studyguide Chopin updated by 2bEj7R5


									              The Awakening

Chopin’s experience with               Because of the death of her
male domination in the home            father when she was still a small
                                       child, Chopin grew up without the
                                       influence of a father. After a brief
                                       stint in a Catholic school, she went to
                                       live with her mother, grandmother,
                                       and great-grandmother—all strong
                                       widows who shared a strong with
                                       ethic and strong will.

Chopin’s development as                The Chopin women were all gifted
a story teller                         story tellers. Her talent, then, was
                                       nurtured from the very beginning.

local color                            Critics have touted Chopin as a local
                                       colorist. This is a term that J. A.
                                       Cudon has defined as, “the use of
                                       detail peculiar to a particular region
                                       and environment to add interest and
                                       authenticity to a narrative. This will
                                       include some description of the
                                       locale, dress, customs, music, etc. It
                                       is for the most part decorative.
                                       When it becomes an essential and
                                       intrinsic part of the work then it is
                                       more properly called regionalism.”

                                       Critics have noted that Chopin’s
                                       classification as a local colorist has
                                       allowed her more latitude in the way
                                       of subject matter. What might
                                       otherwise have been considered to
                                       risqué for publication (especially by
                                       a woman) could be excused as the a
                                       function of particular locale and sub-
                                       culture, rather than the creation of an
                                       independent feminine mind.

marriage and social class              Although Oscar Chopin was a loving
                                                                and devoted husband who tolerated
                                                                his wife’s sense of independent
                                                                spirit, Chopin apparently found the
                                                                institution of marriage to be
                                                                somewhat restricting. Had her
                                                                husband not granted her a
                                                                considerable monitary allowance and
                                                                acquiesced to her need for solitude,
                                                                her situation would certainly have
                                                                been unbearable.

                                                                The wife of a successful merchant,
                                                                Chopin enjoyed luxury in her
                                                                personal life. Her position as a
                                                                helpmate for her husband also
                                                                afforded her the opportunity to
                                                                observe the less fortunate element
                                                                that constituted their clientele. One
                                                                cannot help but remember the short
                                                                story entitled “A Pair of Silk
                                                                Stockings.” In this story, the
                                                                protagonist, a somewhat
                                                                impoverished young mother, spends
                                                                the total amount of $15 (windfall
                                                                cash, the exact source of which is
                                                                unknown to the reader) on
                                                                extravagances for herself, NOT on
                                                                necessities for her household or
                                                                clothing for her children.

                                                                Also, Chopin’s position in the
                                                                mercantile brought her into contact
                                                                with the many different cultures
                                                                present in Louisiana at the time
                                                                (Creole, African-American, Spanish,
                                                                Native American, etc.). The
                                                                experience enabled her to splash
                                                                many shades of local color onto the
                                                                canvas of her writing.

Creole                                                          According to C. T. Onions1,
                                                                “descendent of European or Negro
                                                                settler in the West Indies, etc.; a
                                                                negro born in Brazil, home-born
                                                                slave . . . .” The term can also mean
    C. T. Onions is the chief editor of The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology.
                a Caucasian person who descends
                from French or Spanish settlers in
                the Gulf states. These people’s
                speech is infused with notably
                French influence, and their way of
                life in general pays homage to their
                rich cultural heritage.

Cajun           This is a slang term for Acadian. In
                fact, it was once considered an
                offensive term in Acadian circles.
                These folks are of mixed heritage:
                Caucasian, Native American, and
                African American. They settled in
                southwestern Alabama and certain
                parts of Mississippi that border

Major Themes    Social Non-Conformity:
                particularly in relation to sexual roles
                for women in 19th century America.
                Edna breaks with tradition and
                becomes a social outcast as a result.

                Personal Alienation: this comes
                about as a result of being a social
                non-conformist. It is certainly in
                keeping with the predominant mood
                of Modernist fiction, which would
                follow it in about twenty years.

                The Need for Artistic Expression:
                in Chopin’s mind, it would seem that
                self-actualization necessitates a
                certain degree of artistic expression.
                Whereas Hurston’s Janie is a story
                teller, Chopin’s Edna is a painter.
                These are but two different media;
                the origin of both forms of
                expression is the same—a discovery
                of self.

Major Symbols   Birds: represent women whose
                freedom is thwarted by men.
                Songbirds seem to symbolize artists
                                       who must “sing” in order to live
                                       properly. In other words, the artist
                                       must have the freedom and
                                       opportunity to create.

                                       Houses: they represent familial
                                       arrangements, distribution of power,
                                       priorities, and mores. The most
                                       interesting symbol here is the pigeon
                                       house. We should remember that
                                       pigeons are archetypically associated
                                       with the delicacy and sensitivity of
                                       women. The significance of this
                                       correlation is obvious.

Is this novel a “feminist” text?       While the spirit of it is certainly
                                       daring, and while Chopin seems
                                       clearly to be championing feminine
                                       power and independence, I don’t
                                       think we should refer to this novel as
                                       feminist. The movement of
                                       feminism was just beginning to form
                                       and had yet to gather momentum
                                       when Chopin published The
                                       Awakening in 1899. So, in order to
                                       be proper historicists, we should
                                       refrain from using that adjective in
                                       relation to it.

What shall we call this time period?   I suppose we should technically call
                                       this period Victorian, although we
                                       traditionally think of Victorian
                                       literature as earlier texts. Queen
                                       Victoria reigned until 1901, so this
                                       novel “got in just under the wire,” as
                                       it were. The next period would be
                                       known as the Georgian Age,
                                       immediately followed by the
                                       Augustan. No matter how we divide
                                       these years, it is important to note
                                       that the Victorian respect for
                                       propriety and rigid mores certainly
                                       remained in place until the advent of
                                       World War I. Against this backdrop
                                       of “social propriety,” Edna comes
                                       into her own and asserts her
                                       independence. It is no wonder that
                                       Chopin has her die at the end of the
                                       novel. This world that she is in is
                                       not the world that she is of. Does
                                       that makes sense? In other words,
                                       she cannot exist in this rigidly
                                       structured and unforgiving world.
                                       Her artist’s soul cannot “breathe”;
                                       therefore, she makes her exit.

What is Chopin’s tone in relation to   This is a difficult question to answer.
Edna’s suicide?                        While Chopin does not condone her
                                       actions, she does not condemn them
                                       either. It would seem that the author
                                       regards Edna’s act as a means of
                                       achieving freedom. This would
                                       certainly be in keeping with the spirit
                                       and thematic bent of the novel. Still,
                                       I have to say that suicide is NEVER
                                       a good answer. It inevitably is a far
                                       too permanent solution to a
                                       temporary problem, and no matter
                                       what Chopin’s intentions are, we
                                       must never glorify or condone
                                       suicide. Understanding this novel
                                       and discussing it with critical
                                       maturity most certainly is not
                                       synonymous with embracing its
                                       philosophy without any degree of
                                       reserve. On your exam, you should
                                       discuss this (or any other novel) as
                                       any other mature critic would do, but
                                       that does not mean that you should
                                       ever let anyone, Chopin included,
                                       tell you what to do or think.

Character “Types” in this novel        1.) Adele Ratignolle: the perfect
                                           wife/mother type. Her chief
                                           concerns are the wellbeing of her
                                           family. She is self-effacing,
                                           generous, perfectly beautiful, and
                                           absolutely modest in her conduct.
                                           She is the nineteenth-century
                                           ideal. Perhaps this is why
                                           Chopin describes her as perfectly
    beautiful—she is what
    nineteenth-century society
    (particularly the male element)
    found most charming, most
    attractive, and most desireable.

2.) Leonce Pontellier: the “proper
    husband” who cares much more
    about appearances and shows of
    propriety than he does about
    personal fulfillment and

3.) Mademoiselle Reisz: the
    uncompromising artist. No
    sacrifice is to great for art. She
    has never married and never has
    had children. She is a
    consummate pianist, and is one
    of the few characters who can
    really see into the hearts of
    others. She is a non-conformist
    and encourages Edna to be as
    well. She is outspoken and

4.) Mariequita: the shameless
    (“hussy”) flirt. Her bare feet and
    her sense of abandon are meant
    to indicate that she is an entirely
    natural creature. In other words,
    her sexuality is not repressed at
    all. While Edna does not intend
    to be an Adele figure, I must
    suspect that she has no desire to
    be a Mariequita figure either.

5.) The Farival Twins: the
    prototype for “nice,” unmarried
    young girls. They are perfectly
    charming. While they are
    musicians, they lack the true
    spirit of the artist. They use their
    talent to entertain and amuse.
    They are tedious and somewhat
                          6.) The Lady in Black: the
                              representation of a woman whose
                              husband has died and who has
                              decided to live the rest of her life
                              as a testimony to her love and
                              admiration for him. In essence,
                              she denies her own desires and
                              aspirations in an attempt to
                              glorify and honor a dead spouse.
                              It is no accident that wherever we
                              see the young lovers, we also see
                              the Lady in Black.

                          7.) The Lovers: self-evident

                          8.) Robert Lebrun: the young
                              lothario who woos without
                              promise. He is chivalrous, but
                              his romantic intentions are
                              somewhat amorphous. Alcee
                              Arobin is the completion of the
                              Robert Lebrun “type.” He is less
                              “gentlemanly” in his romantic
                              ventures. How’s that for

             The Awakening
                (chapter 1)

Grand Isle                This is a lavish resort for the wealthy
                          and is located on the Gulf of Mexico.
                          For information about modern-day
                          Grand Isle, consult www.grand-

                          Another worthwhile site to visit is
                          uth/Chopin.htm (You’ll have to
                          forgive the melodramatic bent of this
                          woman’s style, but it is interesting to
                          look at this article for its practical
                          value; for instance, she notes that
              Grand Isle was all but destroyed by a
              hurricane in 1893, so the community
              that remains bears little resemblance
              to the one with which Chopin was so

noisy birds   It is interesting that the novel begins
              with a mention of how the noise of a
              parrot and a mockingbird so annoy
              Leonce, that he leaves the house. If
              the birds (particularly the latter)
              represents thinking, sensitive
              womanhood, then how must this
              reflect on Edna’s husband? Will he
              emerge victorious from the
              “struggle” that follows?

              The parrot is often thought of as a
              brainless bird that mimics what it
              hears without any degree of
              understanding; hence, the expression
              to parrot someone means to repeat
              what that person says without
              personal conviction or legitimate
              comprehension. Still, Chopin notes
              that, in addition to crying out the
              admonition of “Go Away . . .,” this
              parrot is speaking a language unique
              to itself, a language that no one but
              perhaps the mockingbird can
              understand. The implication is that it
              seeks to express itself, but no one is
              willing to hear or understand.
              Traditionally, critics have identified
              this bird as Edna, a burgeoning artist
              who is yet to understand herself or
              assert her artistic independence.

              The mockingbird, in contrast, tends
              to elicit much more favorable
              associations. We think of
              mockingbirds as symbols of gifted
              musicians whose artistic expression
              has the potential to nourish the soul
              and gladden the heart. Critics
              traditionally identify this bird as
                                          Mademoiselle Reisz, a mature artist
                                          who can recognize artistic potential
                                          in others. This makes sense, as she
                                          is the only character in this novel
                                          who really understands Edna and
                                          encourages her to grow
                                          independently and live on her own

                                          It is interesting that both birds, even
                                          the latter, are caged. If the critics are
                                          correct along these lines, then is
                                          Chopin here implying that no matter
                                          how independent a woman becomes,
                                          she can never completely break the
                                          shackles of socio-sexual subjugation.

Leonce’s comment about Edna’s             Leonce’s admonition does not result
tanned skin                               from his concern for his wife’s
                                          welfare, but rather his displeasure in
                                          having one of his possessions
                                          somehow marred. Clearly, he is
                                          concerned that Edna always reflect
                                          well on him.


                         The Awakening
                                (chapter 2)

Robert’s mention of Mexico                This serves as foreshadowing. Also,
                                          Mexico is rather exotic, just as
                                          Robert becomes in Edna’s
                                          estimation. An interesting side note
                                          here is that Robert is given to such
                                          claims about leaving for Mexico, but
                                          has more full youthful bombast than
                                          he has reliability in this regard. In
                                          fact, Chopin’s description of Robert
                                          highlights his youth and
                                          inexperience. The effect is always
                                          endearing rather than accusatory.

Edna’s upbringing                         The fact that Edna comes from
                                   Kentucky shows us that she is not
                                   really part of this environment.
                                   Because she stands apart from these
                                   Creole women, it is even easier for
                                   the reader to identify her as an
                                   outcast figure later on.

                                   We have come to associate wildness
                                   and rugged individualism with
                                   Kentucky. It is also noted for horse
                                   racing, a passion of Edna’s.
                                   Chopin’s description of Edna recalls
                                   the beauty and strength of a
                                   thoroughbred; this character has a
                                   marked degree of stubbornness and
                                   effrontery. Otherwise, she would
                                   never find the gall to stand so firmly
                                   against convention.

                                   We might also call Edna a “dark
                                   horse.” This term actually has little
                                   to do with real horses. It was a term
                                   originally coined to describe political
                                   candidates about whom little is
                                   known. This absence of familiarity
                                   or knowledge about someone makes
                                   that person a bit more exotic and, in
                                   a strange way, attractive to others.
                                   Nowadays, we tend to use the term
                                   to describe elusive and confident
                                   women (ordinarily with dark
                                   features) who exude strength and a
                                   certain sense of unstated danger.
                                   Although this description does not fit
                                   the Edna we meet in the beginning of
                                   the novel, some would argue that it
                                   certainly fits the transformed Edna
                                   we come to know by the end of the

                      The Awakening
                         (chapter 3)

Leonce’s admonition                The motivation for Leonce’s
                                    displeasure is somewhat
                                    questionable here. He may well be
                                    genuinely concerned that Edna is not
                                    caring properly for the children, but
                                    this interpretation is unlikely since
                                    he does not himself seem overly
                                    nurturing or even selfless enough to
                                    care about Raoul’s welfare. It is far
                                    more likely that he is threatened by
                                    Edna’s cavalier attitude toward her
                                    household. He comes upon her as
                                    she is sleeping—oblivious to all
                                    concern. This is somehow
                                    inappropriate in his estimation.

Interrupting Edna’s slumber         It is ironic that Leonce seeks to
                                    awaken Edna, when her
                                    metaphorical “awakening” will
                                    certainly displease him gravely.

Leonce as a “good husband”          Edna’s agreement that Leonce is the
                                    best husband she has yet encountered
                                    is a somewhat humorous response.
                                    If Leonce is the best, then how
                                    miserable must be the worst? LOL

Edna’s reaction (crying)            Edna’s bizarre reaction to Leonce’s
                                    outburst is clearly the result of more
                                    than her husband’s displeasure. The
                                    omniscient narrator notes that Edna
                                    is not entirely of why she is crying.
                                    In fact, it is her confusion about her
                                    emotional reaction that is more
                                    disturbing than the altercation itself.
                                    She seems to be climbing out of a
                                    slumber of another sort—a dream
                                    state in which she moves and
                                    operates in a world that she does not
                                    really embrace but which has
                                    claimed her anyway. For the first
                                    time, she is becoming aware of her
                                    abiding displeasure with her
                                    subordinate role in marriage.

                           The Awakening
                                 (chapter 4)

Adele Ratignolle                           see overview

Creole women (their community)             These women speak freely with one
                                           another regarding marriage,
                                           childbirth, sex, etc. Edna finds this
                                           candor shocking, yet somehow
                                           attractive (eventually). Her
                                           realization that she too is invited to
                                           speak candidly on these topics is a
                                           significant moment in her
                                           metaphorical awakening.

                                           We should not see this candor among
                                           the Creole women as an indication of
                                           their individuality. On the contrary,
                                           they have completely submitted to
                                           social expectation, relinquishing all
                                           claim to individual spirit. They are
                                           instead “mother-women”; that is,
                                           their entire reason for being (raison
                                           d’etre) is motherhood, marriage, and

                          The Awakening
                                 (chapter 5)

Robert’s summer routine                    Each summer Robert chooses one
                                           unattainable, married woman as his
                                           beloved. He and she flirt and
                                           pretend to regard one another with
                                           romantic passion, but none of this is
                                           serious. The relationship is never
                                           consummated, and no one ever gets
                                           jealous. This is noteworthy because
                                           Edna is not a part of this sub-culture
                                           and does not understand this silly
                                           dynamic. Robert seems also to
                                           understand that Edna is not to be
                                           treated so lightly as these others.
                                           The difference seems somewhat
                                           endearing at this point, but the later
                                                 repercussions will perhaps prove
                                                 tragic2. It will all depend on the
                                                 individual reader’s interpretation of
                                                 Edna’s demise.

Edna’s sketch of Adele                           The likeness is not a good one.
                                                 Perhaps this is meant as an indication
                                                 that Edna’s artistic vision is not yet
                                                 clear. Her development into a
                                                 mature artist is not nearly
                                                 complete—in fact, it has barely
                                                 begun at this point. Also, she is just
                                                 now beginning to see Adele as a
                                                 perfect “mother-woman.” Doesn’t it,
                                                 then, make sense that she cannot yet
                                                 render her likeness on the canvas
                                                 (sketch pad)?

                                The Awakening
                                     (chapter 6)

           excerpt                                               significance

. . . Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to    Again, we have the image of a woman
realize her position in the universe as   awakening to a reality previously hidden
a human being, and to recognize her       from her. This is a controlling metaphor of
relations as an individual to the world   the novel—OBVIOUSLY! The most
within and about her. This may seem       interesting bit of this cutting has to do with
like a ponderous weight of wisdom         the idea of wisdom as it comes to a woman.
to descend upon the soul of a young       Chopin issues an indictment of God here;
woman of twenty-eight—perhaps             She seems to be saying that even God is
more wisdom than the Holy Ghost is        unwilling to deal fairly with women—most
usually pleased to vouchsafe to any       women, in any case. Edna, it would seem, is
woman.                                    destined to see more than the average
                                          woman. She is an extraordinary creature.
                                          Let me ask you—is Chopin perhaps
                                          implying that Edna is actually an allegorical
                                          representation of the woman of the future.
                                          After all, the very next paragraph speaks of
                                          the feelings of uncertainty that accompany
                                          all beginnings—the beginning of things, of a
                                          world especially . . . . Does Chopin here

    in the Aristotelian sense
                                           envision a “new woman” who will go
                                           beyond the boundaries previously
                                           established by God (here, certainly a male
                                           conception of God) and the world of men?

The voice of the sea is seductive;         Clearly, the sea is associated with the advent
never ceasing, whispering,                 of a new sense of self. Imagine the sound of
clamoring, murmuring, inviting             crashing waves and the seemingly endless
the soul to wander for a spell in          depths of dark, eerie, inviting water. Does
abysses of solitude; to lose itself        the association make sense?
in mazes of inward contemplation.

                           The Awakening
                                      (chapter 7)

Why is it important that Edna has          Edna has not been open with others because
not previously been one to confide         she has not been in tune with herself.
in others or share her feelings            Chopin notes that this character has been
openly?                                    driven by habit rather than spontaneity. She
                                           mentions a particular moment of childhood
                                           in which Edna “swam” as she walked
                                           through tall grass. Here we have a key
                                           moment in which the sea metaphor
                                           (suggesting the advent of knowledge and
                                           freedom) that controls the novel is linked to
                                           a “natural” and spontaneous act of
                                           childhood. Once again, in a sense, Edna is a
                                           child, but this time, she really will grow into
                                           spiritual adulthood—which is, of course,
                                           synonymous with independent thought and

Edna’s repression                          It would seem that Edna has never been
                                           comfortable with her womanhood. Her
                                           girlish infatuations with the officer and the
                                           tragedian seem less than complete. Instead
                                           of healthy “crushes,” they seem to have been
                                           a source of confusion and discomfort for this
                                           confused young woman. When, earlier in
                                           the novel, Edna recoils from Robert’s touch
                                           (while she was sketching Adele), we see
                                           evidence of this same repression. If Edna
                                           has suffered from an inability to tolerate her
                                         own “romantic” drives and instincts, then
                                         her eventual acceptance of those feelings
                                         becomes even more monumental.

Her marriage to Leonce Pontellier        Edna fancied that she and Leonce shared
was purely an accident, in this          ideas and thought alike—in which fancy she
respect resembling many other            was mistaken. Chopin implies that this may
marriages which masquerade as            well be the case in many other marriages,
the decrees of Fate.                     yet those who find themselves so duped are
                                         far too often willing to see the unions that
                                         they have forged as determined, or
                                         necessitated, by cruel fate. The implications
                                         are heavy here. What do you make of this

                         The Awakening
                                    (chapter 8)
Adele’s warning                          When Adele warns Robert to leave Edna
                                         alone, he takes offense. This chapter is
                                         interesting because later text will show that
                                         he never seriously loves Edna; what, then, is
                                         his motivation for continuing to pursue this
                                         woman? No one seems to take him
                                         seriously, so if he feels that this woman may
                                         do just that, is it understandable that he
                                         would continue the pursuit despite Adele’s

                         The Awakening
                                    (chapter 9)

The difference between                   Chopin shows us several pianists in this
entertainment and art                    chapter. None can inspire emotion in Edna
                                         but the irascible Mademoiselle Reisz.
                                         Adele’s playing makes her imagine various
                                         scenes and “see” the emotion that the music
                                         should inspire, but that’s all. It must be the
                                         conviction and purpose behind the
                                         performance that constitutes the difference.
                                         The Farival twins and Adele do not aspire to
                                                      more than entertaining friends. Their
                                                      priorities are certainly different from the
                                                      much more serious and unconventional

Edna’s reaction to Reisz’s playing                    Edna is not prepared for the heady reaction
                                                      she experiences. At the same time that she
                                                      is awakening to her sensuality, she is also
                                                      awakening to art.

Robert’s suggestion (a moonlight                      Here we have a most timely suggestion;
swim)                                                 Edna’s reaction to Mademoiselle Reisz’s
                                                      playing suggests another incremental
                                                      movement toward self-actualization.
                                                      Clearly, Chopin has linked the sea to Edna’s
                                                      journey inward. Robert’s suggestion at this
                                                      particular moment (unbeknownst to him, no
                                                      doubt) connects the two once more.

                                 The Awakening
                                            (chapter 10)

Technical climax                                      The moment that Edna steps into the water
                                                      and begins to swim in incredibly significant.
                                                      In an instant her fear leaves her and she
                                                      resolves to swim far beyond the reach of the
                                                      others on the beach. She will swim out
                                                      farther than any other woman has done.
                                                      Clearly, this “distance” that Chopin speaks
                                                      of is far more metaphorical than literal.
                                                      Edna has finally consciously resolved to
                                                      disregard convention and live for herself.
                                                      This is the technical climax of the novel3.
                                                      Chopin even speaks of her in terms of a
                                                      stumbling, unsteady child at this point. The
                                                      water, in this instance, might also remind us
                                                      of the emersion of a babe from the amniotic
                                                      fluid in the womb. Just a thought!

Edna’s fear of the sea                                Even though she is invigorated and excited
                                                      as she dares to swim out so far, Edna is also
                                                      frightened. She realizes that she could

    technical climax: point at which power changes hands
                                      drown if she goes too far, but this flirtation
                                      with death heightens, rather than “kills” her
                                      excitement. Gotta love those puns!!

Edna’s attraction to Robert           It makes sense that Edna should fully
                                      discover her attraction for Robert at this
                                      particular point in the novel. After all, she
                                      has now fully awakened, so her passions
                                      become absolutely evident to her. But it is
                                      also interesting to think of how insignificant
                                      this particular man is in the grand scheme of
                                      this novel. Robert’s individuality is of no
                                      narrative consequence; he might just as well
                                      be any other man to whom Edna might find
                                      herself attracted.

                              The Awakening
                                 (chapter 11)

Why is Leonce’s request that          A better question would be why is her
Edna go inside significant?           refusal to submit significant. She realizes
                                      that she has obeyed Leonce in the past, but
                                      she will no longer do that. She pleases
                                      herself, remaining in the hammock until she
                                      is ready to go elsewhere.

                              The Awakening
                                 (chapter 12)

The lady in black                     Chopin keeps the lady in black always close
                                      at hand in this chapter. She is reminiscent of
                                      the blind beggar in Madame Bovary. One
                                      must wonder if she is more a means of
                                      foreshadowing future calamity (death) than
                                      she is an indication/reminder of how
                                      “proper” women should act once their
                                      husbands are dead. I suppose it is true that
                                      Leonce is, in a sense, dead to Edna at this
                                      point, but marriage seems to have become
                                      entirely unimportant in the thematic
                                      structure of this novel, now that Edna has
                                    “awakened.” What do you make of the
                                    omnipresence of this looming, ominous
                                    figure in this particular chapter?

                        The Awakening
                               (chapter 13)

all this on Sunday!                 Edna’s excursion with Robert comes to pass
                                    on a Sunday. They even go to mass but do
                                    not stay until the end of the service, since
                                    Edna finds herself feeling drowsy and
                                    irritated. This is curious since Chopin has
                                    made it perfectly evident that Edna has
                                    finally awakened to her own desires and
                                    thoughts. Why is it that the church service
                                    has made her drowsy? Is the institution of
                                    religion seeking to suppress her once again?
                                    One shouldn’t wonder why Chopin garnered
                                    such negative reviews; this borders on

Edna’s “baptism”                    Edna drinks water from the well. Critics
                                    have long drawn a connection between this
                                    water, that comes from “mother earth,” and
                                    the water used for the sacrament of baptism.
                                    The former is obviously more secular—
                                    AND more appropriate for her new identity.

The food at Madame Antoine’s        Edna finds this food especially delicious.
                                    This is an indication that all of her appetites
                                    are stronger now.

                        The Awakening
                               (chapter 14)

Adele vs. Edna                      During Edna’s absence, Adele has cared for
                                    Leonce and Etienne. The contrast between
                                    the women has never been sharper than it is
                                    at this point.

Edna’s singing                      When Edna sings, “If you only knew,” the
                                        implication is that she knows something that
                                        no one else does—particularly the men in
                                        her life. Is she thinking of Leonce? Of
                                        Robert? Of her entire circle of friends? If
                                        they only knew what? That she has
                                        discovered her strength? That she actually
                                        is strong and alive and passionate?

                           The Awakening
                                   (chapter 15)

Robert’s departure for Mexico           This is an unexpected narrative turn. We
                                        must wonder what Chopin’s intentions are
                                        here. His sudden plans to leave and his
                                        failure to tell Edna before the general
                                        announcement certainly makes this man
                                        look like a cad. Edna’s trust in him seems to
                                        have been a mistake, but is Chopin saying
                                        here that disappointment of this sort is a
                                        necessary consequence of spiritual
                                        awakening? Take note of the two sentences
                                        which close the chapter: The future was a
                                        mystery which she never attempted to
                                        penetrate. The present alone was
                                        significant, was hers, to torture her as it was
                                        doing then with the biting which her
                                        impassioned, newly awakened being

                           The Awakening
                                   (chapter 16)

I would give up the unessential;        Edna’s perception of self becomes clearer
I would give my money, I would          in this passage. She even considers her
give my life for my children;           physical life to be less valuable than her
but I wouldn’t give myself. I           inner life. Again, we are reminded of her
can’t make it more clear; it’s          characteristic reserve—her tendency to
only something which I am               hold herself apart from others. This idea
beginning to comprehend,                 of a woman’s necessity for a space of her
which is revealing itself to me.         own is rife in female writers of the period;
                                         I’m reminded of Doris Lessing’s “To Room
                                         Nineteen.” I will place a copy of this story
                                         on reserve in the library. You might find
                                         occasion to draw some connection to it later.

Mademoiselle Reisz                       This character’s interaction with Edna in this
                                         chapter is important because later in the
                                         novel, the relationship between the two will
                                         become much more important. And the
                                         spring board for this connection between
                                         them is Robert.

                            The Awakening
                                    (chapter 17)

Leonce’s fondness for his                Chopin tells us that Leonce enjoys walking
possessions                              about his house admiring his possessions.
                                         When he sees Edna dressed in rather
                                         mundane fashion, rather than her ordinary
                                         Tuesday finery, he is taken aback. Does this
                                         remind you of the narrator’s earlier
                                         comment about his reaction to Edna’s tan?
                                         It should.

the Tuesday ritual                       In refusing to continue with the Tuesday
                                         ritual of receiving visitors and entertaining
                                         as any “proper hostess” might, Edna
                                         horrifies Leonce. His primary objection to
                                         her effrontery is a concern for his own
                                         financial welfare. If he and his household
                                         do not adhere to certain social expectations,
                                         then his clients may well cease to conduct
                                         business with them. Edna’s reason for
                                         flouting tradition in this manner is her now-
                                         mature sense of independent spirit. She now
                                         has become a social iconoclast, and she
                                         relishes the change.

Leonce’s complaint about the soup        Leonce finds fault with the soup, claiming
                                         that it is bland. His explanation for this is
                                         that the servants need supervision or they
                                         will begin to run the house as they see fit.
                                    Clearly, this comment is a slur intended for
                                    his wife; this is his way of chiding her for
                                    her independence. She, like the servants,
                                    apparently needs his guidance if she is to
                                    fulfill her duties properly.

open windows                        As you will see when you read “The Story
                                    of an Hour,” Chopin is fond of showing
                                    newly independent characters poised before
                                    an open window. The narrative meaning
                                    here should be fairly obvious. When a
                                    window is open, it invites a breeze and
                                    suggests possibility, whereas a closed
                                    window suggests finality, immobility, and
                                    stifling closeness (of the air). In this chapter
                                    we see Edna standing in front of an open
                                    window. Why is this an appropriate stance
                                    for this particular scene?

the uncrushable wedding ring        The symbolic significance of Edna’s attempt
                                    to destroy the ring is so obvious that I won’t
                                    insult your intelligence by explaining the
                                    connection. What is more interesting than
                                    her actions here is the apparent
                                    indestructibility of the ring itself. Is this
                                    Chopin’s way of showing that the institution
                                    of marriage is so indelibly ingrained in
                                    American culture, that no woman—not even
                                    one as bold and resolved as Edna—can
                                    hope to escape its clutches?

                                    Take a look at this: Once she stopped, and
                                    taking off her wedding ring, flung it upon
                                    the carpet. When she saw it lying there, she
                                    stamped her heel upon it, striving to crush it.
                                    But her small boot heel did not make an
                                    indenture, not a mark upon the little
                                    glittering circlet.

                                    Significantly, the chapter ends with Edna
                                    slipping the ring back on her finger.

                         The Awakening
                               (chapter 18)
What is the significance of the           Edna’s visit with Adele has shown her
final paragraph of this chapter?          that she absolutely does not desire the kind
                                          of life that Adele has. She thinks of Adele
                                          as an unthinking and “blindly content”
                                          woman. She somehow knows that while
                                          Adele will not know paralyzing sadness,
                                          neither will she enjoy “life’s delirium.” In
                                          other words, this “mother-woman” will
                                          never know passion either.

                            The Awakening
                                     (chapter 19)

Edna’s painting                           Edna chooses to paint instead of receive
                                          Tuesday callers, even though she does not
                                          really hope to become a great painter. She
                                          is, however, an artist. Consequently, she
                                          cannot resist her urge to create in her
                                          medium. Leonce does not understand, of
                                          course. He regards her painting and
                                          sketching as the playful occupations of a

To what cause does Leonce                 Take a look at the following cutting:
attribute Edna’s obstreperousness?        It sometimes entered Mr. Pontellier’s mind
                                          to wonder if his wife were not growing a
                                          little unbalanced mentally. I hope that you
                                          remember my earlier claim this year that
                                          strong female characters in literature
                                          published prior to the Modern Period often
                                          suffered one of the two following ends:
                                                   1. death (murder or suicide)
                                                   2. insanity

                                          If you remember, we decided that the reason
                                          for these particular eventualities was the
                                          inability of male writers to fathom the
                                          actions and ideas of a liberated, intelligent,
                                          resolute woman. Rather than deal with such
                                          a creature, it was much easier to dispatch her
                                          to the graveyard or the dungeon.
                                       Why is it somehow appropriate that Leonce
                                       would wonder about Edna’s mental stability

                             The Awakening
                                  (chapter 20)

the grocer’s distaste for              This is a bit of humor, but it is worth more
Mademoiselle Reisz                     than a cursory glance. Is Chopin implying
                                       that a serious female artist is bound to raise
                                       the ire of traditional men? One must wonder
                                       to what extent Chopin found this to be true
                                       in her own case.

Victor’s recounting of his             Victor’s feeling that Edna is “different” is
romantic conquests                     interesting. It enables him to tell her of his
                                       romantic exploits—something that he surely
                                       would never think of doing with another
                                       woman of her situation.

Edna’s appearance (according to        As Edna leaves the Lebrun’s, they both
Victor and his mother)                 realize that she is now “ravishing.” In fact,
                                       Victor conjectures that she does not seem to
                                       be the same woman. This is surely a bit of
                                       dramatic irony. Although he has sensed her
                                       “difference” from other women like herself,
                                       he certainly would have no way of knowing
                                       about (and certainly must, by the very nature
                                       of his sex, lack the ability to intuit) the
                                       changes she has undergone.

                             The Awakening
                                  (chapter 21)

Edna’s claim that she is not           This pleases Mademoiselle Reisz for its
sure whether she likes                 uncompromising honesty. It makes sense
Mademoiselle Reisz                     than an artist would appreciate this virtue,
                                     since true art absolutely depends on it. Art
                                     that does not deal honestly with emotion and
                                     experience is doomed to failure. She takes
                                     Edna’s straightforward answer as an
                                     indication that she is unlike the Victorian
                                     prudes and automatons that surround her.
                                     Review the passage in which Mademoiselle
                                     Reisz explains the characteristics of the

                                     To be an artist includes much; one must
                                     possess many gifts—absolute gifts—which
                                     have not been acquired by one’s own effort.
                                     And, moreover, to succeed, the artist must
                                     possess the courageous soul. . . The brave
                                     soul. The soul that dares and defies.

Mademoiselle’s music as              She moves from Chopin to a love song from
Edna reads Robert’s letter           Richard Wagner’s intoxicating opera Tristan
                                     und Isolda. As with Wagner’s other operas,
                                     this piece contains great emotional swells
                                     and bursting, passionate crescendos meant to
                                     imply the rapture of love and slow, plaintive
                                     movements that suggest heartbreak and loss.

                                     Tristan und Isolda concerns a married
                                     woman who has fallen hopelessly in love
                                     with another man. This song that
                                     Mademoiselle Reisz plays addresses the
                                     theme of suicide as the only means of union
                                     for the ill-fated lovers—suicide as the result
                                     of drowning. Wow! How about that?

                             The Awakening
                                (chapter 22)

Doctor Mandelet                      It would seem that this is the wisest and
                                     most intuitive man in this entire novel. He
                                     suspects that Edna may indeed be having an
                                     affair, and this shows some insight, but not
                                     even he can fathom her new motivations and
                                     her newly found values.
the eternal rights of women             This is Leonce’s dismissive, derogatory term
                                        for Edna’s “delusions.” His tone suggests
                                        his inability and unwillingness to recognize
                                        the possibility of female empowerment.

pseudointellectual women—               This is Mandelet’s name for early Feminist
superspiritual superior beings          political organizations (their membership

Edna’s refusal to attend Janet’s        Edna’s claim that, “a wedding is one of the
wedding                                 most lamentable spectacles on earth” is most
                                        powerful and telling. Clearly, she means
                                        that marriage quells a woman’s freedom of
                                        thought and expression. Her motivation for
                                        refusing to attend Janet’s wedding has much
                                        more to do with her new-found perspective
                                        than it does with her somewhat troubling
                                        personal history with her sister.

                            The Awakening
                                   (chapter 23)

the Colonel                             Edna’s father. Although he and she have
                                        never really been of one mind, they enjoy
                                        one another’s company. Also, he does not
                                        belittle her painting and sketching. This is
                                        to his credit.

                                        Perhaps another reason that Edna now
                                        relishes the company of her father is that she
                                        remembers how “violently opposed” he was
                                        to the marriage that is now proving so
                                        unbearable for her.

horse racing                            The Colonel and Edna are from Kentucky,
                                        for goodness sake. It should be no surprise
                                        that he and she would have a fondness for
                                        this pastime. Still, this trip to the races is
                                        noteworthy for two other reasons:

                                               1. Edna is strong and beautiful—like
                                                  a race horse.
                                               2. This visit to the tracks provides
                                                 an opportunity for Edna to meet
                                                 her future lover, Alcee Arobin.

Dr. Mandelet’s story at dinner        His tale is a veiled warning to Edna, whom
                                      he suspects of becoming involved with
                                      Alcee Arobin, a randy lothario known for
                                      his ruthless romantic exploits.

Edna’s story at dinner                Edna tells of lovers who are lost at sea.
                                      Clearly, this idea of becoming lost is a
                                      metaphorical suggestion of “becoming lost
                                      in love.” This is what she most desires—
                                      absolute abandon. Her listeners are drawn
                                      into her story; they feel its passion and react
                                      as any audience would to such a story
                                      related by a true artist.

                           The Awakening
                                 (chapter 24)

the Colonel on male domination        The manly and gruff Colonel criticizes
and “coercion”                        Leonce for being too accommodating with
                                      Edna. Chopin’s inclusion of the following
                                      line delivers quite an assessment of this
                                      character’s wisdom and demeanor: The
                                      Colonel was perhaps unaware that he had
                                      coerced his own wife into her grave.

Edna’s bath                           Chopin ends this chapter with Edna in the
                                      bath. She has attained a bit of solitude and
                                      is loving her freedom. She dines in her
                                      night clothes, reads, wanders about the
                                      house, and converses with the servants. She
                                      is not encumbered with a husband and
                                      children. So this bath at the end of the
                                      chapter signifies a further step in her
                                      independence. If she is washing away the
                                      remnants of outside restraint, we are left to
                                      wonder what is next.

                           The Awakening
                                      (chapter 25)

There is not much here worth mentioning specifically. This chapter is key in that it
establishes the foundation for Edna’s illicit relationship with Alcee. The association of
race horses has the effect of creating a sense of excitement, sexual tension, and romantic

                           The Awakening
                                      (chapter 26)

       key moments                                                   explanation

He sometimes talked in a way that            Alcee will not demonstrate the restraint that
astonished her at first and brought          Robert has shown. ‘Nuf said??
the crimson into her face; in a way
that pleased her at last, appealing
to the animalism that stirred
impatiently within her.

“I will take some brandy,” said              Edna is assuming a position of sexual
Edna, shivering as she removed               equality.
her gloves and overshoes. She
drank the liquor from the glass
as a man would have done.

       question or concern:                          answer/explanation

What is the significance of Edna’s           Her chipper tone is attributable to her
letter to Leonce?                            new romantic interest, but the real import of
                                             this letter is that it is her means of informing
                                             Leonce that she is leaving his house—and,
                                             also, the marriage.

                           The Awakening
                                      (chapter 27)

Mademoiselle’s comment about                 Again, we have the bird motif—birds
wings                                        with women in particular. But here we have
                              wings associated with ability and resolve.
                              As Mademoiselle places her hand on Edna’s
                              back and utters this statement, she (and
                              Chopin) are implying that Edna is the bird
                              and that she will need great strength if she is
                              to flout convention so daringly.

Daedalus and Icarus           This myth concerns a father and son who
                              seek to escape the Minotaur by creating
                              wings for themselves. They use wax to
                              piece the feathers together, so flying too
                              close to the sun may cause the wax to melt
                              and the “bird” to fall, crashing to earth.
                              Flying too close to the water would imbue
                              the wings with moisture and cause a similar
                              disaster. We know, of course, that Icarus
                              falls to earth because he fails to heed his
                              father’s warning. This tale has often been
                              used as a warning to the artist who must act
                              wisely and create truthfully. In fact, the
                              name Daedalus is a particular favorite in
                              this regard. One noteworthy example is
                              James Joyce’s artist-protagonist in Portrait
                              of the Artist as a Young Man.

                              This passage in The Awakening is
                              reminiscent of the Icarus myth. What are
                              the parallels?

                              Please visit the following site, read the text,
                              and be able to recall the content for our next


The kiss with Alcee           The text says it all:
                                     It was the first kiss of her life to
                                     which her nature had really
                                     responded. It was a flaming torch
                                     that kindled desire.

                      The Awakening
                         (chapter 28)
A tiny chapter whose purpose is merely to show how Edna’s recent interaction with
Alcee has made her love for Robert more obvious to her—a source of pain. She wishes
that this kiss with Alcee had been motivated by love. Also, Chopin here gives us a
tasteful and subtle suggestion that the relationship between Edna and Alcee has been
consummated with more than just a kiss.

                           The Awakening
                                   (chapter 29)

the Pigeon House                           This little house will serve as a symbol of
                                           Edna’s feminine independence. The name
                                           Pigeon House is interesting because it
                                           contains a reference to a bird that is
                                           traditionally associated with women and
                                           sensitivity—I mean that a great many
                                           authors besides Chopin have made this
                                           association (Remember the “pigeon-livered
                                           and lack gall” passage in Hamlet?).

                           The Awakening
                                   (chapter 30)

the significance of Edna’s party           Edna intends this party to be her farewell to
                                           her former life—a life of subjugation.
                                           However, it turns awry.

Victor’s singing                           Robert’s brother Victor, dressed in garlands,
                                           begins to sing the song that Robert sang to
                                           Edna (“If you only knew . . .”), and this is
                                           more than she can bear. She misses Robert
                                           terribly, and here is his brother—dressed as
                                           an ancient Greek fertility figure—singing
                                           his song of love. Ugh! Talk about tacky!!

                           The Awakening
                                   (chapter 31)
This chapter is significant in that it shows Edna leave Leonce’s house for good. It is
perhaps significant that her new lover escort her to the Pigeon House, since it has been
her new-found attraction to men other than her husband that seems to have acted as a
catalyst for this monumental change in her character.

                            The Awakening
                                    (chapter 32)

Leonce’s reaction to Edna’s move             Leonce’s first concern is his business
                                             persona. In an effort to prevent negative
                                             financial repercussions, he makes it known
                                             that he and Edna are remodeling their home
                                             and that they may vacation abroad during
                                             the coming summer. This is interesting. He
                                             cares far less over the destruction of his
                                             marriage than he does over having his peers
                                             think that he is nearing financial ruin. Only
                                             a wealthy man could pay for extensive
                                             remodeling and take an extended trip to

                            The Awakening
                                    (chapter 33)

Robert’s return                              The tension and awkwardness as Robert
                                             walks through that door and finds Edna
                                             waiting within!! It is interesting that they
                                             meet again in Mademoiselle Reisz’s
                                             apartment, since this is the person who has
                                             done more than any other character to help
                                             Edna aspire to complete selfhood.

Why is it noteworthy that                    Whereas Mademoiselle Reisz’s playing is
Robert’s arm crashes down                    sublime—a reminder that art can indeed
on the piano keys?                           reside within human beings, women in
                                             particular—, the horribly cacophonous
                                             sound that Robert inadvertently makes at
                                             this difficult and awkward moment is
                                             anything but graceful and sublime. One can
                                             almost imagine that Chopin is having a
                                             chuckle at this point; the “symphony in our
                            heads” as we imagine a perfectly romantic
                            encounter achieves a laughable counterpart
                            as Edna and her beloved meet again.

Robert’s jealousy           This is wonderful, isn’t it? Remember how
                            we made an earlier point about the absurdity
                            of jealousy among the Creoles? Well, it
                            seems that Robert has undergone a
                            transformation in this regard. Of course, the
                            reason that the Creoles felt that jealousy is
                            an absurd emotion is that they worked under
                            an assumption that there would be no
                            consummation of extramarital affairs.
                            Perhaps Robert knows that he cannot count
                            on such restraint in this case. Chopin is
                            having a field day as she tells us of Robert’s
                            discomfort as he looks at Alcee’s

                    The Awakening
                       (chapter 34)

jealousy                    Edna is jealous of the Mexican girl who has
                            given Robert a gift, and Robert is jealous of
                            Alcee. It would seem that Alcee is the only
                            one who isn’t jealous, although he claims to
                            be—saying to Edna, “I am always less than
                            Robert. Has he been imparting tender
                            confidences?” Alcee is not really one to
                            give his heart to any woman, even Edna.

                    The Awakening
                       (chapter 35)

Alcee’s letter              This is funny. If you were under the false
                            impression that Edna has emotionally
                            invested in her illicit affair with Alcee, this
                            little turn of events should convince you
                            otherwise; she burns his letter rather than
                            deign to answer it.
                         The Awakening
                                     (chapter 36)

speaking one’s mind as a masculine        Edna says, “I suppose this is what you
trait                                     would call unwomanly; but I have got into a
                                          habit of expressing myself.”

Edna as Leonce’s possession               Edna scoffs at Robert’s remark about
                                          wanting to marry her, should Leonce “set
                                          her free.” She is not a possession to be
                                          bandied about. She says, “I am no longer
                                          one of Mr.Pontellier’s possessions to
                                          dispose of or not. I give myself where I

slumber motif                             Edna tells Robert that, “It was you who
                                          awoke me last summer out of a life-long,
                                          stupid dream.”

                         The Awakening
                                     (chapter 37)

childbirth                                Edna sees childbirth as a torture for women.
                                          In fact, she can hardly remember the
                                          experience: Edna began to feel uneasy. She
                                          was seized with a vague dread. Her own
                                          like experiences seemed far away, unreal,
                                          and only half remembered. She recalled
                                          faintly an ecstasy of pain, the heavy odor of
                                          chloroform, a stupor which had deadened
                                          sensation, and an awakening to find a little
                                          new life to which she had given being, added
                                          to the great unnumbered multitude of souls
                                          that come and go. Please notice the mention
                                          of “awakening.”

Adele’s admonition                        Once again, Adele encourages Edna to
                                          change her perspective so as to become a
                                          “mother-woman.” She tells her to
                                          “remember the children.” This she says just
                                          after she has yet again given birth. Edna,
                                          too, has just given birth as well—she has
                                          given birth to herself as a thinking, feeling,
                                          courageous, independent person in the

                          The Awakening
                                     (chapter 38)
Edna’s refusal to tour Europe with        We should be aware of Edna’s sense of
Leonce                                    personal strength and independent vision by
                                          now, but I mention it once more because her
                                          statement to Dr. Mandelet (when he asks if
                                          she will accompany Leonce on a trip to
                                          Europe) is perhaps the most powerful
                                          statement of her new position: I’m not
                                          going to be forced into doing things. I don’t
                                          want to go abroad. I want to be let alone.
                                          Nobody has any right . . . The years that are
                                          gone seem like dreams—if one might go on
                                          sleeping and dreaming—but to wake up and
                                          find—oh! Well! Perhaps it is better to wake
                                          up after all, even to suffer, rather than to
                                          remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.

Edna’s strange mention of children        After Edna’s claim that “nobody has any
                                          right,” she rambles into a mention of
                                          children. She is implying that children may
                                          have some right to make demands, but then
                                          her statement trails off into confusion. She
                                          has just come from Adele’s bedside, and she
                                          is probably thinking of her own children.
                                          Perhaps she is feeling some degree of
                                          responsibility to them, and this feeling is
                                          confusing or troubling to her. This new
                                          concern for her brood “muddies the water” a
                                          bit here. Perhaps total abandon and absolute
                                          non-conformity are not an entirely real
                                          avenue for her.

Doctor Mandelet’s view of passion         He sees this as a means of securing the
                                          propagation of the race. In other words,
                                          sexual passion leads to copulation, which
                                     then leads to the birth of children. This is an
                                     extremely pragmatic view of passion; it is
                                     also one that carries mild accusation—an
                                     indictment of those who are so weak as to
                                     fall victim to “illusions.”

Robert’s farewell letter             He writes, “Goodbye—because I love you.”
                                     This is somewhat confusing. Does he mean
                                     that her association with a man other than
                                     her husband would bring her shame and
                                     ruin? Does he love her so much that he will
                                     not have her suffer in this way? It seems far
                                     more likely that his own fears have driven
                                     him away. Would Chopin really allow
                                     Robert to become a self-sacrificing hero at
                                     this point in the game?

                           The Awakening
                                (chapter 39)

the bird with the broken wing        This symbolism is overwhelming. Of
                                     course Chopin intends that the reader
                                     connect this bird and Edna. Whereas the
                                     bird’s wing is broken, causing it to fall to
                                     sea, Edna’s strength (her wing) is broken
                                     with Robert’s abandonment. Perhaps it is
                                     not actually Robert’s departure that so
                                     wounds her, but rather the realization that he
                                     has never understood her and never would

Edna’s nakedness                     Before she enters the water, Edna sheds all
                                     her clothing. Her nudity here is symbolic of
                                     her complete departure from convention.
                                     She is now absolutely free from outside
                                     constraint. She is accountable only to
                                     herself now—hence her nakedness.

suicide in the sea                   Edna’s choice of drowning as a means of her
                                     suicide fits thematically into this narrative.
                                     From the beginning the ocean has been a
                                     symbol of freedom, and this has always been
                                     her ultimate desire.
Please read the following short story and be prepared to encounter it on your
Chopin test.

                                    Story of an Hour
                                             Kate Chopin

                 Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to
       break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death.
                 It was her sister Josephine who told her, in broken sentences; veiled hints that revealed in
       half concealing. Her husband’s friend Richards was there, too, near her. It was he who had been
5      in the newspaper office when intelligence of the railroad disaster was received, with Brently
       Mallard’s name leading the list of “killed.” He had only taken the time to assure himself of its
       truth by a second telegram, and had hastened to forestall any less careful, less tender friend in
       bearing the sad message.
                 She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed
10     inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her
       sister’s arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself, she went away to her room alone. She
       would have no one follow her.
                 There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank,
       pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.
15               She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver
       with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler
       was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which someone was singing reached her faintly,
       and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.
                 There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met
20     and piled above the other in the west facing her window.
                 She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except
       when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep contin-
       ues to sob in its dreams.
                 She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain
25     strength. But now there was a dull stare in her eyes, whose gaze was fixed away off yonder on
       one of those patches in the sky. It was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension
       of intelligent thought.
                 There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it?
       She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky,
30     reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air.
                 Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously. She was beginning to recognize this thing
       that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will—as power-
       less as her two white, slender hands would have been.
                 When she abandoned herself a little, a whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips.
35     She said it over and over under her breath: “Free, free, free!” The vacant stare and the look of ter-
       ror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast,
       and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.
                 She did not stop to ask if it were not a monstrous joy that held her. A clear and exalted
       perception enabled her to dismiss the suggestion as trivial.
40               She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in
       death; the face that had never looked, save with love, upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she
       saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her abso-
     lutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome.
               There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for her-
45   self. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and
     women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention
     or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment
     of illumination.
               And yet she had loved him—sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter! What
50   could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which
     she suddenly recognized as the strong impulse of her being!
               “Free! Body and soul free!” she kept whispering.
               Josephine was kneeling before the closed door with her lips to the keyhole, imploring for
     admission. “Louise, open the door! I beg; open the door—you will make yourself ill. What are
55   you doing, Louise? For heaven’s sake, open the door.”
               “Go away. I am not making myself ill.” No; she was drinking in a very elixir of life
     through that open window.
               Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer
     days, and all sorts of days that would be her own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be
60   long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.
               She arose at length and opened the door to her sister’s importunities. There was a fever-
     ish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory. She clasped
     her sister’s waist, and together they descended the stairs. Richards stood waiting for them at the
65             Someone was opening the front door with a latchkey. It was Brently Mallard who en-
     tered, a little travel-stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella. He had been far
     from the scene of the accident, and did not even know there had been one. He stood amazed at
     Josephine’s piercing cry; at Richards’ quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife.
               But Richards was too late.
70             When the doctors came, they said she had died of heart disease—of joy that kills.

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