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Transcript of The Awakening
The book opens with the Pontellier family on a vacation on the Grand Isle in Louisiana. Edna Pontellier and her huband, Leonce, relax in their vacation house with their two sons. Over the course of the summer, Edna meets several people such as Mademoiselle Reisz, Adele Ratignolle, and Robert Lebrun. Edna becomes very close with Adele and Mademoiselle Reisz. Although they are abrupt and honest, Edna looks to them for advice and friendship.
During her stay on the Isle, Robert becomes her companion and they both fall in love with each other. Robert detects that things were getting somewhat serious, and following his conscious, the next day abruptly leaves for Mexico. Edna is crushed by his quick departure and throughout the book, is distraught with his abandonment.
After returning from the Grand Isle, daily routine resumes. Edna goes on house calls, invites people over for tea, and socializes. One day Edna decides that she doesn’t care to follow any of her wifely duties. She goes out to call on Mademoiselle Reisz and Adele. Leonce is furious that she has neglected her duties as wife and goes to Doctor Mandelet for advice, hoping to get support. Surprisingly the Doctor suggests that Leonce leaves his wife to do as she wishes. Leonce goes away on a 5 month business trip, and Edna stays home. During this time period she develops her sense of individualism. Edna decides to move out of the main house and into a small cottage around the corner.
Alcee Arobin becomes a close friend of Edna’s and visits her daily. Arobin makes advances towards Edna, but she tries to keep her distance from him because she still loves Robert. Edna organizes a lavish farewell party for her and invites all her friends. After a few weeks in her cottage, Edna stops by Mademoiselle Reisz to visit, but she finds that she isn’t home and lets herself in. She encounters Robert when he stops by looking for Mademoiselle Reisz. Edna was shocked to see him and rather hurt that he hadn’t contacted her while he was in Mexico. Since Mademoiselle Reisz failed to show, Edna brings Robert back to her cottage. Robert explains his actions and why he left so abruptly. He couldn’t bring himself to be an adulterer and found the current situation morally wrong. During their visit, Edna hears that Adele is having a laborious childbirth and rushes to meet her, pleading with Robert to stay and wait for her return. Once she comes back, she finds a farewell note from Robert.
After a few weeks, Edna decides to go to their vacation house on the Grand Isle and walks off to take a swim. Edna walks into the depth of the water and lets the ocean wash over her and silence her problems along with her life.
Kate Chopin Timeline
By: Katie Freese, Grace Wu, and Stephanie Deason
1864- Civil War ends on April 9
1864- Lincoln is shot on April 14
1863- Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address on June 4
1863- Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1
1861- Civil War begins on April 12
1860- Abraham Lincoln is elected as President
1857- Supreme Court issues a decision in the Dred Scott case in March 6
1852- Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is published on March 1
1850- Fugitive Slave Law passed by Congress on Sep 18
1887- Congress has no black members
1879- Congress has one black member
1875- Congress has eight black members
1877- Congress has three black members
1875- “Jim Crow” laws first enacted in Tennessee
1870- 15th Amendment is passed on Feb 3
1868- Congress passes the 14th Amendment on July 9
1865- Congress passes the 13th Amendment on Dec 6
1901- Carnegie sells his steel company for $225 million
1903- Wright brothers take their first flight
1901- Teddy Roosevelt becomes President
1899- Southern states disenfranchise black voters
1898- Spanish American War begins
1890- Battle of Wounded Knee between US troops and Native Americans
Kate and Oscar move to New Orleans, LA in October, 1870
1870- Kate O’Flaherty marries Oscar Chopin on June 9, 1870
O’Flaherty graduates from Academy of the Sacred Heart
Kate Chopin is born on February 8, 1851 as Katherine O’Flaherty
1893- Chopin’s short story “Desiree’s Baby” is published in Vogue
1890- Chopin’s first novel, At Fault, is published privately
1889- Kate’s first poem, ‘If It Might Be’, is published
1885- Chopin’s mother, Eliza O’Flaherty, dies in June
1884- Chopin moves back to St. Louis
1882- Chopin’s husband dies of malaria
1873- Chopin’s second child, Oscar Jr., is born
1871- Chopin’s first child. Jean Chopin, is born on May 22, 1871
1904- Chopin dies after suffering a stroke on August 20
1900- Chopin is listed in the first edition of Who’s Who in USA
1899- The Awakening is published
1897- Chopin begins writing The Awakening
1896- Chopin’s short story, “Athenaise”, is published
Edna is the protagonist of the story. The novel illustrates her evolution of independent thinking and individualism. Edna struggles with her unfulfilling marriage and a yearning for freedom from her family and social expectations.
Leonce is Edna’s husband. He works as a businessman and is regarded as a wonderful husband by the community by lavishing his family with presents every time he is away. He has more of a detached relationship with Edna. He views Edna as a homemaker and a socializer amongst the women within their society.
Mademoiselle Reisz is the free spirit of the novel. She has modern ideas and is very blunt with how she projects her feelings and thought to Edna. She is renowned for her piano playing, but is reserved and lives alone. Mademoiselle Reisz is key to Edna’s ‘liberation.’
Adele is the ideal ‘Mother-Woman.’ She is completely devoted to her husband and idolizes her children. Although she is very conservative in her lifestyle, she is also blunt and honest which is typical of Creole women. She represents a foil of Mademoiselle Reisz.
Robert is Edna’s love interest. Robert never married, but every summer he would devote himself to a different married woman as a companion. He represents Edna’s desires to become relieved from her married life and live an independent and free.
Arobin becomes Edna’s companion on her journey to freedom. He pursues Edna and at first she enjoys having someone to talk to, but when he shows his true intentions, Edna is too attached to Robert and dismisses Arobin.
When Leonce Pontellier notices changes in Edna’s character, he goes to Doctor Mandelet for guidance. Leonce hopes to get support to admonish Edna and to put her in her place, but alternatively, he suggests that Leonce lets her be and allows her to carry on how she pleases.
Characteristics of naturalism
• “Naturalism was a literary movement taking place from the 1880’s to 1940’s that used detailed realism to suggest that social conditions, heredity, and environment had inescapable force in shaping human character.”
• Emphasizes that humans have little control over their own destiny
• “Reality without illusion”- the author presents society with cold, hard facts
• Author scrutinizes the ills of society
• Scientific aspect of naturalism stems from Darwinism concepts such as “natural selection” and “evolution”
• Naturalism evolved into two separate directions:
o One direction observed the social and political dynamics of American urban life (Marx)
o The other examined the biological aspects of deterministic thought (Darwin)
The Awakening is regarded as a classic piece of American literature for a number of reasons. The main reason behind the bond with today and the early ages of the suffrage movement presents itself as the subject matter of this book. The common themes of independence, self-empowerment, and choosing your own destiny are ideas that American culture is largely based on and that comprise the “American dream”. This self-righteous attitude has not only plagued but pushed the American movement forward and will always be an underlying motivator for the minorities that fill this country. The Awakening will remain a classic in the eyes of all readers who experience a drive to achieve fulfillment in life because there will always be goals to reach. This theme does not lie only amongst the states of America but reach out to all readers of any and all kinds.
Quotes from the book The Awakening
“How strange and awful it seemed to stand naked under the sky! How delicious! She felt like some new-born creature, opening its eyes in a familiar world that it had never known stand naked under the sky … ‘Good-by – because I love you.’ He [The Doctor] did not know; he did not understand” (pg. 156).
As Edna is about to commit suicide, she romanticizes her death and make excuses for ending her life. This is a stark contrast to the ideas of naturalism, and to Dr. Mandelet’s ideas.
“‘Has she,’ asked the Doctor, with a smile, ‘has she been associating of late with a circle of pseudo-intellllectual women – super-spiritual superior beings? My wife has been telling me about them’” (pg. 90).
“The Doctor would have liked during the course of conversation to ask, ‘Is there any man in the case?’ but he knew his Creole too well to make such a blunder as that. He did not resume his book immediately, but sat for a while meditatively looking out into the garden” (pg. 90).
Meanwhile while Edna is romanticizing her secret love for Robert Lebrun, Dr. Mandelet’s ideas are logical and obvious as to what is happening between Mr. Pontellier and his wife. He analyzes the situation logically and scientifically without any illusion. He also goes on later to state that he knew he couldn’t change Edna’s behavior because humans could do little to change fate.
“‘The trouble is,’ sighed the Doctor, grasping her meaning intuitively, “that youth is given up to illusions. It seems to be a provision of Nature; a decoy to secure mothers for the race. And Nature takes no account of moral consequences, of arbitrary conditions which we create, and which we feel obligated to maintain at any cost” (pg. 151).
This quote is the perfect example of naturalism expressed by Kate Chopin by Dr. Mandalet. He is telling Edna that her love is an illusion and she needs to snap back to being a mother and a loving wife.
“‘Yes,’ she said. ‘The years that are gone seem like dreams – if one might go on sleeping and dreaming – but to wake up and find – oh! Well! Perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life” (pg. 151).
Edna has a preconceived notion that what she is doing is right and is her “awakening”, instead of living an unhappy and unsatisfied life as the wife of Mr. Pontellier. Her love is romanticized and is extremely self-centered, throwing her kids to her grandmother and mocking Robert for his apprehensions of potentially committing adultery. She only cares about herself and completely forgets about her responsibilities and the world around her.
The Awakening takes place in the late 19th c./early 20th c. in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Throughout the book Edna Pontellier seeks to free herself from the entanglement of her relationships and duties. The evolution of Edna’s character from being a dependent woman, thriving off her family and thoughts of others, to becoming independent woman who only seeks to fulfill her desires shows her drive to separate herself and to establish herself as a free individual.
Although Edna seeks to be independent, she finds that she no longer connects with as many people that she used to. By separating herself from her family, she finds that she is quite lonely, pursuing the company of others. She finds solace in Robert and in Arobin, but that only proves to be temporary. She can’t undo her disconnect with her family.
Connection to Author
“The Pontelliers possessed a very charming home on Esplanade Street in New Orleans. It was a large double cottage, with a broad front veranda, whose round, fluted columns supported the sloping roof” (pg. 66).
Kate Chopin’s time spent in Louisiana with her husband Oscar Chopin influenced the settings of many of her novels and short stories. Most of her stories are situated in Louisiana or the Deep South, where Kate Chopin spent most of her life. In The Awakening, the Pontelliers’ main house is located in New Orleans.
“She carried in her hands a thin handkerchief, which she tore into ribbons, rolled into a ball, and flung from her. Once she stopped, and taking off her wedding ring, flung it upon the carpet. When she saw it lying there, she stamped her heel upon it, striving to crush it” (pg. 71).
Kate Chopin grew up in a time where women’s rights and abolitionists were beginning to take action in the United States. Using the environment and surrounding events, she incorporates these ideas into her novel, The Awakening especially that of women’s rights. Another important event in her life was the death of father and brother. After they died, Chopin ended up living with her mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, who were all intellectual, independent women. The feminine influence in her life helped her develop her independence when her husband also died and she had to take over his business.
“Alcée Arobin was one of them. He was a familiar figure at the race course, the opera, the fashionable clubs. There was a perpetual smile in his eyes, which seldom failed to awaken a corresponding cheerfulness in any one who looked into them and listened to his good-humored voice. His manner was quiet, and at times a little insolent…He admired Edna extravagantly, after meeting her at the races with her father” (pg. 100)
Alcée Arobin, Edna’s lover, represents a similar situation in Kate Chopin’s life after her husband Oscar Chopin died. With no husband and six kids to care for, Chopin was forced to take over Oscar’s business and be a mother and a father at the same time. However, this did not stop her from clandestine relationships with other men, married or not. Although in The Awakening Edna’s husband was not dead, one could argue that he was metaphorically dead to her. Mr. Pontellier did not do anything for his wife that she found particularly useful and she soon realized that she could live without him and find her “true love”.