The novel is considered to be one of the earliest examples of feminist literature in the United States and was, unfortunately, less than positively received by the literary community when it was published. Chopin, hurt by the public’s reaction, wrote little after the novel’s publication.
The Awakening Spoiler-free Summary
This deeply emotional, early feminist novel by Kate Chopin opens in the late 1800s in Louisiana. The Pontellier family is vacationing over the summer at Grand Isle, a resort community made out of individual cottages overseen as a group.
Edna Pontellier, the protagonist, struggles to find peace of mind, despite the beautiful surroundings and the presence of her family. While all of her female friends admire her husband and the relationship they have, Edna can’t help but feel depressed and deeply emotional about her marriage and family.
She is clearly unsatisfied, and as the novel progresses, she becomes more interested in pursuing her own passions, romantic and sexual relationships, and stepping away from the traditional role women were expected to play in the 19th century. Her separation from society has incredible consequences for her and those around her.
The Awakening Full Summary
Spoiler alert: important details of the novel are revealed below.
The novel opens with a scene in the late 1800s in Grand Isle, a summer holiday resort for the wealthy of New Orleans. The main character Edna is on vacation with her husband and their two young sons. Her husband, Léonce, is preoccupied with his work and friends and leaves her in the evenings with the children. It becomes clear quite quickly that their married life is far from ideal.
Robert Lebrun, a close male friend of Edna’s, is also introduced in the first pages. Edna spends her time trying to be an obedient wife and a good mother to her children, something that her husband fails to recognize. While on vacation, Edna starts to develop feelings for her friend Robert. She learns how to paint and how to swim and spends a great deal of time with her friend Adele. Adele is a good mother and wife, exhibiting characteristics that Edna envies but which she also feels are at odds with her own life.
Edna yearns for independence, which is rare for women in the late 1800s, and begins to spend more time with Robert, developing real feelings for him. Suddenly, Robert leaves for Mexico, something he’d spoken about doing but had never followed through with before. Edna feels depressed without his presence, and her depression sticks around as the family travels back to their home in New Orleans.
She spends more time painting and pursuing her independent interests than filling her duties as a wife. She neglects housework, something her husband sees as troubling. Her husband consults a doctor about her behavior, and Edna starts spending more time with male figures in the community. The doctor tells Edna and her husband that she’s not sick, and he seems to understand her desire for increased independence.
When her husband goes on a trip to New York, Edna spends time with Alcee, a womanizer figure with whom she has sex (and actually enjoys it for the first time in her life).
She’s becoming more confused about her romantic and sexual life and what exactly she wants to do with her newfound independence.
It is around this time that she moves into her own home, away from her husband and her children, committing to a new independence that is going to set her apart from society.
Robert returns from his trip to Mexico, and the two declare their love for one another, with Robert telling her that he wants to marry her. Edna starts to panic at this very dramatic change of circumstances, realizing that beyond all else, she wants to belong to herself. She’s not interested in entering into another marriage. Edna departs the conversation to visit her friend Adele, who is having her child, and asks Robert to finish their conversation later.
She returns, and she finds Robert gone, and in his place, a note declaring his love and the fact that he needs to leave her because of it. Still dealing with her depression, which has been on the rise since her split from her family and ostracism from society, Edna returns to Grand Isle.
There, she contemplates her feelings of loneliness and how she can possibly exist outside the traditions of family and marriage. She decides, despite knowing that it’s not a good idea, to go swimming in the ocean. She swims far from shore, noting how weak her legs and arms are becoming. She contemplates her life and her intimate and affectionate relationships and presumably drowns.
What is The Awakening about?
‘The Awakening’ is an early feminist novel that describes a 19th-century woman, Edna Pontellier, who struggles with her role as wife and mother and what society expects of her more generally.
What is the main point of The Awakening?
The main point of ‘The Awakening’ is that women in the 19th century and beyond were expected to conform to a set of social norms that were incredibly restrictive and harshly controlled what women were allowed to do and feel.
What are the themes of The Awakening?
The main themes of ‘The Awakening‘ are independence, women’s rights, and social norms. The author combines these themes in the story of Edna Pontellier, a 19th-century woman in a less-than-ideal marriage.
What happens at the end of The Awakening?
Sadly, at the end of ‘The Awakening,’ Edna decides to swim in the freezing waters off the coast of Grand Isle and grows too weak to swim any further, presumably drowning.