The Awakening

Kate Chopin

Chapters XX–XXIV

Summary Chapters XX–XXIV

Summary: Chapter XX

During one of her spells of depression, Edna decides to pay Mademoiselle Reisz a visit in order to listen to her play the piano. Finding that the woman has moved, Edna visits Madame Lebrun in search of Mademoiselle Reisz’s new address. Robert’s brother Victor answers the door and sends the servant to fetch his mother. He launches into a story about his exploits of the previous evening, which Edna cannot help finding entertaining. Madame Lebrun appears, complaining of how few visitors she receives, and Victor tells Edna the contents of Robert’s two letters from Mexico. Edna is depressed to hear that Robert enclosed no message for her. She asks about Mademoiselle Reisz, and Madame Lebrun gives her the pianist’s new address. Victor then escorts Edna outside. After Edna leaves, the Lebruns comment to each other on Edna’s ravishing appearance, and Victor notes, “Some way she doesn’t seem like the same woman.”

Summary: Chapter XXI

Mademoiselle Reisz laughs with happiness and surprise when Edna arrives at her door. Edna’s frank admission that she is unsure of whether she likes Mademoiselle pleases her host. Mademoiselle mentions nonchalantly that Robert has sent her a letter from Mexico, in which he has written almost entirely about Edna. Edna’s plea to read the letter is denied, although Mademoiselle mentions that Robert requested she play for Edna “that Impromptu of Chopin’s.” Edna continues to beg Mademoiselle to play the piano and to allow her to read Robert’s letter.

Mademoiselle Reisz asks Edna what she has been doing with her time and is surprised to hear of Edna’s current desire to become an artist. She warns her that an artist must be brave, possessing “a courageous soul . . . that dares and defies.” Edna assures her that she has persistence if nothing else, and Mademoiselle Reisz laughs, gives Edna the letter, and begins to play the Chopin Impromptu that Edna requested. The music deeply affects Edna, and she weeps as the pianist glides between the Impromptu and another piece, “Isolde’s song.” When Edna asks if she may visit again, Mademoiselle Reisz replies that she is welcome at all times.

Summary: Chapter XXII

Léonce expresses his concern about Edna to Doctor Mandelet, his friend and the family’s physician. Léonce confides that he and his wife are no longer sleeping together, noting, “She’s got some sort of notion in her head concerning the eternal rights of women.” The doctor asks if Edna has been associating with a circle of “pseudo-intellectual women,” alluding to the contemporary women’s clubs that served to educate their members and to organize them politically. Léonce replies that Edna no longer seems to see anyone at all. She mopes around the house, wanders the streets alone, and has abandoned even her Tuesday receptions.

Having ruled out Edna’s female companions as the source of her estrangement, Dr. Mandelet inquires about Edna’s heredity. Léonce assures the doctor that Edna descends from a respectable Presbyterian family, but he admits that her younger sister Janet, who is about to be married, “is something of a vixen.” Doctor Mandelet suggests that Léonce send Edna to the wedding so that she can be with her family, but Léonce replies that Edna has already declared her unwillingness to attend. She told her husband, “a wedding is one of the most lamentable spectacles on earth.” After a pause, the doctor assures Léonce that this “passing whim” will run its course if he lets her alone for awhile, even allowing her to stay home alone when he leaves on business if that is what she wishes. Doctor Mandelet promises to attend dinner at the Pontellier home in order to study Edna inconspicuously. Despite the doctor’s suspicion that Edna may have another man in her life, the doctor takes his leave without making any inquiries along that line.

Summary: Chapter XXIII

Edna’s father, a former colonel in the Confederate army, stays for a few days in New Orleans to select a wedding gift for Janet and to purchase a suit for the wedding. Edna is not very close with the Colonel, who retains a certain military air from his war days. Nevertheless, the two are companionable, and Edna decides to sketch her father in her studio. The Colonel takes Edna’s painting very seriously, posing patiently for her sketches. She takes him to Adèle’s soirée musicale (an evening of musical entertainment), where Adèle enchants him by being flirtatious and flattering. As usual, Léonce refuses to attend Adèle’s gathering, preferring the diversion of the club. Adèle disapproves of Léonce’s club and remarks to Edna that the couple should spend more time together at home in the evenings, an idea Edna rebuffs by asserting that they “wouldn’t have anything to say to each other.”