The Awakening

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Women’s Rights, Femininity, and Motherhood Theme Analysis

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.
Women’s Rights, Femininity, and Motherhood Theme Icon

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 like Louisiana granted women very few rights. Women could not vote, hold property, or (in most cases) file for divorce. And, in addition, there was a social world of more intangible restrictions: women should not be too warm or too cold, should not expose themselves to sun or to wind, should fear dirt, physical exertion, violence, vice, confusion and darkness of every kind; women should desire marriage above all else, but they should merely tolerate sex; the list seems never-ending.

In the early chapters of the novel, it becomes apparent to Edna that society considers her a possession of her husband’s and a willing, even happy, slave to her children. As the ocean and her realization of her desires through her budding love for Robert grow within her, she rejects these roles. She begins to notice some of the more intangible rules, as well. She distinguishes between two models of femininity: externalized femininity, where nothing is hidden, which is characterized by perfection, delicacy, purity; and internalized femininity, which is thoughtful, strong, contradictory, and chaotic.

The eccentric Mademoiselle Reisz is an outlier to this model, because in society’s eyes her spinsterhood strips her of her femininity. By the end of the novel Edna comes to doubt the harsh, moralizing oppositions of Victorian femininity. She is neither exposed nor hidden, neither shy nor outgoing, neither dirty nor clean, neither bad nor good; like Mademoiselle Reisz, she sees herself as existing outside the roles society has defined for her. And, as an outsider, she sees no role or world for herself.

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Women’s Rights, Femininity, and Motherhood Quotes in The Awakening

Below you will find the important quotes in The Awakening related to the theme of Women’s Rights, Femininity, and Motherhood.
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
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 4 Quotes

They were women who idolized their children, worshipped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.

Related Characters: Adèle Ratignolle
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

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 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
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
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
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
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 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 m a devilishly wicked specimen of the sex. But some way I can’t convince myself that I am.”

Related Characters: Edna Pontellier (speaker)

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
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)

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
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
Chapter 38 Quotes

The trouble is… that youth is given up to illusions. It seems to be a provision of Nature; a decoy to secure mothers for the race. And Nature takes no account of moral consequences, of arbitrary conditions which we create, and which we feel obliged to maintain at any cost.

Related Characters: Doctor Mandelet (speaker), Edna Pontellier
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.