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The Awakening

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The Awakening opens in the late 1800s in Grand Isle, a summer holiday resort popular with the wealthy inhabitants of nearby New Orleans Edna Pontellier is vacationing with her husband, Lйonce, and their two sons at the cottages of Madame Lebrun, which house affluent Creoles from the French Quarter. Lйonce is kind and loving but preoccupied with his work. His frequent business-related absences mar his domestic life with Edna. Consequently, Edna spends most of her time with her friend Adиle Ratignolle, a married Creole who epitomizes womanly elegance and charm. Through her relationship with Adиle, Edna learns a great deal about freedom of expression. Because Creole women were expected and assumed to be chaste, they could behave in a forthright and unreserved manner. Exposure to such openness liberates Edna from her previously prudish behavior and repressed emotions and desires.

Edna's relationship with Adиle begins Edna's process of "awakening" and self-discovery, which constitutes the focus of the book. The process accelerates as Edna comes to know Robert Lebrun, the elder, single son of Madame Lebrun. Robert is known among the Grand Isle vacationers as a man who chooses one woman each year--often a married woman--to whom he then plays "attendant" all summer long. This summer, he devotes himself to Edna, and the two spend their days together lounging and talking by the shore. Adиle Ratignolle often accompanies them.

At first, the relationship between Robert and Edna is innocent. They mostly bathe in the sea or engage in idle talk. As the summer progresses, however, Edna and Robert grow closer, and Robert's affections and attention inspire in Edna several internal revelations. She feels more alive than ever before, and she starts to paint again as she did in her youth. She also learns to swim and becomes aware of her independence and sexuality. Edna and Robert never openly discuss their love for one another, but the time they spend alone together kindles memories in Edna of the dreams and desires of her youth. She becomes inexplicably depressed at night with her husband and profoundly joyful during her moments of freedom, whether alone or with Robert. Recognizing how intense the relationship between him and Edna has become, Robert honorably removes himself from Grand Isle to avoid consummating his forbidden love. Edna returns to New Orleans a changed woman.

Back in New Orleans, Edna actively pursues her painting and ignores all of her social responsibilities. Worried about the changing attitude and increasing disobedience of his wife, Lйonce seeks the guidance of the family physician, Doctor Mandelet. A wise and enlightened man, Doctor Mandelet suspects that Edna's transformation is the result of an affair, but he hides his suspicions from Lйonce. Instead, Doctor Mandelet suggests that Lйonce let Edna's defiance run its course, since attempts to control her would only fuel her rebellion. Lйonce heeds the doctor's advice, allowing Edna to remain home alone while he is away on business. With her husband gone and her children away as well, Edna wholly rejects her former lifestyle. She moves into a home of her own and declares herself independent--the possession of no one. Her love for Robert still intense, Edna pursues an affair with the town seducer, Alcйe Arobin, who is able to satisfy her sexual needs. Never emotionally attached to Arobin, Edna maintains control throughout their affair, satisfying her animalistic urges but retaining her freedom from male domination.

At this point, the self-sufficient and unconventional old pianist Mademoiselle Reisz adopts Edna as a sort of protйgй, warning Edna of the sacrifices required of an artist. Edna is moved by Mademoiselle Reisz's piano playing and visits her often. She is also eager to read the letters from abroad that Robert sends the

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