The Awakening

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Themes and Colors
Convention and Individuality Theme Icon
Women’s Rights, Femininity, and Motherhood Theme Icon
Realism and Romanticism Theme Icon
Action and Reflection Theme Icon
Freedom and Emptiness Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Awakening, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

A person in the middle or high society of 19th century New Orleans lived by intricate systems of social rules. These largely unspoken rules governed minute details of dress and expression, and prescribed certain behaviors for different social roles: mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, virgins and spinsters all measured against their respective Victorian ideals. Of course, every society in every period has created its own unwritten laws; but The Awakening takes place in a…

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In the social world of New Orleans, femininity was controlled and defined with severity. At every stage of life, a young woman faced myriad rules and prescriptions; a little girl should be A, a teenage girl should be B, an engaged woman C, a young married woman D, a mother E, a widow F, and on and on and on. In 19th century America, when the women’s rights movement was still quite new, conservative states…

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Realism is a perspective that emphasizes facts, surfaces, and life’s practical aspects, and romanticism as a perspective that focuses on emotion, varieties of experience, and the inner life. In Chopin’s novel, realism emerges from a conventional worldview, and romanticism emerges from an individualistic worldview. Pontellier and Madame Ratignolle, who are preoccupied almost exclusively with surfaces—the appearance of a comfortable home, the appearance of a happy family—exemplify realism. Edna and Mademoiselle Reisz, who seek…

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Edna senses a gulf between action and thought, between “the outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions.” She feels more comfortable in the inner life, which she has rediscovered very recently. As she questions her habitual actions, her thoughts often seem separate from her body. Other women in the novel are represented by their hands, which are expressive, which do things. Edna’s central feature is her eyes, which are reflective. She is often…

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Freedom, for Edna, is release from the binding rules and stereotypes of convention, which the narrator compares to an ill-fitting garment. Freedom, for her, is also disengagement from obligation of any kind, including obligations to her husband and children. This desire for radical freedom is what is behind her obsession with the sea, a place of complete solitude and emptiness. As she loses her desire for a connection to others, she gets the…

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