The Awakening

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Edna Pontellier Character Analysis

The novel’s sad heroine, a twenty-eight-year-old housewife and mother of two whose personality blurs and sharpens from minute to minute. The novel chronicles her transformation from a quiet, not entirely content housewife to a spirited, freethinking artist haunted by feelings of aimlessness and despair. Her vacation at Grand Isle precipitates the moment she calls her awakening: a combination of Mademoiselle Reisz’s beautiful music, Robert’s romantic attentions, and an inexplicable deepening of her self-understanding that together cause her to recognize the meaninglessness of most conventions, the deceits and injustices of family life, and the emptiness of her social attachments. With time, she acts more and more freely according to her new convictions: she neglects family responsibilities and superficial social obligations, and she seeks refuge in art and in the company of similarly minded friends. In the end, however, her unhappy love affair and her deeply conflicted desire for total freedom are more than she can bear.

Edna Pontellier Quotes in The Awakening

The The Awakening quotes below are all either spoken by Edna Pontellier or refer to Edna Pontellier. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Convention and Individuality Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of The Awakening published in 1993.
Chapter 1 Quotes

“You are burnt beyond recognition,” he added, looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage.

Related Characters: Léonce Pontellier (speaker), Edna Pontellier
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

Having just returned from a morning at the beach, Edna is met by her husband, who complains that she has let herself get sunburnt. Léonce is not worried about any physical discomfort on Edna's part; rather, he views her as a piece of "property" which he wishes to keep safe and undamaged. Rather than viewing his wife as a person with an independent mind and will, he instead sees her as nothing more than an object. 

From its very beginning, then, The Awakening makes it clear how tethered and claustrophobic Edna's life is. She cannot even spend time out in the sun without being chastised and scolded by her husband. Rather than caring about her inner life, Edna's partner is only concerned with her outward appearance, showing that she is not expected to have desires, values, or beliefs of her own. 

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Chapter 2 Quotes

Mrs. Pontellier’s eyes were quick and bright; they were a yellowish brown, about the color of her hair. She had a way of turning them swiftly upon an object and holding them there as if lost in some inward maze of contemplation and thought. … She was rather handsome than beautiful. Her face was captivating by reason of a certain frankness of expression and a contradictory subtle play of features.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Edna begins the novel hampered and deadened, the narrator still implies that she has an active inner life, describing how when she observes an object, she seems "lost in some inward maze of contemplation and thought." Although the "maze" of her inner life may, at the moment, be unknown to her, Edna clearly possesses hidden depths, however unexplored they may be, and a tendency towards inner reflection. 

Even while providing a hint of Edna's interior state, the narrator also establishes how society sees the main character, noting her eyes, the color of her hair, and the quality of her face. From this description, it is clear to readers that most people value Edna only for her attractiveness. They do not know or care that she has an inner life, instead thinking of her only as a "handsome" and well-mannered woman. 

Chapter 3 Quotes

An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish. It was like a shadow, like a mist passing across her soul’s summer day.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

After an evening with Robert and a scolding from her husband, Edna escapes out onto the porch. Feeling restless without knowing why, she feels "oppression" and "anguish," although she cannot identify the cause. This moment of panic and pain is one of the first pangs of the "awakening" that Edna will experience over the course of the novel. Slowly but surely, she is realizing how confined and claustrophobic her life is. Such thoughts are "unfamiliar" to her because she has suppressed them for her entire life. Yet so strong is the sensation that it soon "fill[s] her whole being." 

This passage is also an example of The Awakening's habit of fusing its narrator with the inner thoughts of its main character (a technique called "free indirect discourse"). Having slipped from recounting external events to describing Edna's internal state, the narrator is able to give readers an inside-out view of the turmoil taking place within the heroine. 

Chapter 6 Quotes

Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

As Edna marvels at her own contradictory impulses, the narrator describes what is happening within her: she is beginning to understand what it means to be a "human being," and to understand how she must relate to her own inner world, and to the world "about her." 

By using such a simple and generalized term—"human being"—the narrator makes clear how barren and deficient Edna's life has been up until now. Told by society and by her husband that she is an object to be possessed and put to use, Edna has not realized that she is, in fact, a subject entitled to feel selfish and capricious desires. 

This passage also makes clear the two worlds in which Edna lives: the outer, and the inner. At this moment, her relationship to both worlds is changing. As she realizes that she may act as a free and independent agent in the outside world, she has also begun to listen to her inner world, which drives her in impulsive and sometimes contradictory directions. 

Chapter 7 Quotes

At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life—that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator turns to Edna's childhood, describing how, from "a very early period," she had understood the difference between inner and outer life. Encouraged by society and family to transform herself into the perfect woman, Edna learned to conform, making herself into the person whom all around her wished her to be. 

At the same time, the young Edna understood that she had a life quite apart from her conformist, external existence: an "inward life." Private and entirely interior, this interior consciousness could question the rules and restrictions imposed on her, even as she outwardly followed them. 

With this passage, the narrator makes clear that Edna has always been observant and thoughtful, however much she has tried to suppress her own questioning and discontent. At the same time, readers can also see how terribly divided Edna is. Although she attempts to put on the mask of a dutiful wife and mother, her inner life desires something far different, and questions her conformist behavior and actions. 

The acme of bliss, which would have been marriage with the tragedian, was not for her in this world. As the devoted wife of a man who worshipped her, she felt she would take her place with a certain dignity in the world of reality, closing the portals forever behind her upon the realm of romance and dreams.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

Turning to Edna's girlhood, the narrator describes a series of infatuations, including one with a famous actor. While still passionately in love with this "tragedian," Edna met her current husband, who flattered her with his devotion, and so won her hand. 

In just a few sentences, the narrator describes Edna's quiet, tragic disillusionment: convinced that she will never marry a man whom she truly loves, she chooses instead to marry a man who worships her. She believes that in doing so, she has moved from the realm of fantasy to the realm of reality, and thinks that her actions are moral and correct.

Although Edna's decision to tun her thoughts away from a hopeless crush on a famous actor may seem rational, it hides a tragic truth beneath it. Convinced that her emotions are meaningless and foolish, Edna has become convinced that actually falling in love with someone who loves her is fantasy—the stuff of "romance and dreams." In other words, she does not believe that true partnership can exist, and so has consigned herself to a marriage without love or true understanding, and to a life of dull realism.

Chapter 10 Quotes

A feeling of exultation overtook her, as if some power of significant import had been given her to control the working of her body and her soul. She grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier
Related Symbols: The Sea
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

For her entire summer on the island, Edna has been attempting to learn to swim, and to conquer her fear of the ocean. At last, she succeeds—and as she does so, she suddenly feels "exultation." Glorying in her own independence and power, she becomes "daring," wanting to "swim far out" despite the fact that she has never swum before in her life.

So confined and constrained is Edna that even this small moment of freedom—being able to swim by herself—is intoxicating, making her feel invincible and powerful. She has lived such a dependent and suffocating life that something as simple as being able to propel herself through the water takes on a revelatory quality.

In this passage, the narrator makes clear both the necessity and the danger of such freedom. While Edna is abruptly happier than she has ever been, she is in no way used to these feelings, or to making decisions for herself. Instead, she becomes "reckless," completely unused to being able to make her own decisions, or determine her own future. 

A thousand emotions have swept through me tonight. I don’t understand half of them… I wonder if I shall ever be stirred again as Mademoiselle Reisz’s playing moved me tonight. I wonder if any night on earth will again be like this one. It is like a night in a dream. The people about me are like some uncanny, half-human beings.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier (speaker), Mademoiselle Reisz
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

Having been deeply moved by Mademoiselle Reisz's piano playing, and then having swum in the ocean by herself for the first time, Edna attempts to explain her emotions to Robert. She is confused, unable to understand the feelings that have "swept" through her. Fearful that she will never feel this way again, she wonders if "any night on earth will again be like this one."

For years, Edna has moved through life like a sleepwalker. She has kept her behavior correct, and her inner thoughts suppressed. However, the music she has heard, her experience in the ocean, and her growing passion for Robert have awakened her. Unused to such powerful sensations as love and freedom, Edna is unable to even identify what exactly she is feeling. So unreal do her experiences and emotions seem to her that she wonders if she is in a "dream."  

Chapter 12 Quotes

She was blindly following whatever impulse moved her, as if she had placed herself in alien hands for direction, and freed her soul from responsibility.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

Having tasted freedom for the first time, Edna now begins to experiment with the sensation. Rather than acting in a responsible and rational manner, she now chooses the reverse, "blindly following" her own impulses and desires, however contradictory or strange they may be. 

Edna is completely unused to freedom. She has spent her marriage doing what her husband says, and spent her entire life doing what society says. As such, she has essentially no experience with self-direction. Now, as she attempts to embrace freedom, she becomes aimless and reckless, so unused is she to making her own decisions or listening to her own inner desires. 

In the midst of awakening, Edna is in a murky and perilous place. Although she has begun to throw off the values of society, she has no values of her own, and so is completely unguided by her own principles and unsure of how to proceed. 

Chapter 17 Quotes

Once she stopped, and taking off her wedding ring, flung it upon the carpet. When she saw it lying there, she stamped her heel upon it, striving to crush it. But the small boot heel did not make an indenture, not a mark upon the little glittering circlet.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

Having fought with her husband about the quality of their dinner and her skill as a housekeeper, Edna grows deeply upset. She feels suffocated by their married life together in New Orleans, yet is unable to escape. Becoming increasingly upset, she approaches something like a tantrum, eventually removing her wedding ring and trying to crush it with her boot; however, she is completely unable to do so.

The symbolism of this passage is clear. Unhappy in her marriage and imprisoned within society's strictures, Edna attempts to destroy the emblem of her marriage: her own wedding ring. She is not strong enough to do so, however, and the ring seems indestructible. Similarly, however much she may struggle for freedom, it is incredibly difficult for Edna to actually escape the role that society has set for her.

This inability to escape has less to do with Edna's lack of strength than with the rigidity of the world around her. In this place and time period, there simply was not room for a woman to be independent, or to have a mind of her own. Edna feels trapped because, in truth, there is simply no place for her new emotions, or for her to seek out a new role for herself. 

Chapter 18 Quotes

She felt no interest in anything about her. The street, the children, the fruit vender, the flowers growing there under her eyes, were all part and parcel of an alien world which had suddenly become antagonistic.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier, Etienne and Raoul Pontellier
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

The day after her tantrum, Edna awakes with a strange discontent and apathy. She is unable to take "interest in anything about her," finding everything that she surveys to be displeasing and "antagonistic." 

As she slowly but surely awakens, Edna's inner and outer worlds are merging. The discontent and anguish that she feels internally has spilled into her outside life, making the world seem harsh, disharmonious, and disgusting.

Of course, the world is indeed unfriendly to Edna's new emotions, and to her desire to be free. Everything around her seems designed to force her back into the role of wife and mother. Newly aware of how claustrophobic and caging her life is, it makes sense that Edna would suddenly view the world around her as "alien." Having never realized before how confining it was, she is now seeing her circumstances with fresh eyes--and she does not like what she sees. Although Edna's awakening may be a necessary one, it is also deeply painful. 

The little glimpse of domestic harmony which had been offered her, gave her no regret, no longing. It was not a condition of life which fitted her, and she could see in it but an appalling and hopeless ennui. She was moved by a kind of commiseration for Madame Ratignolle,—a pity for that colorless existence which never uplifted its possessor beyond the region of blind contentment, in which no moment of anguish ever visited her soul, in which she would never have the taste of life’s delirium.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier, Adèle Ratignolle
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

After dining with Adèle Ratignolle and her husband, Edna reflects on how different their domestic tranquility and harmony is from her own unsettled, discontented life. Having observed how Adèle worshiped and deferred to her husband at every turn, Edna realizes that she does not envy her friend, no matter how content she may seem. In fact, she actually pities Adèle, who (she assumes) will never realize the fullness and richness of life.

Having become increasingly aware of her own suffocating circumstances, Edna now feels pity for other women, such as Adèle, who do not perceive the strictures all around them. Although her new condition is a painful and confusing one, Edna reflects that she would rather experience "anguish" and "delirium" rather than return to the "colorless existence" of a woman like Adèle. She is now choosing Romanticism, with all its flaws, over the practical world of Realism.

Chapter 19 Quotes

He could see plainly that she was not herself. That is, he could not see that she was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier, Léonce Pontellier
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Reflecting on the sudden change in his wife's behavior, Léonce Pontellier concludes that she is "not herself." The narrator reveals, however, what Edna's husband does not understand. By casting off her masks of dutiful wife and mother, Edna is in fact "becoming herself." The narrator describes the process, relating that the main character is removing the "fictitious self" with which all people represent themselves "before the world." 

By wittily turning a common phrase—"not herself"—on its head, the narrator makes a crucial point. Although Edna's behavior may seem strange and off-putting to those who know her, she is actually (for the first time) being true to her own desires, and uniting her inner with her outer self. 

From here, the narrator broadens out. This type of automatic deception is not unique to Edna. Rather, all people clothe themselves in a "fictitious self" when they go out into the world. What makes Edna unique, rather, is that she is doing away with the dishonest mask that most people wear unconsciously. 

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. She could not work on such a day.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

As Edna begins to free herself from the restraints of her life as a wife and mother, her emotions remain in turmoil. Although she neglects the household, choosing instead to paint, she does not always feel happy, longing for her summer with Robert, and indeed falling into depression. During these times (which are described with a surprisingly modern accuracy), she does not even care whether she is dead or alive, thinking life itself to be "a grotesque pandemonium."

Although Edna increasingly neglects the obligations and strictures that made her miserable, her life still has no purpose. Having never before made her own decisions or chosen her own pursuits, she now wonders whether her existence has any meaning at all. The freedom that she sought has led to anxiety and emptiness. Although she is no longer forced into roles that do not fit her, no new employment or sense of fulfillment rises to take their place. Without her jobs as wife and mother, Edna has become a woman without a place, and without an identity. 

Chapter 22 Quotes

She won’t go to the marriage. She says a wedding is one of the most lamentable spectacles on earth.

Related Characters: Léonce Pontellier (speaker), Edna Pontellier
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

Confused by his wife's new rebellious behavior, Léonce Pontellier consults a doctor. When the other man suggests that he send Edna up to her sister's wedding to be among her own family, Léonce replies that she will not go, as she thinks that weddings are "the most lamentable spectacles on earth."

After years of trying to be a dutiful wife and mother, Edna has hurtled headlong in the other direction. She is now convinced that marriage is an evil institution, because it requires women to give up themselves for their husbands. She pities women such as Adèle and her sister, who are still satisfied with the institution of marriage, because she believes that they simply do not see the terrible truth that she does.

Even as Edna articulates these strong negative feelings towards marriage and men, it is shocking how her husband and the doctor treat her pronouncements. Believing her to be a silly, unstable woman, they do not try to understand why Edna is upset, or what she means. Instead, they simply believe her to be fickle, and reassure themselves that her strange behavior will pass with time. 

Chapter 23 Quotes

He observed his hostess attentively from under his shaggy brows, and noted a subtle change which had transformed her from the listless woman he had known into a being who, for the moment, seemed palpitant with the forces of life. Her speech was warm and energetic. There was no repression in her glance or gesture. She reminded him of some beautiful, sleek animal waking up in the sun.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier, Doctor Mandelet
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

The doctor who is Léonte's confidante pays a visit to the Pontelliers, and is shocked by the transformation of Edna. While he remembers her as "listless," he now finds her "energetic" and full of life. Unable to understand the change in Edna, he eventually assumes that she must be in love with another man. 

Although the doctor cannot fathom Edna's transformation, readers know its cause. Even the relatively unobservant doctor notices that Edna resembles a "beautiful animal" who is "waking up" because of the sun. The liveliness and energy that the doctor perceives is, in fact, another symptom of Edna's awakening. Having removed herself from societal expectations, and having at last begun to gratify her own wants and desires, it makes sense that Edna should seem more alive than ever. After suppressing herself for years, she has finally begun to live her life more fully. 

Chapter 27 Quotes

“One of these days,” she said, “I’m going to pull myself together for a while and think—try to determine what character of a woman I am; for, candidly, I don’t know. By all the codes which I am acquainted with, I am a devilishly wicked specimen of the sex. But some way I can’t convince myself that I am.”

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier (speaker)
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

Speaking to Alcée Arobin, who will soon become her lover, Edna wonders aloud whether she is a good woman or a bad woman. She reflects that, based on the "codes" of society, she is "devilishly wicked," but adds that she does not feel wicked. 

Edna's inner life has now come into direct conflict with external expectations. By following her own desires, Edna has slowly come to the realization that she does not want to be a wife to her husband, or a mother to her children. Now, in fact, she stands on the cusp of an affair with a notorious seducer of married women.

Yet though society frowns on this behavior, Edna has now behaved so out of malice, ill will, or immorality. Instead, she is simply attempting to escape the strict limitations that society has placed on her, her behavior, and her thoughts. In being true to herself, it is accurate that she has broken those rules—yet both she and readers alike must wonder whether doing so really makes her "wicked." 

It was the first kiss of her life to which her nature had really responded. It was a flaming torch that kindled desire.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier, Alcée Arobin
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

After a long period of flirtation, Edna and Alcée Arobin, an infamous seducer of married women, finally kiss. As they do so, the narrator relates that it was "the first kiss" of Edna's life "to which her nature had really responded." Readers can infer that Edna has never before kissed a man she was really attracted to, or experienced desire for someone who wanted her in turn.

Edna's spiritual awakening has now become sexual. For the first time, she now knows what it is to want and be wanted--her frozen mental and physical state has melted entirely. The narrator extends this metaphor, explaining that the kiss Edna experiences is "a flaming torch that kindled desire."

After years of resigning herself to marital relations with a husband to whom she was not attracted, this kiss is revelatory for Edna. It teaches her what actual physical desire feels like, and makes her understand what she has been missing up until now. 

Chapter 30 Quotes

But as she sat there amid her guests, she felt the old ennui overtake her; the hopelessness which so often assailed her, which came upon her like an obsession, like something extraneous, independent of volition. … There came over her the acute longing which always summoned into her spiritual vision the presence of the beloved one.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

In order to celebrate moving out of her husband's house, Edna throws herself a glamorous party for her twenty-ninth birthday. Yet though she plays the glamorous and charming hostess, Edna is unhappy. She feels "hopelessness" assail her, and longs to be with Robert, the man she loves and has lost. 

Despite having removed herself from the boundaries of societal norms, Edna remains dissatisfied. She has no purpose in her life, and no one to love. Alcée Arobin has ignited her sexual desire, but she does not feel any emotional attachment to him. Although Edna may be freer than she was before, she still does not have the love of the man she truly wants.

This passage also provides an excellent example of the boundaries of the internal and external. On the outside, Edna is all ease and grace, making her guests feel comfortable at her strange gathering. On the inside, she is full of anguish and discontent, longing for someone who is not present. 

Chapter 32 Quotes

There was with her a feeling of having descended in the social scale, with a corresponding sense of having risen in the spiritual. Every step which she took toward relieving herself from obligations added to her strength and expansion as an individual. She began to look with her own eye: to see and apprehend the deeper undercurrents of life.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator relates Edna's feelings about her new house, which is much smaller and less grand than her husband's dwelling. Edna delights in this descent "in the social scale," believing that it will correspond with a rise "in the spiritual" realm. The more she erases the "obligations" of the social world, she believes, the more she will expand "as an individual." 

With every successive step, Edna is removing herself further and further from societal expectations. She started the book as a rich wife and mother; she is now separated from her children and her husband, lives in a small house, and has taken a lover. All of these changes, Edna believes, will help her find her true self, and to observe "the deeper undercurrents of life."

After years of sacrificing her inner life for external appearances, Edna is now doing the reverse. By distancing herself from every convention to which she once conformed, the Edna hopes to finally become her own person. 

Chapter 35 Quotes

She answered her husband with friendly evasiveness, - not with any fixed design to mislead him, only because all sense of reality had gone out of her life; she had abandoned herself to Fate, and awaited the consequences with indifference.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier, Léonce Pontellier
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:

Having seen Robert, but not fully reconciled with him, Edna falls into a strange sort of apathy. When she writes a letter to her husband, she does not tell him about her life—not because she wants to "mislead him," but because the goings-on around her do not feel real. Instead, Edna has "abandoned herself to Fate." Her attitude toward her existence, now, is one of "indifference."

After her exultation and joy in her own independence, Edna has now found its dark side: purposelessness. She has no place in society, and does not know whether the man she loves will return her affections. With no experience exerting her own autonomy or pursuing her own desires, Edna does not know how to continue. She has cut herself off from all external expectations, but in so doing, she has removed any sense of connection or meaning from her life. 

Chapter 36 Quotes

I always feel so sorry for women who don’t like to walk; they miss so much—so many rare little glimpses of life; and we women learn so little of life on the whole.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier (speaker)
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

Attempting to make innocent conversation with Robert, Edna observes that she pities "women who don't like to walk," because it is one of the few ways that women can learn about life. After all, she comments, "we women learn so little of life on the whole."

This offhand comment shows how disillusioned Edna has truly become, and how distant she feels from all of humanity. She envies men for their freedom, and pities women for their ignorance, believing that only she can see how false and empty their lives really are. Her statement about how "little" women learn is a reference to how confined women's lives are, and how sheltered (and imprisoned) they are by societal expectations imposed on them by men. 

You have been a very, very foolish boy, wasting your time dreaming of impossible things when you speak of Mr. Pontellier setting me free! I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose. If he were to say, ‘Here, Robert, take her and be happy; she is yours,’ I should laugh at you both.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier (speaker), Robert Lebrun, Léonce Pontellier
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

Having finally kissed Edna, Robert explains that he stayed away from her up until now because she was married, and belonged to another man. Edna, however, scoffs at this sentiment. She explains that she is "no longer one of Mr. Pontellier's possessions," and that she may give herself to Robert if she chooses.

This statement truly exemplifies how far Edna has come from the beginning of the book. As the narrative started, Edna quietly accepted the way that her husband treated her like an object. Now, however, she is even laughing at the man she loves, so absurd is the idea of her belonging to her husband.

Even as readers witness how confident Edna is in her autonomy and her freedom, we also begin to sense that Robert might not be as enlightened as our main character. He still thinks of Edna as bound to another man, and does not seem to understand that she now considers herself entirely her own person, responsible to neither her husband nor her children. 

It was you who awoke me last summer out of a life-long, stupid dream.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier (speaker), Robert Lebrun
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

Edna attempts to explain her awakening to Robert, stating that spending time with him made her understand that her life until then had been a "stupid dream." Loving Robert, she implies, was the first desire she ever experienced that was for herself, rather than because society told her to want something. This experience of selfish and uncontrollable desire made her realize that, up until this point, she had suppressed her wishes and impulses in favor of others' expectations and beliefs.

Edna also continues the theme of her life as a wife and mother as a kind of "dream." She has moved so far away from her prior personality that she can now hardly view her past experiences as real. She condemns them, too, calling them "stupid," exemplifying just how much contempt and hatred she feels for the person she once was, and the life she once lived. 

Chapter 37 Quotes

With an inward agony, with a flaming, outspoken revolt against the ways of Nature, she witnessed the scene of torture.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier, Adèle Ratignolle
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

Edna is summoned to Adéle Ratignolle's bedside, where she watches her friend give birth. As she sees the expectant mother's physical anguish, Edna herself feels an "inward agony." She hates "Nature" for imposing such "torture" on women, and internally "revolt[s]" against a world of such pain and unfairness. 

Traditionally, childbirth and motherhood are considered the pinnacles of a woman's life. In reality, however, natural childbirth is a painful and dangerous process, one that unfairly falls entirely to women. Edna feels an internal sense of disgust and injustice, one that makes her despise Nature for forcing women through such an ordeal.

Edna's inner life has now broken from the entire world. She now hates not only society, but also nature itself, and palpably feels the pain and injustice of being a woman in the world. Her love for Robert remains her one last link to the world around her. 

Chapter 39 Quotes

There was no one thing in the world that she desired. There was no human being whom she wanted near her except Robert; and she even realized that the day would come when he, too, and the thought of him would melt out of her existence, leaving her alone. The children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her; who had overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul’s slavery for the rest of her days. But she knew a way to elude them.

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier, Robert Lebrun, Etienne and Raoul Pontellier
Related Symbols: The Sea
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

Despairing and alone, abandoned by Robert and unwilling to return to her family, Edna swims out to sea, where she will soon die. As she comes to her decision, she thinks about Robert—her final link to the world—and realizes that one day she will forget even him. Remembering her children and her love for them, she realizes that returning to them would "drag" her back into a "slavery" to them.

At this moment, Edna truly believes that she has no remaining human connections, and no other choice. She does not love her husband; the man she loves has left her; and although she loves her children, resuming her role as a mother would mean erasing the new self that she has found. Confronted with either eternal emptiness or unending obligation, Edna instead chooses the ultimate freedom: death. In so doing, she will escape the aimless, free life that she has led, while also "elud[ing]" a life spent in devotion to others. 

By presenting these equally hopeless options, the narrator makes clear how the society in which Edna exists has, essentially, killed her. It has made her equally unable to be free and to be tethered. Detached as she is from humanity, and empty as her life is without her lover or her children, she has no other option but to die. 

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Edna Pontellier Character Timeline in The Awakening

The timeline below shows where the character Edna Pontellier appears in The Awakening. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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...perhaps to eat dinner. He invites Robert, but the young man declines in favor of Mrs. Pontellier ’s company. (full context)
Chapter 2
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We learn that Mrs. Pontellier has yellow-brown hair and eyes, which are inward-looking and contemplative. She is lovely and reserved,... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Pontellier comes home late at night and wakes Mrs. Pontellier to tell her about his night. She answers him drowsily, and he takes offense at... (full context)
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By now, Mrs. Pontellier is awake. She cries a little and goes out onto the porch. Suddenly she begins... (full context)
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...later, he sends her an expensive gift of food and wine, as is his habit. Mrs. Pontellier shares the gift with her friends, and they compliment his generosity. Mrs. Pontellier accepts the... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...at Grand Isle, by contrast, are nervous, protective, and self-sacrificing. Adèle Ratignolle, a friend of Mrs. Pontellier ’s, is the epitome of such a woman: beautiful, graceful, and motherly, with small delicate... (full context)
Chapter 5
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As Madame Ratignolle sews, Robert and Mrs. Pontellier chat intimately. Robert has been spending a great deal of time with Mrs. Pontellier this... (full context)
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Robert compliments her drawing, but Mrs. Pontellier does not think much of it. He tries to lay his head on her arm,... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Edna Pontellier wonders why she followed Robert to the beach, though she had not wanted to... (full context)
Chapter 7
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We learn from the narrator that Mrs. Pontellier has always been very private, and has always been aware of the distinction between the... (full context)
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...the widow counting her beads and two lovers talking in blissful ignorance of their surroundings. Edna remembers walking as a child through a meadow in Kentucky, which seemed endless; she still... (full context)
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Edna remembers that she had never had any affectionate friendships; she and her sister often fought,... (full context)
Chapter 8
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On their way from the beach, Madame Ratignolle asks Robert to keep away from Mrs. Pontellier , who, she says, might take his attentions too seriously. Robert brushes her off. They... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...play—the music often creates images in her mind. This time, Mademoiselle Reisz plays a piece Edna calls “Solitude.” Edna responds to the music not with images but with powerful feelings, and... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...convinces the party to go to the beach. The women walk with their husbands, and Edna wonders why Robert doesn’t join her; he hasn’t been spending as much time with her... (full context)
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Robert joins her; Edna describes her overwhelming response to the music and her estrangement from the people around her.... (full context)
Chapter 11
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When he returns from the beach, Pontellier comes to ask his wife to come inside. Edna insists on staying in the hammock, though she usually obeys him in similar situations. He... (full context)
Chapter 12
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Edna sleeps very badly; early that morning, when others are sleeping or in church, she sends... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Edna grows very tired and weak during the service, so she and Robert leave the church... (full context)
Chapter 14
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When she comes home that night with Robert, Edna takes Etienne and Raoul from Madame Ratignolle, who had been watching them, and helps Etienne... (full context)
Chapter 15
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One evening, Edna comes into the dining room to find a noisy discussion: the vacationers are talking about... (full context)
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Edna quickly finishes her dinner and returns to her cottage. She tidies and fusses, changes into... (full context)
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Later still, Robert comes to tell Edna goodbye. Edna talks to him with irritation; he stammers and promises to write her. She... (full context)
Chapter 16
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As she walks to the beach one morning with Mademoiselle Reisz, Edna reflects on her response to Robert’s sudden departure. She thinks of him all the time,... (full context)
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Edna remembers telling Madame Ratignolle in a casual conversation that she would never sacrifice herself for... (full context)
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She talks to Mademoiselle Reisz about Robert on their way to the beach. Edna says that Madame Lebrun must miss her son, but Mlle Reisz answers that she cares... (full context)
Chapter 17
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...home, where Mrs. Pontellier usually receives callers on Tuesday. One Tuesday, however, Pontellier notices that Edna is not wearing her usual Tuesday dress, but an ordinary housedress; she informs her husband... (full context)
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Another night, Edna might have gone in and reproached the cook; tonight, she simply finishes the meal and... (full context)
Chapter 18
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The next morning, Pontellier asks Edna to help him pick out some new fixtures for the house, but she declines. She... (full context)
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Since she is not in the mood to draw, Edna leaves the house to visit Madame Ratignolle. As on most occasions, she thinks a great... (full context)
Chapter 19
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As time passes, Edna feels less and less frustration; she stops taking care of the household and does whatever... (full context)
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As Edna paints, she often thinks of the summer, and she feels something like desire. Some days... (full context)
Chapter 20
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On one of her dark days, Edna decides to go see Mademoiselle Reisz; to find out her address, she visits Madame Lebrun.... (full context)
Chapter 21
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...cramped, untidy attic apartment crowded by a beautiful piano. She is very pleased to see Edna; she did not think Edna would accept her invitation. When Edna learns that Mlle Reisz... (full context)
Chapter 22
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...Mandelet, an old friend who is known for his wisdom. He tells the doctor that Edna has been unwell: she has been acting strangely and ignoring her housewifely duties—she had mentioned... (full context)
Chapter 23
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Edna’s father, referred to as the Colonel, comes to New Orleans to buy a wedding present... (full context)
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When Doctor Mandelet pays them a visit, he finds Edna in a very good mood: she seems free and easy. The Pontelliers, the Colonel, and... (full context)
Chapter 24
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Edna and her father quarrel when Edna refuses to attend her sister’s wedding, and she is... (full context)
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As Pontellier prepares to leave for his prolonged business trip, Edna becomes affectionate and solicitous. But his departure, and the departure of the children gone to... (full context)
Chapter 25
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When it is sunny, Edna enjoys working on her painting, which is becoming more confident. On dark days she visits... (full context)
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Edna knows a great deal about horse racing from her father, so her first time at... (full context)
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...at her house. They talk frankly, and the evening rises to a romantic pitch. When Edna impulsively touches a scar on Arobin’s hand, she becomes uncomfortable and tries to cut the... (full context)
Chapter 26
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Arobin sends her a romantic letter of apology; to downplay its significance, Edna answers as though nothing much had happened between them, and invites him to come look... (full context)
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For peace of mind, Edna often goes to visit Mademoiselle Reisz. One afternoon, Edna tells her friend that she wants... (full context)
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As usual, Edna reads the most recent letter from Robert while Mademoiselle Reisz plays piano. Robert does not... (full context)
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Edna is very happy for the rest of the day. She sends candy to her children... (full context)
Chapter 27
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...bird needing strong wings; Arobin has heard only unpleasant things about the pianist, and wishes Edna would pay attention to him instead. They kiss on the lips for the first time. (full context)
Chapter 28
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Edna cries when Arobin leaves. She feels assailed by her husband in the form of the... (full context)
Chapter 29
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Edna rushes to arrange her move into the smaller house. She moves all her things and... (full context)
Chapter 30
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Out of the eleven invited, nine attend Edna’s party: Arobin, Mademoiselle Reisz, Mrs. Highcamp, Monsieur Ratignolle, Victor Lebrun, and two couples—Mr. and Mrs.... (full context)
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...books eagerly with Gouvernail, who is not very forthcoming. Mrs. Highcamp is fascinated by Victor. Edna is glamorous and queenly, but a familiar vague despair overcomes her for no reason she... (full context)
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...suddenly looks very lovely and statuesque. He begins to sing a French love song to Edna; when she claps her hand over his mouth, he kisses it passionately. Soon, all the... (full context)
Chapter 31
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When they are alone, Edna tells Arobin that she is ready to leave for her new home. She lets him... (full context)
Chapter 32
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Pontellier writes Edna to say that he does not approve of her relocation—he is worried about what his... (full context)
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Soon after the move, Edna goes to visit the children, who are staying in the countryside with Pontellier’s mother. She... (full context)
Chapter 33
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Mademoiselle Reisz is not home one afternoon when Edna comes to visit her, so Edna lets herself in to wait in the living room.... (full context)
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While Edna waits for Mademoiselle Reisz, she plays a song on the piano. Suddenly, Robert comes in.... (full context)
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Robert walks Edna home. He refuses her invitation to dinner, but decides to stay when he sees her... (full context)
Chapter 34
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Edna and Robert talk pleasantly over dinner. Edna asks jealously about an embroidered tobacco pouch Robert... (full context)
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Edna decides not to go to Mrs. Merriman’s card game, and Arobin agrees to mail her... (full context)
Chapter 35
Edna feels a renewed cheerfulness the next morning, and thinks with pleasure of her future friendship... (full context)
Chapter 36
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Edna likes to visit a tiny, little-known café on the edge of town for good coffee... (full context)
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Robert walks Edna home. They come in without a word. Edna leaves for a moment; when she comes... (full context)
Chapter 37
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Edna goes to see Madame Ratignolle, who, it turns out, is about to give birth; she... (full context)
Chapter 38
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Afterwards, Doctor Mandelet walks Edna home. He regrets that she had to be present for the birth, and asks if... (full context)
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...does find a note from him: it says that he left because he loves her. Edna sits up all night, numb and sleepless. (full context)
Chapter 39
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Victor is repairing one of the houses at Grand Isle and telling Mariequita about Edna’s glamorous party. She becomes jealous of Edna, and tells Robert haughtily that she could have... (full context)
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After Robert left that night, Edna sat up thinking about her indifference for the people around her; even Robert, whom she... (full context)
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Edna takes off her bathing suit and stands naked in the open for the first time.... (full context)