What is the first impression the author gives of Edna Pontellier? Leonce Pontellier?
Why is Mr. Pontellier so enraged at his wife when he thinks Raoul has a fever?
Early in The Awakening, the narrator remarks that Léonce thinks of Edna as “the sole object of his existence.” What evidence does the novel provide to support this declaration?
Why do you think Edna is so drawn to Robert?
What is the importance of the lady in black and of the two lovers at Grand Isle? These characters often appear at the same points in the novel; what is the significance of this pairing?
What is the symbolic meaning of Edna’s first successful attempt to swim? What does the sea symbolize?
The Creole women on Grand Isle are more frank than other women Edna has known, speaking freely about often delicate topics. How does this attitude influence Edna?
What affect does Mademoiselle Reisz’s music have on Edna?
What does Edna’s pursuit of drawing and painting symbolize?
How does the text use clothing and garments (or the lack thereof) to portray Edna’s rebellion against Victorian norms?
Of the many awakenings Edna undergoes in the novel, which are most important to her progress? Which may be considered “rude” or unexpected awakenings?
Explore the implications of the various images of birds in the novel. How do the various species of birds mentioned—parrots, mockingbirds, pigeons—symbolize different ideas?
Throughout the novel, Edna feels caught between the way others see her and the way she sees herself. Identify several moments in which this struggle is apparent. How does the text portray Edna’s growing awareness of these contradicting views?
What kind of mother is Edna? Does she think about the effect of her changed behavior and society’s attitude towards it on her sons?
What do the many different houses in the novel represent? There are the cottage on Grande Isle, Madame Antoine’s house on the island Chênière Caminada, the Pontelliers’ large house in New Orleans, Madame Reisz’s apartment, and the “pigeon house” to which Edna moves.
Some critics view Edna’s suicide at the end of the novel as a failure to complete her escape from convention—an inability to defy society once stripped of the motivation of a man by her side. Others view her suicide as a final awakening, a decision to give herself to the sea in a show of strength and independence that defies social expectation. Which interpretation do you find more compelling, and why?
Could this story have had a happy ending if Robert had defied convention and asked Edna to abandon her family to be with him?
How does the author depict Edna's sense of being suffocated by the cultural restrictions on women in the 19th century? Do you think it is a fair assessment of how women lived during that time?
Are those who chose to live independently without regard to social conventions doomed to lives of solitude?
Is The Awakening a proper title for this novel? If you could name it something else, what would you name it and why?
How would you characterize this novel? Is it a piece of literary romanticism? Realism? Naturalism? Why?
About the author/book
Kate Chopin (1850-1904) wrote two novels and about a hundred short stories in the 1890s (“The Story of an Hour” and “Desirée’s Baby” are among the best-known). Most of her fiction is set among the Creole communities of Louisiana and her best-known work focuses on the lives of sensitive, intelligent women. Chopin’s second and final novel, The Awakening, was published in 1899 at the height of her popularity. Ironically, this work, now regarded as a classic, essentially marked the end of her writing career. Many of Chopin’s earlier works had been accepted despite their controversial subject matter because they appeared to contain narrative reporting rather than critical commentary. An underlying sense of support invaded the generally objective tone of The Awakening, however, and the reading public was shocked by such a sympathetic view toward the actions and emotions of the sexually aware and independent female protagonist.