The Awakening Plot Summary
Leonce Pontellier and his young wife, Edna, spend the summer months at Grande Isle. While resting, Leonce gambles and works in business at the local hotel, Klein's, and visits Carondelet Street in New Orleans during the week. Edna learns how to swim on the beach and befriends Madame Adele Ratignolle and Robert Lebrun. As Edna is discovering new ways to live on her own and support herself in the water, she spends almost all her time with Robert, developing feelings for him. Adele warns him not to flirt with Edna, for she is not like them - society people who come and go at their pleasing.
There are several parties during the weekends, in which dancing, singing, and nonchalant banter are the norm. One day at the Lebrun cottages, Mademoiselle Reisz, a middle aged, single, eccentric pianist, plays the Chopin Impromptu. Edna is mesmerized by the music and nostalgic by the emotions it elicits. She generally does not like Mademoiselle Reisz, but is nonetheless enthralled. Reisz asks Edna how she liked the music and believes her to be the only worthy audience member that day.
One evening at dinner, Robert announces to his mother and everyone else that he is leaving for Mexico in the evening for an indefinite period of time. Edna is shocked and hurt, and leaves the table to mend her aching heart. Adele follows her, agreeing that Robert showed little respect by not telling her that he was planning on leaving.
After Robert leaves for Mexico, Edna feels as if she sees him everywhere, thinks of him all the time, and tries to continue with her life in New Orleans without him. She starts to spend most of her time with society people at the horse races and Jockey Club. She seeks Mademoiselle Reisz for comfort and advice. She slowly becomes more independent and does not live her life for Leonce or her children alone; rather, she lives her life for herself.
Edna's father, the Colonel, comes to town and beckons Edna to come to her sister, Janet's wedding. Edna refuses, claiming that weddings are a melancholy event. They dine, attend the Ratignolle's soirees, and discuss family matters.
Leonce Pontellier leaves for New York on business for an extended period of time. While away, Edna begins to awaken even more to her own life, her own soul. She paints, goes out alone spontaneously and refuses to return other people's calls. Leonce was worried about her odd behavior before he left and sought help from Doctor Mandelet. The two men simply assumed that her mood would pass.
Edna neglects her housework and decides to move out of their large home on Esplanade Street and into a smaller "pigeon-hole" home down the block. She hosts a grand farewell dinner party before she moves out, which is a great success. Her friends, with the exception of an ill Adele Ratignolle, attend. Alcee Arobin seduces Edna soon after, and although Edna feels guilty for giving into her carnal pleasures; she feels remorse for her beloved Robert - not her husband Leonce.
After moving into the pigeon house, adjusting to her new life, and painting portraits, landscapes, and anything she can see, Edna still misses Robert. She seeks Mademoiselle Reisz one day for comfort, and instead finds Robert at her home. She is shocked to learn that he has returned without finding her. They bicker and soon express their love for one another. Edna plans to be with him and only him. While back at her small home, a servant of Monsieur Ratignolle comes to find Edna to bring her to the Ratignolle home. Adele is in labor and wants to see Edna. Edna tells Robert to stay and wait for her. Once there, Adele whispers to Edna to think of her children.
When Edna returns home, Robert has left with a goodbye note that tells of his love for her. She is so hurt and shocked that she stares at the wall all night, holding the letter in her hand. The following day, Edna goes to her beloved ocean, removes all her clothes, and walks into the water. She continues farther and farther until she is seen no more.