The Awakening

by: Kate Chopin

Chapters XV–XIX

Summary: Chapter XIX

Edna has entirely abandoned the practice of staying home to receive callers on Tuesdays. Léonce, severely displeased by Edna’s refusal to submit to his demands, scolds his wife for spending her days painting instead of caring for the “comfort of her family.” He bids her think of Adèle, who never allows her love of music to distract her from her household responsibilities. Léonce sometimes speculates that Edna suffers from some mental disturbance, and he leaves Edna alone to paint and sing Robert’s song to herself as she dreams of the sea and Grand Isle. Her daily moods fluctuate wildly between inexplicable joy and equally intense sorrow.

Analysis: Chapters XV–XIX

The odd farewell between Edna and Robert demonstrates their contrasting attitudes toward upholding the rules assigned by society and tradition. Robert never addresses Edna directly by her first name, saying simply, “Good-by, my dear Mrs. Pontellier.” He seems consumed by the idea that Léonce already has the rights of possession over Edna, and Robert’s use of the words “my dear” is his only expression of his feelings for Edna. Edna, on the other hand, calls Robert directly by his first name, clinging to his hand as she asks, “Write to me when you get there, won’t you, Robert?” Robert, who has recognized the chemistry between himself and Edna since the first days of their acquaintance, is able to overlook his feelings for Edna when etiquette requires. She, on the other hand, has not yet reached either stage. It is only as Robert walks away that she recognizes the symptoms of youthful infatuation in her feelings for him.

Edna’s sexual awakening in her relations with Robert is intimately connected to her other dawning awarenesses. As she has begun to recognize and listen to her own emotions, she has come to feel an entitlement to them. Thus, she does not feel remorse at inciting Léonce to talk about Robert, nor does she keep from Adèle her unwillingness to give up herself for her children. While her farewell with Robert is revelatory of the still-undeveloped nature of Edna’s sexual awareness, her awakening has already progressed quite far on a more general level. Edna, unlike Adèle, can see that there is something more valuable than one’s life, that there is a reality more profound and important than physical existence.

After returning to New Orleans, Edna begins to allow this inner life to emerge and expand to the point that it affects those around her. She occupies her time with painting rather than domestic chores and is consumed by her own moods. Léonce’s reactions do not prove him to be any less self-centered, however. When he notices her neglect of household chores, he is worried about the negative effect Edna’s actions may have on his social standing rather than her unhappiness. His absorption with respectability and appearance, which prevents Léonce from gaining any insight into his wife’s true nature, is also evident in the pleasure he derives from the lavish goods that furnish his home. His lack of insight emerges when he wonders whether Edna is going mad because she is behaving quite unlike herself. In fact, the text tells us, Edna is “becoming herself” and “daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear to the world.”

Keeping this remark in mind, literal garments gather increasing importance in these chapters as Edna expresses her rebellion in part through her clothing. Upset by the news of Robert’s departure, Edna strips down to her dressing gown. The layers she removes could be seen to symbolize Victorian discretion, stripped away by her growing sexual awareness. And, back in New Orleans, Edna’s disregard for the traditional Tuesday reception is revealed to Léonce by the ordinary housedress she wears in place of her reception gown. The restriction and theatricality of social customs are embodied in the restrictive costuming that accompanies those customs.