Reading Pointers for Sharper Insights

  1. In order to fully grasp the literary significance and beauty of The Awakening, we need to first explore some of the traditional symbols Chopin uses.

  2. As you read the novel, consider how and where the theme of self-expression arises. In this regard, also note the implications that the expression and the hiding of self have, not only on Edna, but on those around her as well.

  3. Edna learns three “languages” in the course of the novel. Consider each of these new modes of expression and how each adds to her development as an independent woman. Note the learning of the communication amongst Creole women on Grand Isle, the acceptance and development of Edna's talent in art (and the new vocabulary that is associated with it), and Edna's adoption of the language of love and passion as her affairs with Robert and Alcée develop.

  4. As Edna's tale unfolds, she travels and lives in a number of different houses. From the cottage on Grand Isle, to Madame Antoine's home on Cheniere Caminada, to her very own “pigeon house,” Edna's residences often reflect her development as a character and as a woman. Consider the ways in which Edna's houses are symbolic reflections marking her journey through life.

  5. The image of a bird is frequently alluded to in The Awakening. As the novel progresses, note mention of the various birds in the story. What do you think these flying creatures may symbolize? How do the descriptions of the birds later come to parallel the life of Edna Pontillier?

  6. As you read the novel, consider the narrator and the tone of the story. Is the narrator an objective voice, or does it sometimes reveal a bias toward Edna? Does the tone of the novel remain consistent throughout, or does it reflect the changes Edna encounters?

  7. Consider the title of the novel, The Awakening. Who is experiencing the awakening in the novel? Is it Edna? Robert? Alcée? Is there perhaps more than one awakening? If so, is there a major awakening (i.e., a clear climax)?

  8. A sub-plot of the novel involves Edna's attempts at learning to swim. What do you think is the symbolic meaning behind these attempts? Consider the descriptions offered of Edna as she heads to the beach for her first lesson and her final swim. What does the narrator's language reveal about Edna as a person?

  9. Consider the frequent descriptions of clothing and garments throughout the novel. Think about the ways in which Edna's response to her clothing may reflect an inner desire to break from the constructs of the Victorian Era. In what ways can she be seen as rebelling against society by challenging the traditional norms of clothing?