The Awakening, written by Kate Chopin, tells the story of a woman, Edna Pontellier, who undergoes a transformation from an obedient housewife to a person who is alive with strength, character and emotions which she no longer has to repress. This metamorphosis is shaped by her surroundings. Just as her behavior is more shocking and horrifying because of her position in Grand Isle society, it is that very position which causes her to feel restrained and makes her yearn to rebel.
Adele Ratignolle is Edna?s close friend and confidante. However the two women are nothing alike. Adele is the perfect housewife and mother, and the epitome of what a Creole woman should be. Adele lives her life for her children, always being sure that they are properly cared for, clothed, and educated. Unlike Adele, whose life is fulfilled through loving and caring for her children, Edna is ?fond of her children in an uneven, impulsive way.? Nevertheless, her children are not enough to justify her life. Adele can not understand how Edna could say that she ?[will] never sacrifice herself to her children, or for anyone.? Edna?s being is taking on a new importance in her life. She is starting to realize just how important it is to be true to herself. She goes along with the way things are supposed to be, holds her socials, and tends to her house until she becomes aware that she needs more from her life. Also, Edna?s marriage to Leonce is safe, but there is no passion or excitement. She simply ?[grows] fond of her husband, realizing with some unaccountable satisfaction that no trace of passion or excessive and fictitious warmth color her affection.? While this lack of emotion is enough to satisfy Edna for the majority of her marriage, after she begins to allow her true self to come forth, she feels trapped and seeks a way to escape. She realizes that she need not fit the mold of the typical Creole woman. Her lifestyle suffocates her.
In addition to her lifestyle, Edna’s behavior is more shocking and horrifying because of her position in society as a woman. Similar to Edna?s relationship with her children is her relationship with her husband, Leonce. The Grand Isle society defines the role of wife to be full devotion towards their husband and to self-sacrifice for your husband. Edna never adheres to the society’s definition, even at the beginning of the novel. For example, the other ladies at Grand Isle ?all [declare] that Mr. Pontellier is the best husband in the world.? Edna is ?forced to admit she knew of none better.? By using words like ?forced? and ?admit? Chopin illustrates Edna?s true feelings towards Leonce. Moreover, Edna?s open relationship with Robert, a single man is outrageous. For instance, Robert and Edna share the summer warmth of the Gulf as they lightly talk. Robert ?talks a great deal about himself.? Nevertheless, they talk about the breeze, the pleasure they have while swimming?all the things that disgruntle Mr. Pontellier. The scene Chopin describes is a scene for lovers. Also, Edna has no interest in watching her children. In fact, Leonce provides a ?quadroon nurse? to look after their children.
Edna yearns to rebel by doing all the things that are not expected of her. She swims at any given hour of the day. According to her husband it is ?folly: to go swimming in such heat. In addition to her swimming, Edna breaks the social code, which measures a woman?s respectability by the cut of her dress, the length of her gloves and the color of her complexion. Leonce tells Edna she is ?burnt beyond recognition.? Lastly, Edna?s quest to rebel is fascinated by Mademoiselle Reiz, who is a brilliant pianist. Mademoiselle Reiz?s talent is somewhat lost on the other people on the island. They cannot appreciate her artistry, as does Edna because Reiz does not fit their idea of what a proper woman should be; she is eccentric and bold. Her music touches Edna to the very core of her being. Something inside her is stirred, and she feels alive like never before in her life. Edna respects Reiz because she has the courage to be different. It is Mademoiselle?s music that starts to ?awaken? Edna and allows her to see the beauty and passion in life.
An amazing transformation takes place in Edna throughout the course of a few months. The people with whom she interacts and the culture in which she is submersed play a significant role in her ?awakening.? Edna is able to break away from the restraining world of Adele and Leonce in which she never finds her place. Stirred by the magic and intrigue of Mademoiselle Reiz?s world, she finds the strength to reach for that which is real for her, and allows her true being to shine.