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.
Action and Reflection Theme Icon

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 looking and observing: her sight is a symptom of her new wakefulness. Action, on the other hand, is often related to artifice—the bustling mothers in the park, the dutiful but bored pianists and dancers at Madame Lebrun’s soirée.

But as Edna becomes more confident in her new identity, her actions express her thoughts and beliefs more faithfully. She abandons many tasks that others expect her to perform, like visiting days and household chores, and spends her time painting and visiting real friends. Her love for Robert, especially, seems to connect the outer and the inner self, but the loss of that love divides them irremediably. After Robert leaves, her love becomes a more generalized desire, and the experience of physical desire without its emotional partner shifts her focus to surfaces once again. By the end of the novel she seems trapped in a strange middle space, a limbo between the inner and the outer life, without the resolve to reenter either.

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Action and Reflection Quotes in The Awakening

Below you will find the important quotes in The Awakening related to the theme of Action and Reflection.
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
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
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
Related Symbols: The Sea
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

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
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
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
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
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
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
Chapter 36 Quotes

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

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier (speaker), Robert Lebrun