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.
Realism and Romanticism ThemeTracker
Realism and Romanticism Quotes in The Awakening
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was the first kiss of her life to which her nature had really responded. It was a flaming torch that kindled desire.
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.
It was you who awoke me last summer out of a life-long, stupid dream.