert does not know that Edna sees his letters and that the reason he does not write to her himself is that he loves her. As Mademoiselle Reisz plays the piano, Edna reads the letter and shrieks with joy when she discovers that Robert is coming back to New Orleans very soon. Mademoiselle Reisz asks Edna if she is in love with Robert, and for the first time, Edna admits that the answer is yes. When she is asked to explain why, she cannot; she just does. Overwhelmed with joy, Edna leaves Mademoiselle Reisz and then proceeds to send her children a large box of candy and to write a very friendly letter to her husband.
Even though Edna and Arobin are described as becoming close to one another, their relationship does not receive the same kind of extended treatment that Edna and Robert's did. Edna's relationship with Arobin is peripheral in her life, whereas her feelings towards Robert were and still are a central part of her life. She is in love with Robert, as she tells Mademoiselle Reisz, and news of his imminent return leaves her ecstatic. In contrast, Arobin is someone who helps her occupy her time and who is pleasant, attractive, and interesting, but only as a temporary diversion.
In deciding to move out of the house on Esplanade Street, Edna is taking the final steps in breaking free from her husband. She is no longer emotionally or financially dependent on Leónce and therefore no longer needs him. Edna's actions have the potential to be very disruptive to the New Orleans social order. If Edna succeeds in leaving a husband she does not love and in supporting herself, then there is no reason why other women should not do the same thing. But as we shall see, her behavior is barely commented on. Her friends don't seem to think it that unusual, and even her husband is more concerned about his business prospects than her desertion. The lack of moral censure in the novel thus leads the reader to condone Edna's actions, even though they depart significantly from societal norms.
After admitting to Mademoiselle Reisz that she is in love Robert, Edna has reached the point of no return. Her awakening has been all about being true to herself and acting on her own urges, so after speaking her love for Robert, she cannot go back on her word and pretend that her love does not exist. Even though she's married and has children, she will have to see how far her love for Robert will take her. To do otherwise would be to submit to societal pressures and pretend she's something she's not.
This chapter describes the scene right before Edna's first moment of marital infidelity. Edna and Arobin are sitting together in front of the fire, and he is caressing her face and hair. Still happy because she knows that Robert is coming back, Edna is speaking in a free-associative manner. Without any real reason, she calls herself "a devilishly wicked specimen" of femininity and talks about Mademoiselle Reisz, who told her that she would need strong wings if she wanted to soar above "the plain of tradition and prejudice." Arobin remarks that Mademoiselle Reisz is crazy and that Edna's thoughts seem to be somewhere else, where he can't find them. She merely smiles at him, they gaze at each other for a long time, and finally he kisses her. The kiss is the first one in her life that really affects her, and it fills her with desire.
In this chapter Edna speaks mostly to herself, and Arobin cannot understand the significance of her words. She calls herself a wicked example of femininity because she is consciously refusing to be everything that society demands of her: the devoted wife, the self-sacrificing mother, and the chaste maiden. She has just acknowledged that she loves someone besides her husband and knows that she wants to do something about it. However, Edna does not really feel bad about herself. Although she recognizes that she does not measure up to the ideals of society, she also feels that she is being true to herself and that she cannot be otherwise. The standards that society holds up for women are false, not her.
Although Edna does not fully comprehend the meaning of the conversation she had with Mademoiselle Reisz, the reader can divine what her friend was trying to tell her. Mademoiselle Reisz realizes that Edna will reject the confines of marriage and will pursue her love for Robert, and as an artist, she understands why Edna must do so. However, she warns Edna that not everyone else will and that they will condemn her because of their love of tradition and their prejudice. The fact that Mademoiselle Reisz uses the word "prejudice" places the burden of blame on society: society is not open-minded or enlightened enough to see Edna's love for what it really is.
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- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-3
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- 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
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- 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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