Character Analysis in The Awakening
Character Analysis Examples in The Awakening:
"“You are burnt beyond recognition,” he added, looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage...." See in text (Chapter I)
Chopin’s description of how Mr. Pontellier looks at his wife tells us that he sees Edna not as someone with an independent mind and will but as an object of value that needs to be protected. This first chapter serves to show the tension between Edna and her husband by revealing how restricted Edna’s life is: Mr. Pontellier scolds her rather than acknowledging her desire to spend time outside.
"“Coming back to dinner?” his wife called after him. He halted a moment and shrugged his shoulders...." See in text (Chapter I)
Mr. Pontellier’s declination to respond to his wife’s question reveals how in this relationship, he has no obligation to reply to her questions. This demonstrates an imbalance in the power relationship between husband and wife in that Mr. Pontellier has more power than Edna. He may do as he pleases.
"Each was interested in what the other said..." See in text (Chapter II)
The short, businesslike conversations between Edna and Mr. Pontellier starkly contrast the enjoyable ease of Edna and Robert’s interactions. Edna and Robert are friends who are genuinely interested in one another’s lives, and this contrast illustrates just how different Edna’s relationship with her husband is.
"In coloring he was not unlike his companion..." See in text (Chapter II)
Edna and Robert are similar in appearance, suggesting that their relationship is that of equals. However, although they have similar interests and senses of humor, it is immediately clear that Robert has a somewhat lighter temperament than Edna has. He is described as carefree, and his eyes “reflect” rather than “hold” something in contemplation the way that Edna’s do.
"as if lost in some inward maze of contemplation or thought...." See in text (Chapter II)
Notice Edna’s association with the inner world of “contemplation and thought.” Throughout the novel Edna’s eyes are often emphasized as a symbol to highlight her reflective nature. Even whilst describing Edna’s outward appearance, Chopin makes it clear that Edna has a rich inner life.
"She liked money as well as most women, and accepted it with no little satisfaction...." See in text (Chapter III)
Notice that Mr. and Mrs. Pontellier are not partners in their relationship. Edna is at the mercy of her husband monetarily and has no real money of her own. Notice also that the consequences of this lack of financial independence is lost on Mr. Pontellier: he sees Edna’s excitement over the money as the common reaction of a simpleton rather than as a consequence of her lack of freedom.
"Mr. Pontellier returned to his wife with the information that Raoul had a high fever and needed looking after. Then he lit a cigar and went and sat near the open door to smoke it...." See in text (Chapter III)
Notice that Mr. Pontellier treats his wife like an employee. Rather than tending to his son when he realizes the boy is sick, he tells his wife to get out of bed to tend to the child so that he can smoke his cigar.
"Their freedom of expression was at first incomprehensible to her, though she had no difficulty in reconciling it with a lofty chastity which in the Creole woman seems to be inborn and unmistakable...." See in text (Chapter IV)
This unfamiliar, open society is new to Edna, and she finds how freely the Creole women express themselves to be quite different from the women with whom she usually socializes. Witnessing this alternative way of expressing oneself, of being an individual, will help serve to jumpstart Edna’s own “awakening” as she takes a more careful look at her own life and desires.
"They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels...." See in text (Chapter IV)
Notice the contrast between Edna and these other women, particularly her friend Adèle Ratignolle. Unlike these other women who appear to take to it naturally, the role of mother and wife does not quite fit Edna. The use of “holy privilege” lends this selection to a sarcastic reading of how these wives and mothers lose their own identities in order to perfectly fulfill this role. Readers can see that Mr. Pontellier likely wants Edna to be like these other women. Edna, however, is more self-aware and increasingly agitated with this role into which she’s been cast.
"Mrs. Pontellier was glad he had not assumed a similar rôle toward herself...." See in text (Chapter V)
Robert’s behavior towards women before Edna was more flirtatious and conventionally romantic. He would use flattery and praise in attempt to win their affections. However, Robert treats Edna very differently than the other women, with genuine interest and respect. This illustrates further that the relationship between Edna and Robert is that of equals.
"In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her. ..." See in text (Chapter VI)
At the time of publication, women were still considered property in Louisiana. Edna’s developing understanding of herself as a human being is groundbreaking because she is considered and treated like an object. This awakening of her individuality was extremely controversial because at the time of this novel’s publication, women’s rights were just beginning to creep into greater awareness. This makes Edna’s burgeoning consciousness all the more contentious.
"closing the portals forever behind her upon the realm of romance and dreams...." See in text (Chapter VII)
Edna’s decision to marry a stable, consistent man instead of the tragedian may appear rational, but her choice also contains further tragedy. Edna’s choice affirms the notion that her emotions are foolish; she convinced herself that falling in love is a fantasy, or "romance and dreams." This choice sets her up to believe that true partnership cannot exist, which has led to her consigned role as wife and mother without an equal understanding and love between her and her husband.
"At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life—that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions...." See in text (Chapter VII)
Here, the narrator tells us about Edna's childhood and how, even from "a very early period," she has understood the differences between an inner and an outer life. As Edna grew up, she learned to conform to the expectations of those around her. However, the narrator also makes it clear that Edna has remained observant and thoughtful, which has led to her questioning her conformist actions, behaviors, and desires. As much as Edna has tried to suppress this questioning, it is clear that she is very divided on how she feels about herself and her role as wife and mother.
"“Whenever you say the word I'm ready to thrash any amount of reason into him that he's able to hold.”..." See in text (Chapter VIII)
This line emphasizes how different Robert and his brother, Victor, are from one another. Victor is rash and quick tempered while Robert is collected and polite. Although Robert may be unique and more adventurous than many, he is still the more conventional of the two brothers.
"“She is not one of us; she is not like us. She might make the unfortunate blunder of taking you seriously.”..." See in text (Chapter VIII)
We learn here that Madame Ratignolle is upset by what Edna has told her. Edna’s unconventional inner transformation has now become apparent to others, leading the more traditional characters to feel concerned or even defensive. Edna is rejecting the socially acceptable order that regards marriage and motherhood as the most (if not the only) meaningful and significant aspects of a woman’s life.
"But she was mistaken about “those others.” Her playing had aroused a fever of enthusiasm. ..." See in text (Chapter IX)
The narrator misses the point of Mademoiselle Reisz’s comment. It is not that “the others” do not feel as deeply as Edna does about the music, but that Edna’s ability to experience the music as she does is unique because she is a woman. The narrator once again shows itself to be narrow minded.
"She trembled, she was choking, and the tears blinded her. ..." See in text (Chapter IX)
From this description, the reader understands that Edna has a very deep emotional connection to the music. This sharply contrasts the description of Edna as “calling herself fond of music” and once again demonstrates the narrator’s limited vision of this character.
"Edna was what she herself called very fond of music...." See in text (Chapter IX)
The narrator undercuts Edna’s love of music with passive voice and weak adjectives. Rather than calling Edna a music lover or even directly stating that she's very fond of music, the narrator claims that she “calls herself” fond of music. “Fond” is a weak adjective; it does not fully communicate an emotional connection. In making the connection between Edna and her love for music weak, we learn of a social understanding about women’s pleasure: first, she cannot feel deep passion, imitating or imagining herself as passionate; second, her own self-perception is questionable.
"no woman had swum before...." See in text (Chapter X)
Edna wants to combat the unyielding sexist rules that society enforces on women, but as we have noted, this is a difficult and dangerous task. Chopin emphasizes this inner turmoil by placing contradicting thoughts close to one another. Edna’s desire for freedom is constantly at odds with her existing constraints.
"A certain ungovernable dread hung about her when in the water,..." See in text (Chapter X)
The sea is a complex symbol in the novel as it represents both freedom and fear for Edna. Rejecting Victorian social conventions for one’s freedom can bring with it potential risks. Women like Edna, who resisted the role of the “happy homemaker” were deemed unseemly outsiders. Thus, Edna’s fear of the water symbolizes a fear of radical freedom that could have serious consequences in both the public and private realms of her life.
"A feeling of exultation overtook her, as if some power of significant import had been given her to control the working of her body and her soul...." See in text (Chapter X)
After a summer of trying, Edna succeeds in conquering her fear of the ocean and learning to swim. She revels in her own independence and power, wanting to swim out even farther and push the boundaries. This desire speaks to how confined and constrained Edna's life is; even this small moment of freedom is exhilarating. The narrator's inclusion of "reckless" though illustrates the danger of the freedom that Edna faces: this feeling is new to her, but she has become unused to making decisions for herself.
"A thousand emotions have swept through me to-night. I don't comprehend half of them...." See in text (Chapter X)
Edna tries to explain to Robert all of her newfound emotions, revealing her confusion at the newness of them and her worry that she may never experience them again. These defining moments have awakened her from a life that was dependent, obedient, and passive to one that is full of new life and powerful sensations.
"to feel again the realities pressing into her soul...." See in text (Chapter XI)
Edna’s transformation continues here. We see that she is starting to “awaken” from the dream that was her life as a wife and mother in a marriage formed on practicality and convention. Notice that the inner world of thought and imagination is more “real” than the world of outward appearances. Edna’s inward life is more authentic than the socially acceptable life others perceive from the outside.
" You must come in the house instantly..." See in text (Chapter XI)
Mr. Pontellier has become angry and indignant because his wife will not obey his wishes or entertain his pleas. Consider that during this time men viewed their wives as property, and women were expected to happily obey their husbands. Edna’s refusal to submit to her husband’s commands is a quiet resistance to this sexist domestic expectation.
"His face flushed...." See in text (Chapter XII)
Much of the relationship between Robert and Edna must be read from the details of their exchanges. Their words and actions are not obviously affectionate and certainly not adulterous. However, in details such as this, the reader can determine that Robert is interested in Edna. His face flushes with embarrassment when he suggests that they will squander the hypothetical money together.
"“Do I have to think of everything?—as Léonce says when he's in a bad humor. I don't blame him; he'd never be in a bad humor if it weren't for me.”..." See in text (Chapter XII)
Edna fully challenges the social custom of wives looking up to and honoring their husbands in this sentence. She sarcastically states that she is the source of all of her husband’s “bad humors” in order to flirt with a man who is not her husband. This demonstrates Edna’s liberation from the social order and the awakening of her individuality.
"She was blindly following whatever impulse moved her, as if she had placed herself in alien hands for direction, and freed her soul of responsibility...." See in text (Chapter XII)
The alien hands could be interpreted as her own hands. She is no longer held by the social responsibilities that she has but rather by her burgeoning desires.
"When Edna awoke it was with the conviction that she had slept long and soundly...." See in text (Chapter XIII)
Edna has begun to resist the rules and habits that she previously followed, creating disorder in her life that has provided her with new friendships and experiences. The happiness she feels coupled with her exhaustion from these new activities have given her life a new, dream-like aspect. Notice that Robert is there when she wakes up and how their relationship continues to deepen.
"she was seeing with different eyes..." See in text (Chapter XIV)
Edna knows that she has changed significantly at some point during her vacation at Grand Isle. Notice that her eyes are emphasized again here, in this case, having been figuratively replaced with “different eyes.” The change in Edna’s eyes thus symbolizes her inner transition from asleep to awakened and reborn, in a sense.
"He had gone over to Klein's..." See in text (Chapter XIV)
Although Edna’s transformation has not gone entirely unnoticed by her husband, he does resume “business as usual” rather quickly. Her awakening has been somewhat gradual as she has slowly drifted away from her family and the social expectations that once confined her. Her change ultimately does not affect her family all that much, and her role as mother and wife proves less critical; everyone goes on without her as if nothing has changed.
"The present alone was significant;..." See in text (Chapter XV)
This foreshadows the type of thinking that cause Edna’s misfortune later in the novel. Edna cannot look past her present feelings and cannot learn from past feelings. Her belief that only the present is significant causes her to be consumed by her emotions.
"Edna bit her handkerchief convulsively, striving to hold back and to hide, even from herself as she would have hidden from another, the emotion which was troubling—tearing—her. Her eyes were brimming with tears...." See in text (Chapter XV)
Notice the syntax of this sentence mimics the denial of her feelings. The main idea of the sentence is interrupted multiple times by different clauses to delay the eventual conclusion that she is in love with Robert. For all of her new found independence, Edna still cannot be honest with herself about how she feels.
"“I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself...." See in text (Chapter XVI)
Edna herself admits that this passage lacks clarity. However, based on context and her character development thus far, we can infer that Edna considers her newfound “self,” her independence and individuality, to be essential and not something she would be able to give up. This statement sharply contrasts with the beliefs of the “women who idolized their children” from chapter 4.
"Robert's going had some way taken the brightness, the color, the meaning out of everything...." See in text (Chapter XVI)
Considering how Edna’s awakening has led her away from her dependency on her husband, her feeling that losing Robert makes her life meaningless does not match the “new” Edna we’ve seen. It appears as if she’s shifted from dependency of one kind to another, “contradicting the feminist theme of women’s rights and individuality in the novel". A possible explanation could be that since Edna’s awakening and her budding romance with Robert both take place simultaneously, she has conflated the two in her mind, making them dependent on one another.
"not a mark upon the little glittering circlet...." See in text (Chapter XVII)
Notice that Edna’s attempt to destroy her wedding ring, a symbol of her confining marriage, fails. The ring is completely unscathed, and the symbolism here is clear. Edna has continually succeeded in freeing herself from certain social habits and customs, but she is still bounded by her role as a wife and mother. No matter how much she struggles to gain freedom, she is unable to fully break the rigid confines of her society.
"I was out..." See in text (Chapter XVII)
Edna has thus far given up social conventions in a somewhat subtle manner that has affected her own reality more than others. However, when she completely ignores her Tuesday callers, she is refuting traditional social customs in more obvious ways. Mr. Pontellier reacts with anger and incredulity to this action. He finds it even more striking that Edna ignores the callers without pretending that she did so for any reason other than that she felt like it. This is an open act of defiance to both her husband, and Victorian society.
"to see that nothing was amiss...." See in text (Chapter XVII)
These lines characterize Mr. Pontellier as someone who is extremely concerned with keeping up appearances. He is materialistic and possessive, taking great care in how his home is perceived by others. This also emphasizes his concern with convention, since he is interested in presenting himself in a certain way for others.
"It was not that she dwelt upon details of their acquaintance, or recalled in any special or peculiar way his personality; it was his being, his existence, which dominated her thought, fading sometimes as if it would melt into the mist of the forgotten,..." See in text (Chapter XVIII)
This suggests that Edna has conflated Robert with her awakening. She is not in love with Robert or depending on another man for her happiness, but rather associating him with a time in which she felt free and alive. Robert’s “being” then becomes a representation of her awakening, the mechanism with which she breaks social norms.
"He could see plainly that she was not herself. That is, he could not see that she was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world..." See in text (Chapter XIX)
My. Pontellier’s conclusion that his wife is “not herself” further reveals how little he understands Edna. The narrator clarifies this lack of understanding by sharing how Edna is “becoming herself” by removing the “fictitious self” that she has worn for so many years. This turns the phrase “not herself” on its head and allows the narrator to make an important point: it’s not just Edna; we all wear a "fictitious self" when we go out into the world. However, Edna’s situation is unique in that she is actively disregarding this self when many others wear it unconsciously.
"There were days when she was very happy without knowing why...." See in text (Chapter XIX)
Edna’s awakening has begun to free her from the restraints of marriage and motherhood, but her emotional state is in turmoil. Her despair comes from a perceived lack of purpose, wondering if her life has any meaning. Before her awakening she could identify as a wife and mother, but now that her identity is more fluid and she’s discovering who she really is, she is experiencing anxiety and emptiness.
"Edna was sobbing,..." See in text (Chapter XXI)
Notice that Edna’s feelings for Robert resurface when she is again experiencing an awakening of her soul. She listens to the music that deeply moves her at the same moment that she reads Robert’s letter about her. This coincidence once again signals that Robert symbolizes Edna’s awakening soul.
"To be an artist includes much; one must possess many gifts—absolute gifts—which have not been acquired by one's own effort. And, moreover, to succeed, the artist must possess the courageous soul..." See in text (Chapter XXI)
Mademoiselle Reisz seems to be suggesting that artists must break with social expectations in order to create true art. This offers an explanation as to why this great pianist flouts gender norms. It also may explain why Mademoiselle Reisz tells Edna about the letter from Robert: their relationship openly defies the expectations of a married woman.
"Her laugh consisted of a contortion of the face and all the muscles of the body. She seemed strikingly homely, standing there in the afternoon light. ..." See in text (Chapter XXI)
This description of Mademoiselle Reisz shows that she does not conform to feminine standards of beauty or expectations of how she should act. Mademoiselle Reisz is an example of the kind of woman that Edna thinks she wants to be.
"She won't go to the marriage. She says a wedding is one of the most lamentable spectacles on earth...." See in text (Chapter XXII)
Edna has articulated strong, negative feelings towards marriage and men to her husband, who repeats her refusal to go to the wedding. Rather than trying to understand Edna's position from a personal or a women's-rights perspective, Mr. Pontellier and the doctor believe her to be silly and unstable. Their preferred course of action is to say that she's fickle and wait until her behavior goes back to what they consider to be normal.
" sleek animal waking up in the sun...." See in text (Chapter XXIII)
While the doctor is bewildered by Edna’s transformation and assumes that it must be due to a secret love for another man, the audience is aware that her new “warm and energetic” demeanor is due to her awakening. Now that she has freed herself from the oppressive social conventions, she is able to be the most “lively” version of herself.
"He took the whole matter very seriously..." See in text (Chapter XXIII)
Edna’s father takes her artistry “very seriously,” and remains convinced that it is one of her most “successful achievement[s].” This contrasts Mr. Pontellier who sees Edna’s drawing as a hobby. Consider that during this time, painting and drawing were seen as more masculine activities. Edna is able to shed her role as mother and wife around her father, and to concentrate on pursuits of self-expression that are deemed less feminine.
"She realized that she had neglected her reading, and determined to start anew upon a course of improving studies,..." See in text (Chapter XXIV)
With all her freedom, Edna wants to read more and recommit herself to her studies. This demonstrates Edna’s active mind and desire for knowledge.
"perambulated..." See in text (Chapter XXIV)
“Perambulated” is a verb that means to walk or travel through or around a place or area, especially for pleasure and in a leisurely way. This characterization of Edna’s gait sharply contrasts the presentation of her at the beginning of the scene. She goes from fulfilling her duties as a wife and stubbornly refusing to go to her sister’s wedding to walking leisurely around her property. This shows Edna’s freedom after her husband and children leave.
"A feeling that was unfamiliar but very delicious came over her...." See in text (Chapter XXIV)
This “delicious feeling” could be interpreted as a lack of social expectations or restraints. Without the presence of her children and husband, Edna does not have to play a motherly nor wifely role. She can simply exist and follow her whims freely. The reader should also notice that this feeling is “unfamiliar,” meaning Edna has not experienced freedom in the 28 years she has been alive.
"She did not mean her husband; she was thinking of Robert Lebrun...." See in text (Chapter XXV)
It is significant that Alcée’s kiss sparks in Edna worries of infidelity to Robert, rather than to her husband. Edna holds a unique set of feelings for each of the primary male characters. She feels a societal allegiance to her husband. For Arobin, she feels a sexual attraction that holds little deeper meaning. Her deepest feelings of connection and companionship, however, are reserved for Robert.
"It was not despair; but it seemed to her as if life were passing by, leaving its promise broken and unfulfilled. Yet there were other days when she listened, was led on and deceived by fresh promises which her youth held out to her...." See in text (Chapter XXV)
Edna finds herself in a gray area between despair and promise. She is old enough to have lived through some of life’s disappointments—an unsatisfying marriage, the drudgery of motherhood—but at 28 is young enough to hope that life has more to offer her. Edna’s desire for a more vivid life than the one presented to her by society is one of the book’s main themes.
"“Do? Nothing, except feel glad and happy to be alive.” ..." See in text (Chapter XXVI)
We’ve said earlier that Edna’s feelings for Robert contradict the feminist themes running through the story. In this dialogue, Edna reveals to be infatuated with Robert instead of in love with him. Since an infatuation is an extravagantly foolish or unreasoning passion, we can see more clearly the incongruity between her professed desire to be independent and her dependency on Robert.
"It seems to me if I were young and in love I should never deem a man of ordinary caliber worthy of my devotion.”..." See in text (Chapter XXVI)
Mademoiselle Reisz has never married, and in this section we learn a little why not: she is very particular about men and her own preferences regarding her own time and identity. Her claims here suggest that she sees herself as similar to Edna.
"She was provoked at his having written the apology..." See in text (Chapter XXVI)
Edna’s relationship with Arobin has been brought about by careful manipulation on his part. The letter of apology is another example of his schemes. Edna’s attempts to be independent and strong are somewhat thwarted by Arobin’s words and actions.
"But some way I can't convince myself that I am. I must think about it.”..." See in text (Chapter XXVII)
Edna has come to the realization that she does not wish to be a mother and a wife, and this realization leads her to question whether she is a good person or not. Since society did not give women many options for living an acceptably “good” life other than a life-long marriage and children, Edna’s question makes sense for the time. We know as readers that her decisions have not been made out of ill will or malice, but her question here leads us to wonder whether her actions should deem her “wicked” or not.
"It was the first kiss of her life to which her nature had really responded. It was a flaming torch that kindled desire...." See in text (Chapter XXVII)
Consider that during Victorian times, women were not supposed to be sexual in the way that men were. A woman was expected to get married to a socially acceptable man, and it did not matter if she was physically attracted to him or not. Edna’s awakening is linked to sex. She did not know physical desire until now because she was not attracted to her husband.
"There was a dull pang of regret because it was not the kiss of love which had inflamed her, because it was not love which had held this cup of life to her lips...." See in text (Chapter XXVIII)
Edna’s realization that her awakening was not caused by her love for Robert is surprising. The reader has watched Edna question her circumstances and grow within them before and after Robert was involved in the narrative. It seems rather obvious that Edna’s awakening comes from within her. However, her surprise that love was not the cause of this change demonstrates Edna’s personal constraints: since she has lived within a society that objectifies her, it is hard for her to believe that her identity is not dependent on a man.
"Arobin..." See in text (Chapter XXVIII)
It is interesting that the narrator refers to Edna’s lover only by his last name. Unlike her husband, who is referred to by his proper title “Mr.”, and her true love Robert, who is referred to by his first name, Arobin is only identified by his family’s name. This could be a way in which the narrator depersonalizes Arobin. His function in the book is to be a platform on which Enda can explore her individuality rather than to be a complex character in his own right.
"But she laughed and looked at him with eyes that at once gave him courage to wait and made it torture to wait...." See in text (Chapter XXIX)
As Edna develops more fully into a state of independence, she finds herself less beholden to the needs and desires of men. Through her move into the “pigeon house,” Edna steps away from Mr. Pontellier’s constraints. In this moment, in which she fends off Alcée’s urgent advances, she is similarly standing her own ground.
"Whatever was her own in the house, everything which she had acquired aside from her husband's bounty, she caused to be transported to the other house, supplying simple and meager deficiencies from her own resources...." See in text (Chapter XXIX)
Edna’s move to the new house is symbolic of her desire for complete independence. She has come to see that her financial dependence on Mr. Pontellier, though a gift, represents a kind of imprisonment. Edna’s decision to take action on her desire for freedom marks a significant stage in her growth as a character.
"There came over her the acute longing which always summoned into her spiritual vision the presence of the beloved one..." See in text (Chapter XXX)
Despite Edna’s awakening and freeing herself from the boundaries of societal expectations, she is still not satisfied, believing she has no purpose and no love in her life. She feels "hopelessness" and longs for the “beloved one” (Robert), the man she loves and has lost.
"But as she sat there amid her guests, she felt the old ennui overtaking her;..." See in text (Chapter XXX)
This passage provides another example of internal and external “selves” and the boundaries between them. Externally, Edna is a gracious host completely at ease with her guests. Internally, she is discontent and unhappy. Although freer than she was before, Edna still lacks the love of the man she actually desires.
"But by the time she had regained the city the song no longer echoed in her soul. She was again alone...." See in text (Chapter XXXII)
At first glance Edna’s acknowledgement of her solitude could seem negative. However, the reader should remember that Edna views being alone as an elated form of freedom. This chapter ends with the song of her children fading and Edna in solitude not to demonstrate her loneliness but to show that her children do not define her. Even though she is moved by her children’s company, Edna maintains her independence.
"There was with her a feeling of having descended in the social scale, with a corresponding sense of having risen in the spiritual...." See in text (Chapter XXXII)
Edna’s feelings about the end of her marriage sharply contrast Mr. Pontellier’s perceptions. Mr. Pontellier is doing everything he can to save face in society while Edna is letting go of her social status in order to gain internal contentment. Edna recognizes that she must sacrifice social responsibility in order to grow spiritually.
"There was with her a feeling of having descended in the social scale, with a corresponding sense of having risen in the spiritual. Every step which she took toward relieving herself from obligations added to her strength and expansion as an individual. She began to look with her own eyes; to see and to apprehend the deeper undercurrents of life. ..." See in text (Chapter XXXII)
Edna’s feelings about the end of her marriage sharply contrast Mr. Pontellier’s perceptions. Mr. Pontellier is doing everything he can to save face in society while Edna is letting go of her social status in order to gain internal contentment. Edna recognizes that she must sacrifice social responsibility in order to grow spiritually.
"He hoped she had not acted upon her rash impulse; and he begged her to consider first, foremost, and above all else, what people would say. ..." See in text (Chapter XXXII)
Notice that Mr. Pontellier’s priorities are other people’s opinions of him and his financial stability. He does not seem concerned with the end of his marriage or his wife’s mental state. This reveals the transactional nature of their marriage and Mr. Pontellier’s feelings for Edna: their union is more of a business arrangement and she is more of an object.
"“Mrs. Pontellier, you are cruel,” he said, with feeling, closing his eyes and resting his head back in his chair...." See in text (Chapter XXXIII)
Robert’s final remark points to the mutual, though unspoken, desire he shares with Edna. In the previous two lines of the dialogue, each characters admits to having reminisced about the summer on Grand Isle rather than admit the true nature of the fantasy. Robert maintains this subtext, pointing to Edna’s cruelty and unable to express his desire.
"You seem to act without a certain amount of reflection which is necessary in this life. That is the reason I want to say you mustn't mind if I advise you to be a little careful while you are living here alone...." See in text (Chapter XXXIII)
Mademoiselle Ratignolle represents the societal constraints from which Edna seeks to break free. While Ratignolle’s words bear some truth, her suggestion that Edna “be a little careful” is a coded disapproval of Edna’s actions. Edna reacts with indifference, a sign of her growing independence.
"There were no warm lights in her eyes; only a dreamy, absent look...." See in text (Chapter XXXIV)
Arobin invites Edna to go for a walk and flirts with her, but she refuses him. Robert’s visit has caused Edna to think back on the warmth and depth of their previous romance and friendship, and so she finds that any substitute, like Arobin, is shallow and meaningless. She wants a real romance.
"evidently the handiwork of a woman...." See in text (Chapter XXXIV)
The narrator’s inclusion of “evidently the handiwork of a woman” tips us off on how to read Edna’s lines in the following dialogue. It is quite clear that she is jealous of Robert and the affection other women have shown him. While Edna may have done away with the possessiveness of marriage, she still feels possessive about her love for Robert even to the extent of giving up some of her freedom.
"awaited the consequences with indifference...." See in text (Chapter XXXV)
Now that Edna has freed herself from social conventions, she has also become apathetic, disengaged, and empty. Without a social code to use for guidance, she is lost. Her society offers her no option for locating herself within this new reality, and this leaves behind an enormous void. In cutting herself off from a rigid social reality, she has lost a sense of connection to the world.
"only the promise of excessive joy...." See in text (Chapter XXXV)
Seeing Robert has lightened Edna’s spirits and has allowed her to once again participate in the social world that she had left behind. His presence also inspires Edna to paint again, re-associating Robert with Edna’s self-expression and individuality.
"It was you who awoke me last summer out of a life-long, stupid dream...." See in text (Chapter XXXVI)
Notice that Edna assigns her awakening to her love affair with Robert. In this conception of the relationship, her liberation is the consequence of a man rather than something that came from within her. This is ironic because Edna is trying to shed the patriarchal structure that controls her life. She still cannot see herself as independent from a man.
"His face grew a little white. “What do you mean?” he asked. ..." See in text (Chapter XXXVI)
Robert’s reaction to her words and his fantasies about her husband “releasing” her show that he still considers Edna property even though he loves her. He cannot see her as a liberated woman in charge of her own decisions. Her claims make him uncomfortable.
"“She'll bring you a plate, and you will share my dinner. There's always enough for two—even three.”..." See in text (Chapter XXXVI)
Notice how Edna assumes the authoritative voice of her husband as she speaks to Robert. Edna has stepped into the masculine role in order to control her environment.
" I always feel so sorry for women who don't like to walk; they miss so much—so many rare little glimpses of life; and we women learn so little of life on the whole...." See in text (Chapter XXXVI)
Here, Edna openly challenges the social restraints on women. She also distances herself from the conventional woman in asserting that she likes to walk and see the world. Edna uses this observation to announce her liberation to Robert.
"“Think of the children, Edna. Oh think of the children! Remember them!”..." See in text (Chapter XXXVII)
Adéle’s pleas to Edna speak to the enormous differences in character between the two women. Adéle identifies entirely with her roles in society: as wife, as member of the community, and, most centrally, as mother. She is entirely outward-facing. By contrast, Edna’s thoughts have turned inward. She thinks not “of the children” so much as of her own personal and spiritual development. The novel does not offer a conclusive judgment as to which mode of being is preferable. Edna’s crisis of identity seems inevitable, and yet she suffers greatly in the end for it.
"With an inward agony, with a flaming, outspoken revolt against the ways of Nature, she witnessed the scene of torture...." See in text (Chapter XXXVII)
Once again, the scene makes clear the gap between Edna’s individual development and the demands that capital-N “Nature” places on her, namely as a mother. Having stepped outside the bounds of society and slipped free of her roles as a wife and mother, the scene of childbirth is “torture” to Edna.
"I am not going to ask for your confidence. I will only say that if ever you feel moved to give it to me, perhaps I might help you...." See in text (Chapter XXXVIII)
The two part ways on a hopeful note. The doctor appears to agree with Edna’s perspective and understand her. He offers Edna the chance to work with him to understand and reconcile her newly discovered freedom with the rules of society. Compared to the other men in her life, the doctor reveals himself to be much more willing to listen to Edna’s desires and be helpful on her terms.
"I want to be let alone. Nobody has any right—except children, perhaps—and even then, it seems to me—or it did seem—..." See in text (Chapter XXXVIII)
Edna’s desire for independence should not be read as heartlessness. It’s clear that she does care for her children. The greater issue for her is that she has never had an opportunity to form a worldview independent of the conventions she was raised in and that includes love for family.
"that youth is given up to illusions. It seems to be a provision of Nature; a decoy to secure mothers for the race...." See in text (Chapter XXXVIII)
The doctor suggests that Nature has designed love as a trap in order to ensure that people reproduce. Furthermore, he says that marriage is simply the system humans have built to make Nature’s trap more rational and respectable. He appears to feel authentic compassion for Edna by trying to help provide her with perspective on her feelings.
"“Good-by—because I love you.” He did not know; he did not understand. He would never understand. ..." See in text (Chapter XXXIX)
Edna realizes that just like her husband and everyone else in her social circle, Robert cannot understand her independence. One could read this acknowledgement as the true source of her despondency: she is more upset that her beloved does not truly know her than she is that she cannot be with him.
"There was no human being whom she wanted near her except Robert; and she even realized that the day would come when he, too, and the thought of him would melt out of her existence, leaving her alone. The children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her; who had overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul's slavery for the rest of her days...." See in text (Chapter XXXIX)
Everything that brought her joy before Robert left her —thinking about Robert, being alone, spending time with her children—now feels like a burden or a restriction. Edna’s independence has collapsed with Robert’s leaving, suggesting that she was not as independent as she thought she was.