The Awakening | Study Guide

Kate Chopin

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The Awakening | Character Analysis


Edna Pontellier

Edna Pontellier is a wife and mother who begins to feel oppressed by those roles. Although she presents the outward appearance of marital commitment, she has little emotional attachment to her husband, preferring the company of Robert Lebrun. Edna lacks a maternal closeness to her children, though she feels deep affection for them at times. In contrast to Madame Ratignolle, Edna says she would give up her life for her children, but she would not give up her self. As the novel progresses Edna goes through a series of "awakenings"—moments that reveal what she wants and needs. These moments come in various forms: sometimes she has insight into her own thoughts, and sometimes she simply gives in to her feelings without analyzing them. Increasingly she does what she wants rather than what others tell her to do.

Robert Lebrun

Robert Lebrun, one of Madame Lebrun's sons, is known for his flirtatious attention to women on Grand Isle. For the most part people consider his flirtations harmless, even when aimed at married women, because Lebrun never crosses the line into sexual intimacy. However, Robert's feelings toward Edna Pontellier go beyond mere flirtation. The two spend more and more time together and move closer to the line Robert doesn't want to cross. When Robert goes away to Mexico, it is clear (by his refusal to write to her) that he is conflicted: he is in love with her but convinced she is unattainable. Edna's independence and sexual freedom, which she develops while he is away, is ultimately too much for Robert. Even when she is willing to cast off societal expectations and start a physical relationship with him, he proves unwilling to do so.

Madame Ratignolle

Madame Adèle Ratignolle is everything society would ask of a woman in her position. She is a devoted wife and mother, glad to sacrifice her own desires and comforts for her family. She provides a contrast to Edna, who does not fit comfortably into this role. However, for all their personality differences, Madame Ratignolle is a devoted friend to Edna. Sometimes this means giving Edna (or Robert) advice to prevent trouble. Sometimes this means providing a listening ear as Edna works through her emerging ideas about herself.

Mademoiselle Reisz

The novel introduces Mademoiselle Reisz through her music's effects on Edna. Mademoiselle Reisz is known on Grand Isle as a rather unpleasant woman but an accomplished pianist. When she plays piano for the assembled guests at Madame Lebrun's house, Edna is overwhelmed by emotion and breaks down weeping. Back in New Orleans, Edna and Mademoiselle Reisz develop an odd friendship, and Mademoiselle Reisz gives her friend advice about what it means to be an artist. It is clear the two differ in one important way: Edna desires romance and passion, but Mademoiselle Reisz devotes all her energy to her music, living the solitary life of an independent woman. Her presence highlights Edna's inability to fully embrace such solitude.

Léonce Pontellier

Léonce Pontellier is a wealthy businessman and a gentleman, devoted to the social conventions and economic structures upon which he has built his livelihood. He wants to read his newspaper in peace, observe his beautiful children playing, come home to a well-cooked meal at the end of the day, and enjoy the unwavering support and dedication of his beautiful wife. When Edna Pontellier strays from the socially acceptable behaviors for a woman of her position, her husband is concerned. At first he is upset she isn't performing her wifely and motherly duties. Then he thinks she may be ill. Finally he is forced to invent excuses for her behavior to keep up appearances. He seems to care only that Edna fulfill her culturally prescribed roles. Their lack of emotional connection is one reason Edna looks elsewhere.

Alcée Arobin

Alcée Arobin is a known womanizer who is used to having his affairs with women go according to plan. He is drawn to Edna's energy, knowing it is evidence of a sensuality he can manipulate. He methodically seduces her and helps awaken her to her own sexual desire. Yet he is taken aback when she takes control of their affair by setting the time and place where they will next meet.

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