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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
The story opens in Grand Isle, off the southern coast of Louisiana, and continues in New Orleans, where Edna Pontellier lives in relative luxury on the Esplanade in the fashionable French Quarter with her husband and two small boys. The time is near the end of the nineteenth century. The opening, at a Grand Isle resort, is a summertime scene: several cottages are occupied by wealthy vacationing Creole families from New Orleans. The story briefly returns to Grand Isle at the end.
Edna is an attractive and rather idle young woman of twenty-eight. She is married to an older man, a businessman, Léonce Pontellier. During the course of the story, part of her life is spent in pursuit of a career in painting and drawing, while much of it is spent in the turmoil over her sudden "awakening." Edna lives among the established Creole elite of New Orleans, but she herself is from Kentucky. She is the middle daughter of an old Kentucky horse-trader; her mother died when she was quite young. Edna is tall and striking. She is not exactly beautiful, but she has a very commanding presence. Near the beginning of the story, she comes to the realization that her life has been lived through, and for, others--according to rules and ideas that she begins to question. The story charts her rise from that slumber and the emotional tumult that results.
Edna's husband is from an old Louisiana family. He is in his forties.
He is tall and thin and a bit stooped. He is a businessman and lives life
with a great deal of regard for appearances and propriety. Edna is one
of his possessions. He tries to treat her with material freedom and regard,
although he has no notion of her interior life, nor any appreciation for
her awakening. He is considered to be a model husband. He likes the company
of the men at his club and is impatient with any inconvenience. He does
not understand Edna at all.
Robert is in his mid-twenties, the oldest son of Madame Lebrun, who runs the resort on Grand Isle where the Pontelliers are staying at the novel's opening. Robert always devotes himself to one of the summer lodger, usually a married woman. When he chooses Edna, she falls in love with him. He runs away to Mexico to avoid an affair, yet he also returns to pronounce his love, then runs away again. He is flirtatious, has light brown hair like Edna's, and is relatively handsome. He has a hard time establishing himself in business.
A musician and a "character," Mademoiselle Reisz is old and cranky, and most people do not like her. She is an excellent pianist, and she and Edna become friends of sorts. Mademoiselle Reisz and Edna develop a connection. Mademoiselle Reisz has a habit of saying exactly what she thinks, and she is very perceptive. She is short, stout, and not very sociable. There is a slight mean-streak to Mademoiselle Reisz.
Madame Adèle Ratignolle
Adèle is a motherly type, always occupied by the needs of her family. She is Creole, queen-like, and enjoys attention and admiration. She becomes Edna's friend at Grand Isle. Adèle's marriage is, outwardly, a happy one. In New Orleans she asks Edna to stay with her during the birth of her child.
A New Orleans man-about-town, Alcée Arobin is a renowned womanizer. He is good-looking, clever, and persistent. He becomes interested in Edna and tries to court her. He devotes himself to the game of romance.
Robert's younger brother, and the favored son of Madame Lebrun, Victor is a wild young man who knows he is good-looking and desirable. He is an audacious flirt and a bit immature.
Madame Lebrun, the mother of Robert and Victor, is the ultimate mistress of her household, hardworking and usually exasperated. Her husband died when the boys were small, and she runs the resort at Grand Isle with their help. She tries to keep her guests happy. She is also a member of the New Orleans Creole set.
Raoul and Etienne Pontellier
Edna's boys are small, wild, and rather distant from Edna. Their father wants them raised properly: he often feels that Edna neglects them.
Dr. Mandelet is semi-retired, and more wise than skillful. He still attends the old families--the Pontelliers and Ratignolles, for examples. He advises Léonce on Edna's condition and tries to talk to her himself after the birth of Adèle's baby. He may eventually recognize Edna's "awakening," but is never close enough to her to help.