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.
Realism and Romanticism Theme Icon

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 out emotional and spiritual experience, exemplify romanticism. Robert, Victor, Arobin and several other characters are more ambiguous, because they switch sometimes from one perspective to the other: Robert, for example, is interested in business and respectability, but he is also sensitive to the magic of a summer night.

Edna herself passes through several phases. Her memories of childhood are mostly image and emotion; but when she decides to marry Pontellier, “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.” Her loveless, practical marriage carries her into realism – a period that coincides with what she remembers as a long sleep, a time when her feelings and thoughts lay dormant. As she awakens, she begins to see the world as through a misty lens. Romance occludes her ordinary vision and sharpens her inward vision. She shows a growing contempt of daily tasks and small pleasures, which she feels chase away some more thrilling and essential aspect of life (art and love are central to this other existence). Eventually, her sense of reality abandons her almost completely; when she can no longer see romance in the people and things that surround her, they become alien and irrelevant, and she withdraws totally into herself.

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Realism and Romanticism Quotes in The Awakening

Below you will find the important quotes in The Awakening related to the theme of Realism and Romanticism.
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. 


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Chapter 7 Quotes

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 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 18 Quotes

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 27 Quotes

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 36 Quotes

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.