Kate Chopin's The Awakening, published in 1899, caused a critical furor that ended her literary career. Readers were shocked not only by the portrayal of a young woman in rebellion against her husband, but also by the novella's frank treatment of sexuality and the protagonist's love for a younger man. Most of this short tale is told from the point of view of Edna Pontellier, the young wife, with the narrator providing occasional clarification. The effect of this limited point of view is impressionistic; that is, it presents subjective impressions rather than objective reality. The most prominent motif, or recurring thematic element, is of "awakening," an idea whose representation punctuates the novella.
In chapter one, Leonce Pontellier is at the summer colony of Grand Isle to visit his wife and two children for the weekend. He departs for the evening to spend time gambling and socializing with other men of his class, leaving Edna in the company of young Robert Lebrun. The "utter nonsense" of the conversation between Lebrun and Mrs. Pontellier bores him Mr. Pontellier is a study in both complacency and impatience: Edna returns from the beach with a sunburn and he is disturbed that this "valuable piece of personal property [had] suffered some damage." He views Edna as his property and is comfortable with that relationship.
The atmosphere is languorous on the porch where Robert Lebrun and Edna Pontellier sit and talk during the summer afternoon (chapter two). They are well matched, both young and eager to talk about themselves, yet interested in each other's stories.
The "awakening" motif first surfaces in chapter three, when Mr. Pontellier returns from dinner late in the evening and wakes Edna to tell her "anecdotes and bits of news and gossip that he had gathered during the day." He is discouraged that his wife, "the sole object of his existence," is too tired to be interested. In "a monotonous, insistent way" he reproaches Edna for her "habitual neglect of the children," claiming that one of the sleeping boys has a fever. She refuses to respond to her husband's interrogation; he finishes his cigar and falls asleep immediately. But Edna is wide awake. The contrast between the "tacit and self-understood" kindness of her husband and the "indescribable oppression" of their marriage "fill[s] her whole being with a vague anguish."
Chapter four focuses on Mr. Pontellier's vague dissatisfaction with his wife: "It was something which he felt rather than perceived, and he never voiced the feeling without subsequent regret and ample atonement," as displayed in chapter three. Edna is not a "mother-woman," like the others who summer at Grand Isle, those who "idolized their children, worshipped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels." The tone of this description is both the sarcastic observation of the narrator and the heartfelt sentiment of Mr. Pontellier. Madame Ratignolle is one such woman whom Leonce Pontellier deems "the embodiment of every womanly grace and charm." Frankness and familiarity, or "freedom of expression," are characteristic of the conversations conducted among the summer colony guests but alien to Edna's northern background. Vivid in her memory is the shock of hearing Madame Ratignolle relate the "harrowing story of one of her accouchements" (birthings) to a male guest. A narrative tension, or conflict, develops throughout the story between Edna's habitual reserve and the "freedom of expression" of the Creole culture into which she has married. This tension foreshadows and constructs the terms of her suicide.
Robert Lebrun's position in the summer colony society is clarified in chapter five. Each summer he attaches himself to a woman guest—usually married—that he fancies. This summer he is the "devoted attendant" of Mrs. Pontellier. They share an "advanced stage of intimacy and camaraderie," sitting among the women on the porch on the summer afternoon. With mock seriousness, Robert mournfully comments on Madame Ratignolle's cold cruelty to one who had adored her the summer before. She recalls that he was "a troublesome cat," while he compares himself to "an adoring dog." More to the point, she claims that her husband might have become jealous. All laugh because, as both the narrator and Edna understand, "the Creole husband is never jealous; with him the gangrene passion ... has become dwarfed by disuse." Edna sketches Madame Ratignolle, who is "seated there like some sensuous Madonna, with the gleam of the fading day enriching her splendid color." As a likeness, her portrait of Madame Ratignolle is a failure, and Edna crumples it in her hands, an act significant in two ways. Her work emerges as untutored and inept. The act also suggests that, although the likeness fails in one sense, in another way the work may have succeeded as an impressionistic image. As yet, Edna has no knowledge or referents by which to define either her art or herself.
Chapter six is a brief psychological sketch of Edna's moment of awakening to "her position in the universe as a human being, [recognizing] her relations as an individual to the world within and about her." She is twenty-eight years old and at "the beginning of things." The "voice of the sea" is seductive to her, its touch like a "sensuous ... close embrace." This is a disturbing and dangerous point for Edna, and her "contradictory impulses" mirror the contradictory outcomes possible from this place of beginning: She may gain wisdom, or she may perish.
Edna's relationship with Adele Ratignolle is the subject of chapter seven. Edna, with her "sensuous susceptibility to beauty" is attracted by the physical charm and personality of this Creole woman. In the heat of the afternoon, they sit together on the beach, Edna fanning her companion and contemplatively watching the sea. Adele asks what she is thinking, and Edna makes an effort to respond to what is only a rhetorical question. Adele protests that it is "really too hot to think, especially to think about thinking " Edna confides in Madame Ratignolle that the sea reminds her of herself as a young girl, "walking through the green meadow again; idly, aimlessly, unthinking and unguided." Like a "first breath of freedom" Edna feels "intoxicated" as she reveals a small portion of her feelings to Madame Ratignolle. Adele seems sympathetic, holding Edna's hand "firmly and warmly" and stroking it "fondly." The physical affection startles Edna, who is unaccustomed to such displays of warmth. Her girlhood infatuations with young men had been distant, cerebral; her friendships with women have been earnest, her female acquaintances as "self-contained" as she. On her desk is a framed picture of an actor, a tragedian, which she sometimes kisses passionately when alone.
Madame Ratignolle warns Robert of a potential threat or danger she perceives in Edna (chapter eight): "She is not one of us; she is not like us. She might make the unfortunate blunder of taking you seriously." Chastened by this warning, Robert assures Madame Ratignolle that there is "no earthly possibility" Edna Pontellier will ever take him seriously. Impressionistic authorial intrusions describe the atmosphere of the scene, as in the satirical description of Madame Lebrun at her sewing machine: "A little black girl sat on the floor, and with her hands worked the treadle of the machine. The Creole woman does not take any chances which may be avoided of imperiling her health."
A few weeks after Robert's conversation with Madame Ratignolle, the families gather for dinner and casual entertainment (chapter nine). The scene is hectic and the atmosphere domestic and indulgent. After the children are sent to bed, Robert asks Edna if she would like to hear Mademoiselle Reisz play the piano. The introduction of this character, a well-known concert pianist and a guest with whom Edna is apparently acquainted, emphasizes Edna's self- containment and the reader's always limited knowledge of her. Mademoiselle Reisz agrees to play for the guests only because she likes Edna. We know only that Edna is "very fond of music" and that she "sometimes liked to sit in the room of mornings when Madame Ratignolle played or practiced." How this has earned Mademoiselle Reisz's affection remains a mystery. Edna is deeply affected by Mademoiselle Reisz's artistry. Although it "was not the first time she had heard an artist at the piano Merhaps it was the first time she was ready, perhaps the first time her being was tempered to take an impress of the abiding truth." The meaning of this may seem as obscure to the reader as it is to Edna.
After the party the Pontelliers, the Ratignolles, and Robert Lebrun walk to the beach for a late-night swim (chapter ten). Edna has been taking swimming instruction all summer, without success. The water has terrified her, until now. On this evening, she swims "like a little tottering, stumbling, clutching child, who of a sudden realizes its powers, and walks for the first time alone, boldly and with over-confidence." She has a sudden desire to swim "far out, where no woman had swum before." The "space and solitude" of the gulf seem to enchant her, offering a place in which she might lose or transcend herself. For a moment, she is terrified by a "quick vision of death" that seems to kill her "soul." Afterward, she walks back to the house alone. Madame Lebrun later remarks to Mr. Pontellier that his wife seems "capricious." He agrees that she is, but only "sometimes, not often."
Robert overtakes Edna and she confides in him that this night has seemed "like a night in a dream," that "[t]here must be spirits abroad to-night." Robert whispers to her that there are indeed spirits abroad, that on this date, at this time, "a spirit that has haunted these shores for ages rises up from the Gulf.... [to] seek one mortal to hold him company ... [and] to-night he found Mrs. Pontellier." Edna is wounded by his banter, but "he could not tell her that he had penetrated her mood and understood." They reach the house where Edna rests in a hammock. Robert sits on the stairs near her and smokes a cigarette. Neither speak, but both are moved by the "first-felt throbbings of desire."
In chapter eleven, an incident occurs between Mr. and Mrs. Pontellier that mirrors and contrasts the scene of companionable silence between Edna and Robert that marked the preceding chapter. The motif of awakening is thus juxtaposed with the power of unconsciousness, represented by the overwhelming need for sleep. Edna refuses to leave the hammock and come to bed, as her husband insists. She recognizes that "her will had blazed up, stubborn and resistant," but at the same time, she feels "like one who awakens gradually out of a dream, a delicious, grotesque, impossible dream, to feel again the realities pressing into her soul." Leonce draws up a rocker near her and smokes a cigar. At last overcome by the need for sleep, Edna enters the house, pausing to ask her husband if he will follow. "Just as soon as I have finished my cigar," he responds.
After a "troubled and feverish sleep" Edna wakes early, moved by vague impulses, "as if she had placed herself in alien hands for direction, and freed her soul of responsibility." Impressionistic images of the day heighten the effect of Edna's disturbing dreams. Lovers stroll to meet the boat to the Cheniere Caminada, to attend Mass. A "lady in black, with her Sunday prayer-book, velvet and gold-clasped, and her Sunday silver beads" follows them. Monsieur Farival, in a straw hat, follows the lady in black, and a "young barefooted Spanish girl, with a red kerchief and a basket, follows Monsieur Farival." The "little negro girl who worked Madame Lebrun's sewing-machine" sweeps the gallery; Edna sends the girl to awaken Robert, to tell him to meet her. She has never requested his presence before; she "had never seemed to want him before." Mariequita, the Spanish girl, jealously asks Robert if Mrs. Pontellier is his "sweetheart." She is unimpressed to learn that she is "a married lady, and has two children." She knows of a man who ran away with another man's wife.
Edna finds the atmosphere of the church at Cheniere Caminada oppressive (chapter thirteen). She leaves the Mass, and Robert follows her, provoking some gossip among those who remain. He takes her to rest at the cottage of Madame Antoine. Sensuous images convey connotations of beauty and strangeness: "the voice of the sea whispering through the reeds," a "jagged fence made of sea-drift," a "mild-faced Acadian" boy draws water for her that is "cool to her heated face." She notices, for the first time, the "fine, firm quality and texture of her flesh." She sleeps and wakes refreshed and "very hungry." She tears a piece of bread from a loaf "with her strong, white teeth" and downs a glass of wine. She goes "softly out of doors," plucks an orange from a tree, and tosses it at Robert, who did not know that she had awakened. The rest of the party had returned to Grand Isle hours before, but Robert reassures her that Leorice will not worry, since "he knows you are with me." As night commences, Edna and Robert sit in the grass as Madame Antoine tells them stories. Symbols of the world they have left behind and harbingers of the choice Edna will make for herself, the shadows "lengthened and crept out like stealthy, grotesque monsters across the grass."
On their return from Cheniere Caminada (chapter fourteen), as Edna waits for her husband to arrive from the hotel, she thinks about a song she and Robert sang as they crossed the bay: "The voice, the notes, the whole refrain haun[t] her memory."
In chapter fifteen, Edna is stunned to discover that Robert is leaving for Mexico. He insists, unconvincingly, that this has been his desire for many years. Edna concludes that she is suffering again from "the symptoms of infatuation which she had felt incipiently as a child ... and later as a young woman." With Robert's departure, she is being "denied that which her impassioned, newly awakened being demanded." What "that" is seems as vague and as fantastic as Robert's fanciful stories.
With Robert gone and the summer at Grand Isle nearly over (chapter sixteen), Edna finds her "only real pleasurable moments" in swimming. In a heated conversation with a baffled Madame Ratignolle, she attempts to define her newly awakened sense of self: "I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself. I can't make it more clear; it's only something which I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me." This declaration will also mark the paradox of her ultimate awakening, her suicide.
In chapter sixteen, Mademoiselle Reisz emerges as one image of the life possible for a single woman of artistic sensibility at the turn of the twentieth century. She mirrors and distorts Edna's emerging vision of selfhood. Although she warms to Edna, she is a disagreeable and solitary figure. Her aversion to swimming symbolizes the way she is different in temperament from Edna. She is also a malicious gossip who nonetheless satisfies Edna's need to talk about Robert, no matter the subject.
In the six years that the Pontelliers have been married, Edna has "religiously followed" a social schedule centered in their "charming" and "conventional" home in New Orleans (chapter seventeen). Mr. Pontellier is "very fond of walking about his house examining its various appointments and details, to see that nothing was amiss. He greatly valued his possessions, chiefly because they were his." Edna is one of these possessions, and Leonce is unhappy with her household management; the dinner displeases him and, as has happened often before, he leaves for "the club." In the past, these familiar scenes caused her regret and a belated rebuke to the cook. This evening, however, Edna is enraged; she smashes a vase and throws her wedding ring to the floor, attempting to crush it under her heel. The alarmed maid enters and picks up the ring, which Edna slips back on her finger without comment.
The morning brings no change in her mood (chapter eighteen). Edna no longer has any interest in her home, her children, or her surroundings. They are "all part and parcel of an alien world which had suddenly become antagonistic." Edna gathers her best sketches to bring to Madame Ratignolle, still her most intimate friend. The beautiful and efficient Madame Ratignolle looks at Edna's drawings and proclaims that her "talent is immense." Although Edna knows that her friend's opinion is "next to valueless," she wants her praise and encouragement. Edna had hoped to find comfort and reassurance amidst the "domestic harmony" of the Ratignolle household but is instead depressed after she leaves. Unlike Adele, Edna feels consumed by "life's delirium."
By chapter nineteen, Edna has abandoned both household management and emotional outbursts, "going and coming as it suited her fancy, and, so far as she was able, lending herself to any passing caprice." The sense of her growing independence, though, is tempered by the knowledge that a penalty will be exacted for this freedom. Leone suspects that she might be "growing a little unbalanced mentally." Paradoxically, the less Edna seems to be "herself" in his eyes the more she is "becoming herself." Her mood alternates between happiness at simply being alive and depression, "when life appeared to her like a grotesque pandemonium and humanity like worms struggling blindly toward inevitable annihilation."
Later, Edna is determined to visit Mademoiselle Reisz, to hear her play the piano (chapter twenty). Edna must see Madame Lebrun to find Mademoiselle Reisz's address. Madame Lebrun shares Robert's letters from Vera Cruz and Mexico City, but Edna is "despondent" that she can detect no message to herself in them. She departs with Mademoiselle Reisz's address; Madame Lebrun and Victor remark to each other how beautiful Edna looks. In some way, Victor observes, "she doesn't seem like the same woman."
Mademoiselle Reisz lives in a small apartment crowded by a "magnificent piano" and little else. The "strikingly homely" musician is delighted to see Edna (chapter twenty-one), laughing with "a contortion of the face and all the muscles of the body." Edna is amazed when Mademoiselle Reisz reveals that she has received a letter from Robert that is "nothing but Mrs. Pontellier from beginning to end." Robert has told Mademoiselle Reisz to play for Edna his favorite piece, the Impromptu of Chopin (a small joke, most likely, on the author's part).
Leonce Pontellier consults the family physician, Doctor Mandelet, about Edna (chapter twenty-two). "She's got some sort of notion in her head concerning the eternal rights of women; and—you understand—we meet in the morning at the breakfast table." Until this point in the story, Edna's struggle has been internal, psychological. In this chapter, Chopin attempts to supply a more obvious social and political frame for Edna's distress. The doctor responds accordingly, "[Hjas she been associating of late with a circle of pseudo-intellectual women—super-spiritual superior beings? My wife has been telling me about them." Edna's altered perceptions cannot be so easily diagnosed, however. She associates with no one. "[S]he goes tramping about by herself . . . getting in after dark," Leonce replies, "I tell you she's peculiar. I don't like it." The doctor advises him to leave Edna alone, that this may be just "some passing whim." A woman, he adds, is "a very peculiar and delicate organism." The doctor privately suspects that another man may be the source of Edna's behavior.
Edna's father, the Colonel, comes to New Orleans to buy a wedding gift for his other daughter, Janet, in chapter twenty- three. Edna and her father are not close, although they have "certain tastes in common." Edna sketches him He takes her efforts most seriously, convinced that all his daughters have inherited from him "the germs of a masterful capability." It is his only charm. They attend a "soirée musicale" at Madame Ratignolle's where Mademoiselle Reisz plays. The little musician and the Colonel flirt, and Edna, herself "almost devoid of coquetry," marvels at the spectacle.
Doctor Mandelet dines with the Pontelliers a few days later. He observes Edna's behavior for signs of some secret she may be suppressing. Instead, he finds that there is "no repression in her glance or gesture." She reminds him instead of "some beautiful, sleek animal waking up in the sun." As part of the evening's entertainment, Edna tells a story about a woman who leaves in a small boat with her lover one night, never to return. She falsely claims that Madame Antoine had related it to her: "Perhaps it was a dream she had had. But every glowing word seemed real to those who listened," including the doctor. As he leaves the Pontellier household, he regrets possessing the insight he has into the inner lives of others; he is weary of it. Chopin suggests that a practiced insight may be best left to women novelists such as she.
Edna and her father have an "almost violent" argument when she refuses to attend her sister Janet's wedding (chapter twenty-four). Her reasons are not revealed. Is Edna simply protesting the marriage? Following Doctor Mandelet's advice to allow Edna to do as she likes, Leonce refuses to intervene. The Colonel advises Leonce that he is too lenient with Edna. "Authority, coercion are what is needed. Put your foot down good and hard; the only way to manage a wife."
As if in imitation of Madame Ratignolle's domestic solicitude, Edna affectionately bids Leonce good-bye as he departs for New York on business. His mother takes the children to her home at Iberville, fearing that Edna might neglect them. Edna fully enjoys the "radiant peace" of her solitude. She assumes an easy authority over the servants, enjoys her dinner, thinks briefly and sentimentally about Leonce and the children, reads Emerson until she grows sleepy, and retires with "a sense of restfulness . . . such as she had not known before."
In chapter twenty-five, Alcee Arobin emerges as "a familiar figure at the race course, the opera, the fashionable clubs." Charming, with a quiet though sometimes "insolent" manner, he is a frequent dinner companion for Edna. Arobin escorts Edna home on one such evening. She is restless, wanting "something to happen—something, anything; she did not know what." She regrets not having asked Arobin to stay and talk with her as she retires to a fretful sleep. A few days later, Arobin calls on Edna and the two spend the afternoon at the races. Edna enjoys Arobin's easy manner and frank conversation. He shows her a dueling scar on his wrist. Edna impulsively clutches his hand as she examines the "red cicatrice," then draws away suddenly, sickened by it. The incident, with its sudden intimacy, "drew all [Edna's] awakening sensuousness." In response, Arobin feels impelled "to take her hand and hold it while he said his lingering good night." Edna is not unaware of the seductive nature of this encounter, and she refuses to see Arobin again, though he insists that she allow him to return. Although Arobin is "absolutely nothing to her," the incident affects her "like a narcotic," and she retires to a "languorous sleep, interwoven with vanishing dreams."
The drama of the incident with Arobin embarrasses Edna in the "cooler, quieter moment[s]" of the following day (chapter twenty-six). Arobin sends a note of apology and comes to her home with "disarming naiveté." He adopts an attitude of "good-humored subservience and tacit adoration" in order to remain in her presence. Despite her initial embarrassment, the candor of his speech appeals to "the animalism that stirred impatiently within her."
Edna visits Mademoiselle Reisz (chapter twenty-six) and announces that she intends to move out of her house into "a little four-room house around the corner.... I'm tired," she explains, "looking after that big house. It never seemed like mine, anyway—like home." Mademoiselle Reisz shrewdly discerns that Robert Lebrun is the cause of Edna's "caprice." She reveals to Edna that Robert is coming back to New Orleans.
To complicate matters, and to put Edna's emotions into even greater turmoil, Arobin kisses her the next evening (chapter twenty-seven), "the first kiss of her life to which her nature had really responded. It was a flaming torch that kindled desire."
That night (chapter twenty-eight) she has an "overwhelming feeling of irresponsibility," disturbed that she experiences "neither shame nor remorse" over a kiss that did not signify love, but lust.
Edna feverishly prepares to move into the little house (chapter twenty-nine), without waiting for a response to the letter she has sent her husband. Edna moves "everything which she had acquired aside from her husband's bounty" into the new house, "supplying simple and meager deficiencies" from the small allowance she receives from her mother's estate. Arobin visits her, perplexed and alarmed by her activities, but impressed at her "splendid and robust" appearance as she works alongside her housemaid. She assures Arobin that she will still give the dinner she has planned for two days hence. She tells him it will have "my best of everything" and wonders what Leone will say when he pays the bills; Arobin wryly titles the event Edna's "coup d'etat."
Edna's dinner party, on her twenty-ninth birthday, is a "small affair and very select" (chapter thirty). Among the guests are Arobin, Victor Lebrun, Mademoiselle Reisz, and Monsieur Ratignolle, Madame Lebrun and Adele Ratignolle having characteristically sent their regrets. The table is "extremely gorgeous," and she wears a "cluster of diamonds that sparkled, that almost sputtered, in [her] hair," a present from her husband in New York. "[G]ood fellowship passed around [Edna and] the circle [of guests] like a mystic cord, holding and binding these people together with jest and laughter," until Victor, at the urging of the others, sings the song that Robert had sung to Edna on the boat that night. Edna cries out that he must stop, shattering her wine glass "blindly upon the table." He does not take her protests seriously, however, until she moves behind him and covers his mouth with her hand. He kisses her hand and becomes quiet; Edna finds that the "touch of his lips was like a pleasing sting to her hand." In response to this intense display, the other guests "suddenly conceived the notion that it was time to say good night."
Arobin remains after the other guests depart (chapter thirty- one). He walks her home from the cottage, nicknamed "the pigeon-house." She is cold, miserable, and tired, as if "she had been wound up to a certain pitch—too tight—and something inside . . . had snapped." Arobin gently smoothes her hair, and touch conveyed to her a certain physical comfort. She could have fallen quietly asleep there if he had continued to pass his hand over her hair." He leaves only after Edna had become "supple to his gentle, seductive entreaties."
Stern correspondence from Mr. Pontellier, still in New York, expresses his "unqualified disapproval" of Edna's resolve to abandon her home (chapter thirty-two). To circumvent scandal, he announces in the "daily papers ... that their handsome residence on Esplanade Street was undergoing sumptuous alterations, and would not be ready for occupancy until their return [from a trip abroad]." Edna is impressed with his resourcefulness in the matter of public opinion. She is more pleased with the "intimate character" of her new home. After a brief visit to her children, she is happy to return to the city to be "again alone."
Edna meets Madame Ratignolle at Mademoiselle Reisz's apartment (chapter thirty-three) and learns that gossip has linked her romantically to Alcee Arobin. "Does he boast of his successes?" Edna asks, affecting disinterest. After Adele departs, Mrs. Merriman and Mrs. Highcamp, named as if characters in a Restoration comedy, arrive and ask Edna to attend dinner and a game of "vingt-et-un" (twenty-one). Arobin has agreed to escort her home afterward, they tell her, and Edna accepts in a "half-hearted way."
Edna waits for Mademoiselle Reisz to arrive. She is stunned when Robert Lebrun appears at the door. They exchange small talk, and Edna mistakenly believes that his feelings for her have changed. She decides to return home, and Robert, "as if suddenly aware of some discourtesy in his speech," offers to escort her. She asks him what he has been "seeing and doing and feeling out there in Mexico." He confesses being preoccupied with "the waves and white beach of Grand Isle," he tells her, "the quiet, grassy street of the Cheniere; the old fort at Grande Terre ... and feeling like a lost soul." He asks her the same question she has asked him, to which she gives the same reply; she, too, feels like "a lost soul."
Edna and Robert dine together at the pigeon-house in chapter thirty-four. Their conversation becomes formal, with "no return to personalities." Afterward, once more alone, Edna is perplexed because he had "seemed nearer to her off there in Mexico" than he does in New Orleans.
When she wakes the next morning (chapter thirty-five), Edna is certain that Robert loves her, and she regrets her "despondency" of the previous evening. She paints "with much spirit" for several hours, hoping that Robert will return; but three days later he has not. One night she goes riding with Arobin and they return to the little house to dine. His "delicate sense of her nature's requirements like a torpid, torrid, sensitive blossom" evokes a response in Edna. Although she awakes the next morning without "despondency," she has lost all sense of "hope."
Chapter thirty-six opens in a garden in the suburbs of New Orleans. The garden, like Edna and her pigeon-house, is a "place too modest to attract the attention of people of fashion, and so quiet as to have escaped the notice of those in search of pleasure and dissipation." Edna's life and story are that of an ordinary woman. Later in the evening, Robert arrives unexpectedly. He admits that he left for Mexico to avoid her; he has been "fighting" his feelings for her since last summer at Grand Isle. Edna tells him that he had awakened her "out of a life-long, stupid dream." To add complication, Madame Ratignolle sends word that she is ill and asks Edna to come immediately. Robert begs Edna to stay there with him She promises to return: "I shall come hack as soon as I can; I shall find you here."
The bedridden Adele concludes chapter thirty- seven with a melodramatic plea to Edna that she "think of the children!"
Doctor Mandelet, aware of Edna's distress over Madame Ratignolle's remark, walks Edna home (chapter thirty-eight): "You shouldn't have been there, Mrs. Pontellier," he said, "That was no place for you. Adele is full of whims at such times. There were a dozen women she might have had with her, unimpressionable women. I felt that it was cruel, cruel. You shouldn't have gone." "I don't know that it matters after all," she responds. "One has to think of the children some time or other; the sooner the better." Doctor Mandelet is, apparently, a practitioner of the then new psychological precepts that would shape Freudian therapy. He urges Edna to consult with him at his office to "talk of things you never have dreamt of talking about before." Robert does not wait for Edna to return, but he leaves a note: "I love you. Good-by—because I love you." She remains awake all night.
In the final chapter of The Awakening, Edna returns alone to Grand Isle, which is deserted until summer. Victor, making repairs, is describing to Mariequita the sumptuous dinner he attended at the Pontelliers, when both are stunned to see Mrs. Pontellier walking toward them from the dock. He offers her his room, since there is "nothing fixed up yet." Edna tells them that she has come to rest and to swim in the cold gulf. In response to protests that the water is "too cold" to swim, Edna assures them that she will only "dip [her] toes in" and sends Mariequita to find her some towels. Her movements are mechanical. She notices nothing except that the sun is hot as she walks down to the beach. She has nothing more to think about now that Robert has abandoned her. In a paragraph that may be the key to the scandal this tale provoked when it was published, Edna reflects: "To-day it is Arobin; to-morrow it will be some one else. It makes no difference to me, it doesn't matter about Leonce Pontellier—but Raoul and Etienne!" She understood now clearly what she had meant long ago when she said to Adele Ratignolle that she would give up the unessential, but she would never sacrifice herself for her children." At the edge of the water, "absolutely alone," she takes off her clothes and, "for the first time in her life she stood naked in the open air . . . and the waves ... invited her." As the water "enfold[s her] body in its soft, close embrace," she recalls her terror of being "unable to regain the shore" last summer, but now she thinks of a place she had known in childhood and which she thought "had no beginning and no end." Fatigue overwhelms her as she swims past the point of return, awakened to the magnitude of her unconscious self while simultaneously unable to bear it.