Madame Lebrun in The Awakening: Quotes & Personality

Instructor: Joelle Brummitt-Yale

Joelle has taught middle school Language Arts and college academic writing. She has a master's degree in education.

'The Awakening' by Kate Chopin offers a critique of social conventions in upper class society. In this lesson, learn about a minor character in this novel, Madame Lebrun, and test your knowledge with a short quiz.

Who is Madame Lebrun?

Before we meet any of the book's main characters, we are introduced to Madame Lebrun and her loud pet parrot. She is the owner of the vacation property the Pontelliers, the main characters of the book, are staying at for the summer. The Lebrun cottages are located on Grand Isle, the exclusive vacation destination for the elite of New Orleans' Creole society.

Not only is Madame Lebrun the proprietress of a pension, or boarding house, she is also mother to Robert Lebrun, Edna Pontellier's love interest, and his brazen brother, Victor. Through her roles as businesswoman and mother, Madame Lebrun serves as a symbol of the challenges of widowhood and the tension in turn-of-the-century Louisiana between up and comers in New Orleans society and the old guard.

Master of the (Vacation) House

Madame Lebrun is the social coordinator for the leisure activities of the elite vacationers at Grand Isle. Not only does she own and rent out cottages for the visitors, she also keeps her upper-crust guests happy. During the time period in which the novel takes place, Grand Isle was a popular resort destination for wealthy New Orleans residents. These families, including the Pontelliers, wanted a particular vacation experience that they believed reflected their elite status and were used to servants meeting their every need and want. Madame Lebrun makes sure these expectations are met.

Cottage on Grand Isle
Cottage on Grand Isle

Madame Lebrun enthusiastically makes herself the social director of her cottages. She is 'bustling in and out, giving orders in a high key to a yard boy whenever she got inside the house, and directions in an equally high voice to a dining room servant whenever she got inside.' Each word and action is focused on ensuring that the guests get what they want. She 'presides' over elaborate dinners, and when she thinks the dinner conversation becomes too unruly, she bangs her silverware on the table, returning order and civility to the meal.

Protector of the Old Regime

Madame Lebrun also sees herself as the protector of ingrained cultural traditions. To be a Creole in New Orleans society in the late 1800s was to claim a heritage that represented order and prosperity. Madame Lebrun is 'the Creole woman who does not take any chances which may be avoided of imperiling her health.' She maintains herself in the same way she maintains tradition.

Nothing demonstrates this better than the home that Madame Lebrun lives in. The narrator describes the house as having 'iron bars before the door and lower windows' that 'were a relic of the old regime.' This regime is, of course, a system or way of doing things. But it also smacks of a severe and rigid military rule. This symbolizes Madame Lebrun's own rigidity and adherence to the old ways.

Widowhood

Though Madame Lebrun is the epitome of the old Creole regime in New Orleans, she is also a widow, a woman without a man to support her in a society that values men as providers and women as wives and mothers.

Because her husband is dead, Madame Lebrun is not able to fit so perfectly into this mold. She laments her widowhood, believing 'the conduct of the universe would have been manifestly of a more intelligent and higher order had not Monsieur Lebrun been removed to other spheres during the early years of their married life.'

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