George Koch
Kate Chopin: “The Awakening”

Presentation Questions

  1. On page 442, Edna finds great joy in getting to see her children and spending time with them. Throughout the story, Edna has seemed to think of her kids as enslaving her. What is it about being with her children, then, that makes Edna happy?

  2. Chopin uses birds as symbols throughout the story. For example, on page 433, Edna recounts Madame Reisz’ advice to her: “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.”

    Later, on page 458, Edna, walking down to the water, sees an injured bird: “A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water.”

    We’ve learned in class that literature’s realist period is characterized by people who cannot rise above or transcend society. The injured bird at the end of the story (458) could represent Edna’s own failure to ultimately rise above her environment.
    Or the bird could symbolize the fall of convention. Which do you find the more plausible interpretation?

  3. The sea could be said to represent freedom. But independence can lead to great strength and great sadness. The first time Edna goes swimming, she undergoes an awakening. The second time, she takes her own life. Is her choice of suicide a sign of final freedom, or is it a sign of submission?

  4. At times, Robert seems willing to go against “the norm” and act upon his feelings for Edna, including telling her he loves her and being physically romantic. When all is said and done, though, are Robert’s actions and behaviors different from those of Léonce? Or does Robert give in to the same “women as property” mindset of the Mr. Pontellier?


Notes for Presentation

Discussion: Page 418, Isolde’s Song [“Liebstod”]

Lyrics: “As they swell and roar around me, shall I breathe them, shall I listen to them? Shall I sip them, plunge beneath them, to expire in sweet perfume? In the surging swell, in the ringing sound, in the vast wave of the world’s breath – to drown, to sink, unconscious – supreme bliss.”

Significance: Augurs Edna’s death in the sea.

Discussion: Possible Answers to Questions

  1. Edna seems to spend a lot of time outdoors with the children—we get the sense that Edna enjoys the outdoors. Edna also likes being around the kids’ “young existence”; perhaps youthfulness makes her feel more free-spirited and independent. Edna’s attraction to Robert (and Alcée) is rather superficial; it is lust. But Edna shares a more sincere, “real” sort of emotional attachment with both sons. And she still seems to feel some sense of responsibility to them; maybe she unconsciously feels some pangs of guilt about what her extramarital affair would do to them.
  2. Open-ended question—answer probably was intentionally left ambiguous.

  3. Same as above—open to interpretation. She gives herself freedom by dying with integrity and independence, and the decision to die was none but hers. But perhaps a sign of submission also comes with this independence; she feels controlled not by her husband but by her children. They are innocent, susceptible—the kids depend on her, including their reputation and happiness.

    So perhaps Edna’s suicide is really submission—she is worried about society’s customs, attitudes, manners, and submits to them. She’s worried about her kids’ reputations and how they’d be treated if she left her husband.

    But maybe she has done right by them: She’s saved her kids’ reputation, and she has not betrayed herself. [She doesn’t feel responsible to Léonce, but returning to him for her kids’ sake would go against her very nature.]

  4. Robert really is no different from Edna’s husband. On 452-3, Robert says he imagined Edna being his wife, and of Léonce setting her free. The biggest problem Robert has with the potential affair is that he thinks of Edna as one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions rather than truly as another person.