Irony in The Awakening

Irony Examples in The Awakening:

Chapter III 1

"He thought it very discouraging that his wife, who was the sole object of his existence, evinced so little interest in things which concerned him, and valued so little his conversation...."   (Chapter III)

The careful reader will notice the irony in this statement. Mr. Pontellier is disappointed that his wife does not wake up and listen to him talk about his day, when he consistently pays little attention to her life, needs, and interests. The omniscient narrative style of this book allows the reader to see Mr. Pontellier's point of view and notice how narrow this point of view is.

"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...."   (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.

"This may seem like a ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon the soul of a young woman of twenty-eight—perhaps more wisdom than the Holy Ghost is usually pleased to vouchsafe to any woman...."   (Chapter VI)

Here, the narrator assumes that the audience views Edna’s awakening from the standpoint of her patriarchal society: individuality and humanity is a “ponderous weight” for a mere woman. However, the careful reader will notice that Chopin uses this unreliable narrator to point out the ridiculousness of this point of view. The narrator’s comments are ironic and function to prompt the reader to read past what is being said to see the reality of Edna’s situation.

"a marriage with the tragedian..."   (Chapter VII)

A “tragedian” refers to an actor or writer who specializes in performing or writing screenplays for tragedies. It’s a little ironic that the younger Edna would have found bliss with someone who specialized in tragedy, particularly because she chooses someone that she does not love and creates a less fulfilling, tragic situation for herself.

"“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.”..."   (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.

"the Mexicans, who, she considered, were a treacherous people, unscrupulous and revengeful. She trusted she did them no injustice in thus condemning them as a race. She had known personally but one Mexican, who made and sold excellent tamales, and whom she would have trusted implicitly, so softspoken was he. One day he was arrested for stabbing his wife. ..."   (Chapter XV)

Notice the irony within Madame Ratignolle’s racist ideology: she feels justified in condemning an entire race of people based on one bad lived experience with one individual. The reader should find this both abhorrent and comedic. Madame Ratignolle’s outlook ironically makes her just as untrustworthy and despicable as she believes Mexican people to be.

"“I promised...."   (Chapter XXXVI)

Their intimate moment is interrupted by Edna’s social obligation to go to Madame Ratignolle when she gave birth. Even though Edna openly defies gendered customs and claims to be free and independent, she is still bound by her female obligation to her friend. Ironically, it is this obligation that prevents her from fulfilling her adulterous desire for Robert and breaking fully with her identity as Mr. Pontellier’s wife.

"It was you who awoke me last summer out of a life-long, stupid dream...."   (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.