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Awakening from the slumber of patriarchal social convention is the main theme of the book. Edna must rouse herself from the life of dullness she has always lived. What she awakens to, however, it is so much larger than herself that she ultimately cannot manage the complexity of it.
The artist's ability to create herself is another theme. Can Edna do it? Life's paradoxes are so huge, and Edna's experience so limited, that the question fuels the book's plot.
Awakening sexuality is another often-discussed theme. Edna, during the course of the story, comes to physical awakening. Tragically, it is not through someone she loves, and this devastates her. When sexual awakening comes with the object of her desire, Robert, it is short-lived. The intensity of feeling, however, is there. Edna lives.
Familial relationships are investigated in this book and rejected by Edna. In trying to create a new order, Edna discards all the old ones. She will not go to her sister's wedding, she considers herself unmarried, and she refuses to respect her father's wishes in the way that everyone expects. Edna realizes that she has never been intimately connected with these people who are her relatives.
Character types are investigated, too. Nearly everyone in the story is a type, but Chopin investigates them in such a way that one sees their three-dimensional qualities.
Turn-of-the-century Creole living in southern Louisiana is clearly portrayed in this book. Chopin is considered a sharp chronicler of this corner of the United States, its way of life, and particular customs. The post-reconstruction south is portrayed in the eerie silence of the myriad of African-American characters in the book. They are everywhere at the margins and sometimes seem almost to comment on the action.
A kind of wry but sympathetic voice tells the story of Edna's turmoil. Although told in the third-person, the account closely follows Edna and her thought processes. The dialogue often reveals the sharp disjunctures between thought and speech. Kate Chopin's true artistry is at work here. Generally, the voice is observant and non-judgmental.