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The story centers around Edna's crisis of realization. The question is whether or not she is strong enough to pursue her quest for fulfillment. By the end of the story, one sees that Edna is a very perceptive and strong person. But she lives in a society that cannot accommodate her needs. The story is a tragedy in that the heroine both has a vision and cannot cope with the consequences of her drastic actions. She knows where her trouble lies, but she cannot see beyond it. Her attempts to find her way out are predictable and reveal how acutely aware of human nature Kate Chopin could be. Edna turns out to be simply human, however, and not a Mademoiselle Reisz-style artist.
No character in the book is as fully formed as Edna, but Robert comes close. He is the foolish young man, the lover, and the coward. He is also aware of the tragedy of his position, and he cannot see his way around the difficulties, except to run away. He makes all the weak plays that one might expect of a confused upper-middle class young man, yet Chopin also makes him an endearing double for Edna. He is her male counterpart, with more choices and more places to go. He tries to do "the right thing."
Léonce falls out of the narrative about half way through the novel. This is consistent within a book that is following Edna's consciousness: past a certain point, he is simply not a part of her life. He is the distant adjunct. He is the typical blind husband who considers his family merely an extension of his material wealth. The reader is constantly reminded that he is a good husband in the usual social sense. But he remains in the dark as a perfectly trained member of his sex and class. As far as his limited perception can allow him to be, he is sympathetic.
Another male type, Alcée is the slimy manipulator, the one who takes advantage of scenes for his own entertainment. He is perhaps a masculine double for Mademoiselle Reisz. He adores drama and greatly enjoys his part in awakening Edna's sensual desire. He, also, is expendable within Edna's schema of her world: it is realistic that she can see through him and that she knows how little he can offer her. Chopin presents him as rather pathetic in his adoration of Edna. Whether he helps drive Edna to her demise is up to the individual reader to decide. He certainly signals her social demise, in that no "decent" woman would entertain him as Edna does.
Both friend and foe to Edna, Mademoiselle Reisz plays an important part in the plot as the link between Edna and Robert. She is attractive to Edna because of her blunt manner. She meets Edna's needs with a certain mean-spirited streak, which is often disguised as helpfulness. She seems to revel in displays of emotion. Her very apartment signals her attitude: above everyone, with a view, but disagreeable and often cold. She is an anti- mother figure to Edna, and she also represents an unappealing version of the female artist, one who lives in eccentric isolation.
One gets the idea that Edna's interest in Adèle is like that of an anthropologist observing a foreign culture. Adèle is the ultimate mother, and Edna would like to investigate that state of being. What Edna finds is sordid, messy, and emotional in a manner that she cannot duplicate. Adèle stands for the status quo, for raising children and giving of one's self in a way that Edna cannot fathom. The violence of childbirth, played out on Adèle's body, is a perfect illustration to Edna of the pain of living as a woman: how could anyone do such a thing? Also, Adèle's ideas are too primitive and depressing for Edna. Her life is given over to the patriarchal agenda, and she is not much her own person, except in "illness." Nevertheless, it is crucial for the reader to acknowledge that these two very different women remain friends until the end of the novel. Chopin does not seem interested in representing the hostilities that could arise from these very different versions of "a woman's place."