Edna is the protagonist of the novel, and the “awakening”
to which the title refers is hers. The twenty-eight-year-old wife
of a New Orleans businessman, Edna suddenly finds herself dissatisfied with
her marriage and the limited, conservative lifestyle that it allows.
She emerges from her semi-conscious state of devoted wife and mother
to a state of total awareness, in which she discovers her own identity
and acts on her desires for emotional and sexual satisfaction. Through
a series of experiences, or “awakenings,” Edna becomes a shockingly independent
woman, who lives apart from her
husband and children and is responsible only to her own urges and
passions. Tragically, Edna’s awakenings isolate her from others
and ultimately lead her to a
state of total solitude.
in-depth analysis of Edna Pontellier.
Mademoiselle Reisz may be the most influential character
in Edna’s awakening. She is unmarried and childless, and she devotes
her life to her passion: music. A talented pianist and somewhat
of a recluse, she represents independence and freedom and serves
as a sort of muse for Edna. When Edna begins actively to pursue
personal independence, she seeks Mademoiselle Reisz’s companionship.
Mademoiselle warns Edna that she must be brave if she wishes to
be an artist—that an artist must have a courageous and defiant soul.
Mademoiselle Reisz is the only character in the novel who knows
of the love between Robert and Edna, and she, thus, serves as a
true confidante for Edna despite their considerably different personalities. Mademoiselle
Reisz is also a foil for Edna’s other close female friend, Adèle
Ratignolle, who epitomizes the conventional and socially acceptable
woman of the late nineteenth century.
in-depth analysis of Mademoiselle Reisz.
Edna’s close friend, Adèle Ratignolle represents the
Victorian feminine ideal. She idolizes her children and worships
her husband, centering her life around caring for them and performing
her domestic duties. While her lifestyle and attitude contrast with
Edna’s increasing independence, Adèle unwittingly helps facilitate
her friend’s transformation. Her free manner of discourse and expression,
typical of Creole women of the time, acts as a catalyst for Edna’s
abandonment of her former reserved and introverted nature. Adele
is also a foil for Mademoiselle Reisz, whose independent and unconventional
lifestyle inspires Edna’s transgressions.
in-depth analysis of Adèle Ratignolle.
Lebrun is the twenty-six-year-old single man with whom Edna falls
in love. Dramatic and passionate, he has a history of becoming the
devoted attendant to a different woman each summer at Grand Isle.
Robert offers his affections comically and in an over-exaggerated
manner, and thus is never taken seriously. As the friendship between
Robert and Edna becomes more intimate and complex, however, he realizes
that he has genuinely fallen in love with Edna. He is torn between
his love for her and society’s view that women are the possessions
of their husbands.
in-depth analysis of Robert Lebrun.
seductive, charming, and forthright Alcée Arobin is the Don Juan
of the New Orleans Creole community. Arobin enjoys making conquests
out of married women, and he becomes Edna’s lover while her husband
is on a business trip to New York. Although Robert Lebrun is the
man whom Edna truly loves, Arobin satisfies Edna’s physical urges
while Robert is in Mexico. Throughout their passionate affair, Edna retains
authority and never allows Alcée to own or control her.
Léonce Pontellier, a forty-year-old, wealthy New Orleans
businessman, is Edna’s husband. Although he loves Edna and his sons,
he spends little time with them because he is often away on business
or with his friends. Very concerned with social appearances, Léonce
wishes Edna to continue the practices expected of New Orleans women
despite her obvious distaste for them. His relationship with Edna lacks passion and excitement,
and he knows very little of his wife’s true feelings and emotions.
Doctor Mandelet is Léonce and Edna’s family physician.
He is a fairly enlightened man, who silently recognizes Edna’s dissatisfaction
with the restrictions placed on her by social conventions. When
Léonce consults with him about Edna’s unconventional behavior, the
doctor suspects that Edna is in love with another man, although
he keeps his suspicions to himself because he recognizes that there
is little Léonce can do if Edna is indeed in love with someone else
and that any further constraints imposed on her will only intensify
her revolt. Doctor Mandelet offers Edna his help and understanding
and is worried about the possible consequences of her defiance and independence.
Colonel, a former Confederate officer in the Civil War, is Edna’s
father. He is a strict Protestant and believes that husbands should
manage their wives with authority and coercion. While Edna’s relationship
with her father is not affectionate, she is surprised by how well
she gets along with her father when they are together.
Lebrun is Robert’s wayward younger brother. He spends his time chasing
women and refuses to settle down into a profession.
Lebrun is the widowed mother of Victor and Robert. She owns and
manages the cottages on Grand Isle where the novel’s characters
spend their summer vacations.
The Lady in Black
The lady in black is a vacationer at the Lebrun cottages
on Grand Isle. She embodies the patient, resigned solitude that
convention expects of a woman whose husband has died, but her solitude
does not speak to any sort of independence or strength. Rather, it
owes to a self-effacing withdrawal from life and passion out of
utter respect for her husband’s death. Throughout the novel, the
lady in black remains silent, which contributes to her lack of individuality
and to her role within the text as the symbol of the socially acceptable
The Two Lovers
The two lovers are vacationers at the Lebrun cottages
on Grand Isle. They represent the form of young love accepted by
society. Always appearing in conjunction with the lady in black,
the lovers represent the stage of a woman’s life that precedes her
The Farival Twins
The Farival twins are fourteen-year-old girls who
vacation at Grand Isle with their family and who frequently entertain
their fellow guests by playing the piano. They represent the destiny
of adolescent Victorian girls: chaste motherhood. Having been dedicated
to the Virgin Mary at birth, they wear her colors at all times.
Moreover, they embody society’s expectations of the way women should
use art—as a way of making themselves more delightful to others, rather
than as a means of self-expression.
tall, worldly woman in her forties, Mrs. Highcamp spends time with
many of the fashionable single men of New Orleans under the pretext
of finding a husband for her daughter. Alcée Arobin is one of these
young men, and the two call on Edna to attend the races and to accompany
them to dinner—meetings that catalyze the affair between Edna and
Janet and Margaret
Janet is Edna’s younger sister. Edna was never close
to her and she refuses to attend her wedding. Margaret is Edna and
Janet’s older sister. After their mother died, Margaret took over
the role of mother figure for her younger sisters.
young, pretty Spanish girl, Mariequita is a mischievous flirt who
lives on Grand Isle. She seems to fancy both Robert and Victor Lebrun
and, along with Adèle, is the picture of the self-demeaning coquetry that
When Edna feels faint at the Sunday service on the
island of Chênière Caminada,
she and Robert go
to Madame Antoine’s for the day. A friendly inhabitant of the island,
Madame Antoine takes them in and cares for Edna, to whom she tells
stories of her life.
Mr. and Mrs. Merriman, Miss Mayblunt, & Mr. Gouvernail
Some of the
guests present at the dinner party Edna holds to celebrate her move
to the “pigeon house.”
Etienne & Raoul Pontellier
Etienne and Raoul are Edna and Léonce’s two sons.
They are four and five years old, respectively.