“The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.”
The Awakening follows Edna Pontellier, a resident of coastal Grand Isle of Louisiana, in her late twenties, who has a quintessential set-up for a content housewife. Indeed, her husband makes good money, and her daily routine should gleefully hinge on the two children, but, Edna is neither a self-sacrificing mother, nor a devoted wife. Instead, she is gradually awoken to rebel against this ‘perfect set-up’. Edna finds herself in the middle of two extremes. On one hand, she finds selfless Madame Ratignolle, who is a model wife. On the other, there is dejected Mademoiselle Reisz, who pursues her artistic aspiration in solitude. While taking bold decisions and carving her niche, she explores her sexuality with a womanizer, Alcee and an intimate understanding with a young man, Robert Lebrun. Will this awakening predetermine her ultimate happiness or signpost personal tragedy? Will the duality of the ‘outward existence’ and ‘inward life’ be reconciled for Edna to signify her emancipation?
This short novel is widely acknowledged to do both, encapsulating the features of fin de siècle realism in its linear narrative, and anticipates literary modernism of the early twentieth century. Edna’s defiance of the American alternative of Victorian ‘Angel in the House’ is reminiscent of such classics as Anna Brontë’s Tenant of the Wildfell Hall. The Awakening also procures modernist works where the heroines look for the self - namely, Mrs Dalloway, Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Bell Jar. The condensed and intense prose style gives the novel a cryptic charm in line with Fitzgerald’s classic, The Great Gatsby. Besides, vivid natural symbolism of water, birds and the moon are the calling card of the novel that enhances its level of ambiguity and multivalence.