The novel features women who live their lives in many different ways. Edna is inspired by all of them when she decides to live separately from her family and pursue a career as an artist.
All characters in the story of ‘The Awakening’ are complicated and multifaceted. No one is perfect, something that makes Kate Chopin’s writing incredibly believable and commonly studied for its depictions of life in New Orleans in the Victorian era.
The protagonist of the novel and a married 28-year-old woman to a New Orleans businessman. From the first pages of the novel, Edna’s dissatisfaction with her marriage comes through clearly. It only allows her a limited lifestyle, and she is forced to contend with her husband’s passive-aggressive attacks on her role as a wife and a mother. It is Edna’s “awakenings” that inspired the title of the novel.
After a series of important experiences, Edna’s passive role in her marriage dissipates as she gains a shocking, for the 19th-century, degree of independence. She lives away from her husband and children, which allows her some freedom but also isolates her and leads her to depression.
Léonce Pontellier is Edna’s husband. He’s a businessman who works in New Orleans and is well-liked by everyone. He spends time with his friends and is admired by the wives in town for his giving and caring attitude. Unfortunately for Edna, she’s unable to express to anyone what exactly it is about Léonce that makes her feel so suffocated.
He’s forty years old at the time of the novel and far older than his wife. Throughout much of the book, he is away from his wife and his sons, but when he’s around other people, he always tries to fill the social role of husband and caregiver. He’s upset when Edna tries to step away from her role as wife and mother and shows little to no insight into what she’s feeling.
A highly influential character in ‘The Awakening’ whose disinterest in fulfilling society’s expectations for her inspires Edna’s transformation. She is entirely dedicated to her singular passion, music, and remains unmarried and childless. She represents the independence and freedom that Edna wishes she had had in her life.
She becomes a close companion as Edna tries to change her life, repeatedly reminding her that she is going to have to maintain a strong and defiant soul if she wants to become an artist.
A female character in ‘The Awakening’ who stumbles the ideal woman (by society’s standards) in Edna’s time. She cares for her family and centers her whole life around them, something that Edna realizes she is incapable of doing. She is a foil character who is usually contrasted against Mademoiselle Reisz.
Robert Lebrun is a close friend of Edna’s who is introduced within the first few paragraphs of the novel. Edna eventually falls in love with him, but he has a storied history of falling in love with different women on a regular basis. Unfortunately, his love for her is complicated by his belief in society’s standards for women in the Victorian era.
A womanizer figure in the novel who has a bad reputation for sleeping with married women throughout New Orleans. Edna spends time with him when her true love, Robert, is away in Mexico. Their relationship is a prime example of Edna’s new self-assertion and unwillingness to allow another man to control her.
Doctor Mandelet is the Pontellier family doctor. He’s a smart man who has some insight into what Edna’s feeling and who Léonce consults when he becomes concerned about his wife. The doctor keeps what he knows about Edna’s new lifestyle to himself, knowing that there is little to nothing her husband can do, or should do, to constrain her.
A confederate officer and Edna’s father. He’s a strict man who is devoted to the idea that women should obey their husbands, no matter what the situation is.
Robert’s brother is only known in the novel for running off and chasing women.
Victor and Robert’s widowed mother manage the cottages on Grand Isle.
The Two Lovers
Two characters stay at the cottages in the summer. They represent the kind of love that’s accepted by society.
The Lady in Black
A vacationer on Grand Isle who Live safe in solitude and quiet after her husband passes away. Her solitude, though, is very different from Edna’s.
The Farvival Twins
Two young girls are on vacation with their family. They symbolize how young women were raised during the Victorian period.
A woman who seeks out single men throughout New Orleans.
Janet and Margaret
Edna’s sisters. Margaret took care of her and Jane when their mother died.
A friendly woman who takes Edna in when she feels faint at a church service.
Etienne & Raoul Pontellier
Edna and Léonce’s sons. They are four and five years old.
Who is the antagonist of The Awakening?
While Léonce asserts a degree of negative control over Edna’s life, he’s not the main antagonist of the novel—society is. Throughout the novel, Edna, and other women in her life, are forced to contend with society’s expectations of how they are supposed to live. Defying them comes with costs.
What is the main conflict of The Awakening?
The main conflict comes when Edna decides to live a life separate from her husband and children. Society’s perception of who she is and her value in life declined rapidly. She becomes incredibly isolated, except for a few female friends, and eventually succumbs to her depression.
Who is the protagonist of The Awakening?
The protagonist is Edna Pontellier. She’s a twenty-eight-year-old woman who lives with her husband and two children. She’s smart and feels incredibly confined by the life she’s living, but she doesn’t know how to express herself.