About the Book

Book Protagonist: Edna Pontellier
Publication Date: 1899
Genre: Coming of Age, Novella


The Awakening

By Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin’s 'The Awakening' is an emotional novel that’s beautifully written. It’s filled with stunning quotes about what life was like for women in the 19th century and particularly the protagonist’s struggle to come to terms with what she wants from life. 

Although Chopin’s ‘The Awakening’ was not well-received when it was published in 1899, today, it’s considered to be one of the most important American, early feminist novels. It describes a woman’s quest to find happiness while struggling with an unhappy marriage and the rules society imposes on women. She takes risks to find love and pursue her passions while she becomes a societal outcast, eventually forced into an emotional spiral that ends in sorrow. 

The Sea 

The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in abysses of solitude.

This beautiful quote from The Awakening’ describes Edna’s feelings about the ocean and how tempting it is to give oneself over to it. Readers who have finished novel will know that she can eventually resist its pull and wanders into its waters, presumably drowning after swimming too far from shore. 

The sea represents possibilities, peace, and eventually death as the novel progresses. The quote also alludes to Edna’s struggles with feelings of solitude and loneliness. She wants to escape from her confining marital life, but when she does so, she’s more alone than ever. 

She turned her face seaward to gather in an impression of space and solitude, which the vast expanse of water, meeting and melting with the moonlit sky, conveyed to her excited fancy. As she swam she seemed to be reaching out for the unlimited in which to lose herself.

These lines come near the novel’s end when Edna is swimming out into the ocean. She’s not thinking about the consequences of her actions (or perhaps she is in the back of her mind). Instead, she’s freeing herself to swim into the “vast expanse of water” and lose herself within it. She wanted to let go of her identity (the false and the real) and find peace within the sea. 


She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.

Here, the author describes the changes that slowly came over Edna as she stepped away from her life as a mother and wife. She took off the role that society made for her like a piece of clothing. It was hiding who she really was, creating a “fictitious self” to present to the world. Edna’s desire to live more honestly and happily is a powerful one, but not one that her contemporary society was ready to accept. Although she’s not the only woman seeking out a different kind of life, her bravery only brings her so far before feelings of solitude and helplessness take over.

Even as a child she had lived her own small life within herself. At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life – that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions.

This quote alludes to Edna’s youth and how, since she was a little girl, she understood that there was a certain duality to life, at least for women. One appeared one way while feeling and questioning on the inside. That questioning wasn’t allowed to escape into the world. 


There were days when she was very happy without knowing why. She was happy to be alive and breathing, when her whole being seemed to be one with the sunlight, the color, the odors, the luxuriant warmth of some perfect Southern day. She liked then to wander alone into strange and unfamiliar places. She discovered many a sunny, sleepy corner, fashioned to dream in. And she found it good to dream and to be alone and unmolested.

This beautiful, lighthearted quote represents Edna’s happiest periods. In these times, she was able to set aside the worries that plagued her throughout much of her life and enjoy what she had. She could take pleasure in walking alone to “strange and unfamiliar places” and enjoying the beauty of nature. It was fine, at these times, to “dream and to be alone and unmolested.” But, there is a second half to this quote that reveals how Edna feels the rest of the time. It reads:

There were days when she was unhappy, she did not know why—when it did not seem worth while to be glad or sorry, to be alive or dead; when life appeared to her like a grotesque pandemonium and humanity like worms struggling blindly toward inevitable annihilation.

There were also days, Chopin writes, when Edna was “unhappy” and didn’t understand why. It wasn’t clear to her at the time why one day should be different from the rest. On those days of depression, she didn’t feel “glad or sorry, to be alive or dead.” Life was nothing more than “worms struggling blindly toward inevitable annihilation.” She felt that life was purposeless and there was nothing one could do, positively or negatively, to change that.

It was not despair, but it seemed to her as if life were passing by, leaving its promises broken and unfulfilled. Yet there were other days when she listened, was led on and deceived by fresh promises which her youth had held out to her.

In this short quote, Kate Chopin writes about how Edna lived from day to day. Life was not always filled with the hope of youth, but sometimes she could tap into it and feel the promises again that “her youth had held out to her.” Her life and understanding of the world’s realities had not yet entirely killed off her hopes for herself. It’s this lingering hope that gives her the strength to leave her family and pursue a life independent from them. 


What is an important quote from The Awakening

An important quote from ‘The Awakening’ is, “The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in abysses of solitude.”

What is the conclusion of The Awakening

The Awakening concludes with Edna returning to the sea where the novel began (on Grand Isle) and swimming out into the cold water (water that should’ve been far too cold to swim in). Although Chopin doesn’t say it explicitly, the novel ends with the assumption that Edna drowned. 

Who is the antagonist of The Awakening

The antagonist of this moving novel is society itself. While there are characters in ‘The Awakening’ who exert a negative influence on Edna or with whom she butts heads, its society as a whole that is the toughest to deal with. 

What is the main theme of The Awakening

The main theme of this novel is women’s rights and women’s strength. Edna pursues her own identity part of the way through the novel, one that does not revolve around her husband or her children. This is something that society looks down on and which she is ostracized because of. 

Emma Baldwin
About Emma Baldwin
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues on Book Analysis.
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