The Awakening

The Awakening Summary and Analysis of Chapters 22-24

Chapter XXII:


One day Mr. Pontellier drops in on the family physician, Doctor Mandelet, who due to his wisdom, is frequently consulted for advice. He is startled to see someone approaching so early in the morning and inquires after his visitor's health. Mr. Pontellier explains that he's actually concerned about his wife, who though very healthy, seems to be exhibiting odd and uncharacteristic behavior. According to Mr. Pontellier, Edna's symptoms are: neglecting the housework, provoking him to quarrel with her, refusing to sleep with him, and talking about women's equal rights. The Doctor asks him if she's been associating with "pseudo-intellectual" feminists, and Leónce tells him that she spends most of her time alone and likes to wander the streets after dark. When the Doctor hints at hereditary mental illness, Mr. Pontellier briefly describes Edna's family. Her father was a pious Presbyterian who gambled away his farm, her sister Margaret is very devout, and the youngest is getting married. According to Mr. Pontellier, Edna refuses to go the wedding, saying that "a wedding is one of the most lamentable spectacles on earth."

After a bit of thought, the Doctor advises Mr. Pontellier to leave his wife alone. He argues that women are complex and mysterious organisms, and as ordinary men, they cannot possibly understand them. The Doctor promises to drop by on Thursday, and before leaving, Mr. Pontellier reveals that he has business in New York that may occupy him a considerable length of time. The Doctor advises him to take Edna along if she wants to go and warns him that it might take up to three months for her to regain her humor. As soon as Mr. Pontellier leaves, the Doctor wonders which man is making Edna behave the way that she is, but knows better than to hint at adultery to his friend.


This chapter presents a good example of male attitudes towards women at the turn of the twentieth century. As Doctor Mandelet and Mr. Pontellier's conversation makes clear, women were considered ill, or even mentally unbalanced, if they dared to defy convention and ventured outside of the domestic sphere assigned to them. While the two men do not make overtly misogynistic comments, it is apparent that they consider women to be childish, inferior beings with reduced intellectual capacities and unstable temperaments.

In their discussion the two men refer to the feminist movement of their times in a disparaging way. Mr. Pontellier bemoans that his wife has "got some sort of notion in her head concerning the eternal rights of women," which he links with her refusal to do the housework and to sleep with him. Doctor Mandelet speaks condescendingly of these feminists, who he implies are somewhat silly for considering themselves intellectual beings. To these men, the feminist movement of their times is analogous to a disease that transforms good wives and mothers into atypical, deluded beasts; it is a misguided social movement that recruits and brainwashes vulnerable young women.

While these men do subscribe to conventional social mores, they are not unfeeling, insensitive creatures. Doctor Mandelet is also characterized as a wise, good-natured old man who is perceptive enough to figure out that Edna may be in love with another man. It is yet another testament to Kate Chopin's narrative ability that even in this disparaging conversation about women, her characters never become gross caricatures but are instead presented as rounded, well-balanced people.

Chapter XXIII:


When her father comes to visit, Edna is glad to have someone to focus her attention on, even though she and her father are not particularly close. She thoroughly babies him, but only to entertain herself. She realizes that she will soon lose interest in her father, but she wants to do everything for him in the meantime. He is visiting because he needs to purchase a wedding gift and a new suit for himself; Mr. Pontellier helps him do both because he is thought to have impeccable taste. Edna's father, a former Confederate colonel, looks very distinguished, with long white hair and a mustache, and he poses for Edna in a very serious, solemn manner. He considers himself an imposing presence and drinks toddies, as well as invented mixed drinks, throughout the day.

Edna and her father attend a soirée musicale at the Ratignolles, who treat the Colonel as an important personage. Edna marvels at Madame Ratignolle, who innocently and coquettishly flirts with the Colonel to stroke his ego. Edna does not know how to behave in such a manner, and instead, merely converses with one or two men whom she finds attractive. Rather than attending the soirée, which he considers somewhat low-brow, Mr. Pontellier goes to his club, and Madame Ratignolle warns Edna that perhaps her husband should stay home more often. Edna disgrees, saying that they would have nothing to talk about.

On Thursday Doctor Mandelet comes to dinner and sees Edna, who has just gone to the racetrack, looking excited and happy. Edna and her father had met many people, including Alcée Arobin, and had won a considerable sum of money. Knowing the Colonel's past history of gambling, Mr. Pontellier speaks disappovingly of the racetrack and soon finds himself embroiled in a spat with Edna and her father. The dinner party begins to tell stories. The Doctor tells one about an unfaithful woman, which has no affect on Edna, and she in turn tells an extremely vivid story about a woman who disappears in a boat with her lover during a moonlit night. After observing Edna all night and finding her looking young, alive, and vibrant, the Doctor leaves the Pontellier home, feeling sad that he has divined Edna's secret. He mutters to himself and wishes out loud that it is not Alcée Arobin that Edna is having an affair with.


Just as Edna paints and goes on day excursions depending on how the spirit moves her, so does she adopt her father as her new pet during his stay with them. She does not feel any great affection towards him, yet she devotes all her energy to him. Edna just needs something to focus her attention on, and it seems unlikely that any of her interests will last for very long. Having just discovered new freedom, Edna is understandably excited to try new things and flit around from person to person; however, the reader should question how attached she really is to the things (or people) she professes to be so enamored of.

At the soirée, Edna flirts with men who she has minor crushes on, and even though such interactions are relatively trivial and harmless, they are indications that Edna is beginning to entertain adultery as a viable possibility. However, if she does decide to pursue other men, it is clear that she will do so on her own terms. She will not giggle and coquet in the way that Madame Ratignolle innocently does with her father. Such behavior is designed to gratify the man's ego and presents the woman as submissive and "feminine." While flirting at the party, Edna is interested in conversation and getting to know her crushes on terms of equality.

The story that Edna tells on Thursday night is a fictionalized account of how she remembers the summer on Grand Isle with Robert. It is loaded with sensory impressions that are Edna's own: the heat of the summer, the sound of a boat moving through the waves, the sight of the beloved's face. Clearly, Edna is reminiscing about the mystical day that she went to the Chênière with Robert and is imagining what would have happened if they hadn't come back. Considering how vividly and feelingly Edna narrates her tale, it is ironic that only Doctor Mandelet would notice her passion and wonder at its source. Even more ironically, his comment regarding Alcée Arobin seems to be more a prediction about the future than an idle reflection.

Chapter XXIV:


Right before his departure, Edna and her father have a heated fight because she refuses to attend her sister's wedding. Mr. Pontellier says nothing to intervene. As her father is leaving, Leónce tells him that he will stop by the wedding on his way to New York and try to atone for his wife's behavior with lavish gifts. The Colonel tells Leónce that he is too lenient a husband and has to force his wife to obey him, but Mr. Pontellier says nothing, remembering that the Colonel had perhaps driven his wife to her grave with such behavior.

While Edna is happy to see her father go, she is sad to see her husband depart. She is affectionate and wifely and cries when he finally leaves. The children also leave to go stay with their Grandma Pontellier, who loves to have the little boys visit her in the country. Finally alone, Edna feels relieved and peaceful. She walks through the entire house and garden, seeing it all as if for the first time. She gives instructions to the cook and later has a delicious, quiet, and solitary dinner. She thinks idly about her husband and children and then goes into the library to read. She realizes that she has not been reading as much as she would like and resolves to remedy the situation immediately. Finally, Edna goes to bed and feels a sense of peace and restfulness previously unknown to her.


The Colonel's character is thought to be based on Kate Chopin's father-in-law, who ruled his wife tyrannically and perhaps did coerce her into her grave. Unlike his father, Chopin's husband was a mild and gentle man, not unlike Mr. Pontellier, who lets his wife do what she wants, no matter how foolhardy it may seem. In refusing to go to her sister's wedding, Edna seems to be needlessly alienating herself from her family, but her husband's efforts at reconciliation‹offering to purchase expensive gifts‹shows an equal lack of appreciation for the value of human relationship.

After her husband and children leave, Edna finally has what she has been craving for so long: solitude. Having spent so many years of her life as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, and socialite, she now has the time and the quiet to discover who she is by herself. She is no longer caught in the relationships that are expected of her as a woman, and she is free to create new ones on her own. There are no longer any demands on her, and she is able to organize her time however she wants. At least for awhile, she has managed to strip away all the unnecessary constraints that society had placed on her.

According to the narrator, Grandma Pontellier does not even dare to think that Edna might not be a good mother. Even though it is clear that she does in fact think so, she refuses to even acknowledge this sentiment. As part of an earlier generation of women, Grandma Pontellier would not be able to conceive of a life not centered around her husband and children. To her, being a bad mother would be the worst insult imaginable.