The Awakening | Study Guide

Kate Chopin

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The Awakening | Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

The narrator notes Mr. Pontellier often is critical of Edna's parenting; he can't pinpoint what is wrong but determines she is not a "mother-woman." Since "mother-women" are the female norm on Grand Isle, Edna stands out. Of all the mother-women on the island, none more perfectly fits the role than Madame Adèle Ratignolle, the picture of grace and self-sacrificing devotion to family.

Madame Ratignolle and Edna Pontellier are together at the Pontellier cottage when Mr. Pontellier's box of fruits and candies arrives. Robert Lebrun is there too. Madame Ratignolle worries the candy might not be good for her in her "condition." Edna, embarrassed by the pregnancy reference, considers how freely those in the Creole culture speak of sex and pregnancy.

Analysis

On the heels of describing Edna's first small awakening, Chopin further illuminates what is happening to her. Edna is not just a woman who is unsatisfied with her husband or regrets a bad marriage. She is a woman who is under pressure to fulfill a certain role in society. However, she doesn't have what it takes to play that role. Her personality does not align with society's expectations.

To spotlight Edna's plight, Chopin expands on Mr. Pontellier's critical assessment of his wife by explaining that some women are "mother-women" and Edna is not. Then Madame Ratignolle appears, exemplifying the "mother-woman" Edna will never be. Madame Ratignolle thinks of little besides her husband and her children—including one on the way. Her role in the novel primarily is to show the impossible ideal to which Edna is held and make clear the difficulty she faces in acting or feeling unlike a "mother-woman." Edna's discomfort with references to pregnancy also betrays her conflicted feeling about motherhood. However, the novel also makes clear that Edna is not a bad person for possessing these faults. She is generous and kind to her friend.

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