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The Awakening | Chapter 17 | Summary

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Summary

Back in New Orleans, the wealthy Pontelliers live in a luxurious home filled with beautiful possessions, attended by servants. They resume their normal routines. But one Tuesday evening they are having dinner together and Edna reveals that, instead of staying home and receiving callers all day—her typical Tuesday activity—she had been out. Léonce Pontellier is concerned because he expects Edna to follow social conventions. Being out on a day she normally has callers appears rude. Mr. Pontellier is also upset that the food doesn't taste good and seems to imply that this is Edna's fault—she should be keeping the cook on a tighter rein. He leaves to get dinner at the club instead, and Edna finishes her meal alone.

She is upset. She goes to her room, looks out the window, and paces, tearing a handkerchief into pieces. Angrily she throws her wedding ring to the floor, tries to crush it, and breaks a vase. A maid comes to clean up the mess, and Edna puts her ring back on.

Analysis

Shortly after her return to New Orleans, Edna begins a drastic transformation from conventional woman to individual. On Grand Isle her expression of individuality seemed random and impulsive. It arose from events and stimuli that were not entirely within Edna's control. Now however, she seems to deliberately choose to disregard the social expectations of upper-class society (giving and receiving social calls) and the marital expectations of her husband (keeping the servants in line and on task). Needless to say Léonce Pontellier is beside himself. Perhaps he was hoping that returning to the city would return Edna to her old self. His reaction, while insensitive, is expected. He is perplexed by her behavior because it does not align with his existing understanding of womanhood. He too is a product of society.

Like all wedding rings, Edna's ring has symbolic value. But while wedding rings often symbolize love and commitment, Edna's has clearly come to symbolize her sense of being oppressed and trapped. It represents the limitations Edna feels as a result of her marriage, family, and womanhood. As a married woman in society her freedom is restricted. The fact that the ring proves indestructible does not bode well for the outcome of Edna's fight against her restrictions.

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