While summering at Grand Isle, she comes to view their relationship much differently and that of her place in the world. Mrs. Pontellier can see from the actions of other mothers vacationing there that she is much different. She does not worship her children and she does not have all the sophistication of a societal wife. As she becomes aware of these differences, Robert Lebrun begins to pay her special attention, which recalls for her many youthful infatuations. However, when Alcee Arobin crosses her path, things begin to change dramatically for the reborn painter, Mrs. Pontellier.
Edna Pontellier returns to the city and begins to break with tradition, which raises her husband’s eyebrows. Chopin’s work is not so much about the liberation of a woman from societal expectations. It is an introspective look at how we present ourselves to our husbands, children, friends, and greater society. Our inner selves, our true selves — if they ever emerge — are buried deep within our private worlds. For many of us, our true self is only known by us and, in some cases, not even then. Edna has been awakened to her true self and she embarks on a journey to realize it fully.
In terms of the setting, it’s clear that they live in Louisiana and music and art are strong cultural elements. The roots of French colonization remain in the area, and many of the people Edna interacts with speak French. Many of these people are definitely from the upper crust as they do little more than socialize, entertain one another, and gossip. The Awakening by Kate Chopin explores the consequences of becoming independent and stripping all pretension, leaving Edna in a solitary world (which mirrors the one she held close prior to her awakening). However, it seems as though Edna fails to evolve, merely bringing her inner world to the surface to find that she cannot survive, rather than exploring what that means and how she should move forward.
About the Author:
Kate Chopin was an American novelist and short-story writer best known for her startling 1899 novel, The Awakening. Born in St. Louis, she moved to New Orleans after marrying Oscar Chopin in 1870. Less than a decade later Oscar’s cotton business fell on hard times and they moved to his family’s plantation in the Natchitoches Parish of northwestern Louisiana. Oscar died in 1882 and Kate was suddenly a young widow with six children. She turned to writing and published her first poem in 1889. The Awakening, considered Chopin’s masterpiece, was subject to harsh criticism at the time for its frank approach to sexual themes. It was rediscovered in the 1960s and has since become a standard of American literature, appreciated for its sophistication and artistry. Chopin’s short stories of Cajun and Creole life are collected in Bayou Folk (1894) and A Night in Acadie (1897), and include “Desiree’s Baby,” “The Story of an Hour” and “The Storm.”