Important Quotes from The Awakening: Examples & Analysis

Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

This lesson highlights significant quotes from Kate Chopin's groundbreaking 1899 novel The Awakening and analyzes how they contribute to developing the theme and key characters throughout the story.

The Role of the Narrator

The Awakening, by Katie Chopin, is narrated in a 3rd person limited point of view, which means that there is a narrator who is not part of the story and only has insight into one character's inner thoughts. In this case, the narrator has access to Edna Pontellier's thoughts. The device of having this kind of narrator is interesting; the narrator describes Edna's state of mind more accurately than Edna can herself because her perspective is changing too drastically for her to comprehend. One example of the narrator's eloquence is:

''A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her, --the light which, showing the way, forbids it…In short, 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.''

This quote illustrates what is happening to Edna the summer she spends seaside at Grand Isle. In contrast, Edna falters slightly when she tries to describe her newfound identity and individuality to other women:

''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; its only something which I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me.''

What Edna means by ''unessential'' is confusing to the women to whom Edna speaks; to them, money and life itself do seem essential. What does Edna mean when she says that she would give her life but not herself to her children? As the story unfolds, we see that Edna feels her personality, preferences, and free will are what are essential and that she would sooner die than compromise her identity.

The narrator in the story tends to describe Edna and the forces that are working to change her point of view in long, descriptive, passages. By contrast, the quotations from actual characters who are most significant are shorter and simpler, but can be revealing when the reader makes inferences about what these quotations indicate about the character who is speaking.

Author Kate Chopin
Kate Chopin portrait

Edna Pontellier

It is sometimes difficult to distinguish the words of the narrator from Edna's own voice because they are so closely intertwined; however, Edna's speech tends to be simpler and blunter than the narrator's. One of the first significant things Edna utters is, 'No, I am going to stay out here' when her husband is trying to get her to come inside to bed after dinner. It is the first time she realizes that she could break the habit of obedience and only do as she wants and prefers.

Later, when the Pontelliers have returned to New Orleans, Edna visits Mademoiselle Reisz, a pianist she met at Grand Isle. Edna bluntly tells her, ''I don't know whether I like you or not.'' Mademoiselle appreciates her openness and is generally encouraging of Edna's pursuit of self-possession. She tells Edna that a true artist must have technical skill, but it is even more crucial that ''the artist must possess the courageous soul…the brave soul…the soul that dares and defies.'' Edna takes these words to heart and begins to embody the soul of an artist by this definition.

Toward the end of the story, Edna is better able to articulate her new point of view about her own individuality. When Robert, the young man with whom she fell in love over the summer, comes to see her and professes his love, she says:

''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. If he were to say, 'Here, Robert, take her and be happy; she is yours,' I should laugh at you both.''

Robert is surprised at this, having assumed that if by some miracle Edna found herself free from her husband, they themselves would get married. By this time, Edna has decided that the institution of marriage is merely men treating women as possessions, albeit a father giving away his daughter or an ex-husband passing off his wife to another man. Even if Edna loves Robert, she has no intention of becoming another man's possession.

Mr. Pontellier

Edna's husband, Leonce Pontellier, is described several times as a perfectly nice and generous husband. Through his dialogue, the reader can tell that he is a product of his time and culture: he believes that a wife should be devoted to her home and he is concerned with appearances and social standing. At the beginning of the novel, he comments about Edna's appearance, '''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.''

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