The Awakening

by: Kate Chopin

Adèle Ratignolle

A foil for Mademoiselle Reisz, Adèle is a devoted wife and mother, the epitome of nineteenth-century womanhood. Adèle spends her days caring for her children, performing her domestic duties, and ensuring the happiness of her husband. Ironically, while Adèle is comfortable and happy with her simple, conformist existence, she unintentionally catalyzes Edna’s movement away from such a lifestyle with her manner of speech: because she and her fellow Creole women are so clearly chaste and irreproachably moral, society allows them to speak openly on such matters as pregnancy, undergarments, and romantic gossip. Adèle’s conversation reminds Edna of the romantic dreams and fantasies of her youth, and Edna gradually begins to uncover the desires that had been suppressed for so many years. Although Adèle’s behavior represents that which is expected of Edna, the effect of her words proves more powerful than her example.

Adèle is a static character—she shows no change or growth from the beginning of the novel to its end. She is also somewhat simple: when Edna reveals to Adèle that she would give up her money and her life for her children but not herself, Adèle cannot understand what more one could give than one’s own life. Edna’s understanding of an inner, autonomous spirit defies the belief of the time that women were simply the property of their husbands, who served a specific role as wives and mothers and devoted themselves solely to those around them at their own expense. Later in the novel, it is apparent that Adèle still views a woman’s life in terms of the service she performs for her family and society. When she suspects Edna of having an affair with Alcée Arobin she reminds Edna of her duty to her children. Having just given birth to another child, Adèle still represents the ideal Victorian woman, whereas Edna ignores her responsibilities to husband and children, seeking freedom up until, or perhaps even through, her death.