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The Awakening

Kate Chopin

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full title  ·  The Awakening

author  · Kate Chopin

type of work  · Novel

genre  · Bildungsroman (novel of intellectual, spiritual or moral evolution); kunstlerroman (novel of artistic realization or development); shares elements of and is heavily influenced by the local color genre

language  · English (frequently makes use of French language)

time and place written  · Written between 1897 and 1899 while Chopin was living in St. Louis

date of first publication  · 1899

publisher  · Herbert S. Stone and Co.

narrator  · Anonymous; seems to align with Chopin herself

point of view · The novel is narrated in the third person, but the narrator frequently makes clear her sympathy for and support of Edna.

tone  · For the most part, the tone is objective, although it occasionally reveals support for the female independence and sexual and emotional awareness symbolized in Edna’s awakening.

tense  · Immediate past; that is, real-time narration

setting (time)  · The novel is set in 1899, at a time when the Industrial Revolution and the feminist movement were beginning to emerge yet were still overshadowed by the prevailing attitudes of the nineteenth century.

setting (place)  · The novel opens on Grand Isle, a popular summer vacation spot for wealthy Creoles from New Orleans. The second half of the novel is set in New Orleans, mainly in the Quartier Français, or French Quarter.

protagonist  · Edna Pontellier

major conflict  · Once Edna embarks upon her quest for independence and self-fulfillment, she finds herself at odds with the expectations and conventions of society, which requires a married woman to subvert her own needs to those of her husband and children.

rising action  · While Edna vacations at Grand Isle, several events initiate her awakening. Her candid conversations with Adèle remind her of her long-repressed passions; Robert Lebrun’s flirtations with Edna cause her to desire more autonomy from her husband; and Mademoiselle Reisz’s piano playing serves as artistic inspiration for Edna. At Grand Isle, Edna swims in the ocean for the first time, giving her the courage she needs to embark upon her journey of self-understanding and self-fulfillment.

climax  · The climax of The Awakening is difficult to ascertain, as Edna Pontellier’s series of awakenings all possess a certain climactic quality. Most readers view Edna’s suicide as the definitive climax of the novel. Other possible climaxes include the first time Edna commits adultery by having sex with Alcée Arobin, and the moment when she declares her love aloud to Robert Lebrun and the two finally kiss.

falling action  · The generally accepted climax of the novel is Edna’s suicide at the end of the novel. In this case there would be no falling action. An alternative reading would suggest that the falling action is Edna’s liberated and defiant behavior following her initial physical act of indiscretion—her affair with Arobin.

themes · Solitude as the consequence of independence; the implications of self-expression

motifs · Music; children; houses

symbols  · Birds; the sea

foreshadowing  · The novel relies heavily on foreshadowing. Most examples pertain to Edna’s rebellious and independent actions in the second half of the novel. In Chapter VIII, Adèle Ratignolle warns Robert that Edna, who is different from the other women on Grand Isle, may take his affections seriously. Adèle’s concerns and Robert’s impulsive reply that he indeed wishes Edna would take him seriously both presage the later romantic relations between the two. The lurking presence of the lady in black behind the young lovers suggests the tragic end that will come to the lovers’ symbolic counterparts, Edna and Robert. Edna’s suicide is foreshadowed countless times throughout the novel. The most obvious of these examples is Edna’s rebellious swim in Chapter X. The surge of power and momentary vision of death Edna feels during this swim foreshadow her eventual suicide.

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