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The first chapter of “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin establishes the setting as Grand Isle, which, although it is not yet stated where exactly this is, from the fact that it is near the ocean and hotels, it is clear that it is a vacation destination with a large central house and many others surrounding it. The setting of “The Awakening” includes the first character the reader will meet, Mr. Pontellier, who is a clean-cut man who wears glasses, scans the newspaper and generally does not seem incredibly interested in too much.
The opening chapter of “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin not only describes Mr. Pontellier, but also begins to focus on his wife as soon as he sees her parasol in the sun and her coming toward him. She is walking with a young man, Robert, and has clearly been enjoying herself and, as her husband notes when he surveys her “looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property, which has suffered some damage,” she is sunburned. His wife, however, does not seem bothered and as she takes her rings, which her husband was keeping for her while she was in the water and puts them on, she begins to laugh with Robert and the two try to tell her somewhat standoffish husband about what is funny, to no avail. Clearly the two get along well and her husband is out of the loop. This introductory chapter of “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin ends with Mr. Pontellier heading out to Klein’s (assumedly a bar or pool hall for upscale gentlemen) and Edna left there with the children and Robert.
The second chapter offers readers a more thorough description of both Mrs. Pontellier (Edna) and her male companion, Robert Lebrun. This chapter reveals that both are a bit young and like to talk of themselves and rather shallow matters such as fellow visitors to the island and the weather but this is very enjoyable and even Mrs. Pontellier’s children like Robert. The two also talk of their past and where they came from in this section of “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin. Robert Lebrun works as a clerk and correspondent and is paid rather well, which is fitting as he comes from a wealthy background; a fact that is evidenced by the fact that he is staying that summer at his mother’s grand house where she lives a “comfortable existence which appeared to be her birthright.” He talks about going to Mexico in the near future, something that he has been saying he will do for years but seems finally to be set upon. It is revealed that Mrs. Pontellier grew up in Kentucky near horses in Bluegrass country with her sisters and wealthy family, a place that she left upon marrying her husband. The narrator also offers a physical description of Mrs. Pontellier, saying that she is more “handsome than beautiful” and that “her face was captivating by reason of a certain frankness of expression and a contradictory subtle play of features. Her manner was engaging.”
The third chapter takes place later that same night around eleven o’clock. Edna is sleeping and barely listens or stirs as her husband comes home from Klein’s, making noise and telling her about gossip and news he picked up. She is not interested and “He thought it was very discouraging that his wife, who was the sole object of his existence, evinced so little interest in things which concerned him, and valued so little his conversation.” More tension ensues between the couple when Mr. Pontellier checks on the children and contends that their son Raoul has a high fever, despite his wife’s adamant defense that he is fine and there was nothing wrong with him when he went to bed. Her husband “reproached his wife with her inattention, her habitual neglect of the children. If it was not a mother’s place to look after the children, whose on earth was it.” This angers his wife and she springs from the bed and runs out the porch where she begins to cry much harder than she expects to and she can’t explain why. As the narrator suggests, however, “An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish. “ In the morning at this point in the summary of "The Awakening", things are a bit better. Mr. Pontellier is leaving on business, which he looks forward to. He leaves half of his money with his wife, who is pleased with this and exclaims that she will buy a wedding present for her sister. This chapter skips time and states that a week later she receives a box from her husband who is in New Orleans that is filled with gourmet candies. She shares them with the ladies in the vacation area who remark what a great husband she has and she “was forced to admit that she knew of none better.”
The fourth and fifth chapters of “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin introduces more thoroughly the character of Madame Ratignolle, who is very fond of Mrs. Pontellier, despite the fact that she is one of the quintessential “mother women” on the island whereas Edna is not. Whereas Edna lets her children run free and is often seen, at least to her husband, to be a bit careless, women like Adele (Madame Ratignolle’s first name) are super-mothers who dote on their children. She is very beautiful and, to Edna, is the very picture of perfect womanhood and femininity. She was once the object of Robert’s attentions and being more “Creole” and free about personal matters than Edna, is a bit more open and can flirt with Robert a bit better. In short, these two chapters establish the fact that there is a clear duality in terms of the kind of women that exist on the island—Madame Ratignolle and Edna. In the fifth chapter an interesting detail about Robert Lebrun is revealed—he repeatedly finds a female companion to dote on every summer, “sometimes it was a young girl, again a widow; but as often as not it was some interesting married woman” in this case, Edna and before another married woman who died between summers. At the close of the fifth chapter Edna sits sketching Madame Ratignolle’s face as Robert, despite Edna’s gentle attempts to dissuade him, rests his head on her shoulder. As this happens, Adele suddenly feels faint and everyone attends to her. After her spell is over, she leaves, with her children clinging to her skirts, looking the picture of pure motherhood.