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Free Study Guide-The Awakening by Kate Chopin-Free Online Booknotes
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Chapters VII-XII


Edna lives a private and introspective existence, and does not confide in others, but outwardly she tends to conform to society. At Grand Isle that summer, she relaxes a bit and becomes more open. Adèle's outgoing and sensual nature has something to do with this. The two women are linked, perhaps by a kind of love. One day the two escape alone to the beach. They are striking figures, tall and elegant, but very different from each other. One might not notice Edna at first, but her noble beauty separates her from the crowd. Adèle is wearing white, while Edna is less carefully put together. They settle themselves on a rug in front of their rented bathhouses. Edna fans them, and they watch a woman in black, as well as two lovers who talk under the children's empty play-tent. Edna's eyes rest on the sea, and Adèle asks her what she is thinking about.

At first Edna dismisses the question, but then takes it more seriously, as a challenge to be candid. She says that she was thinking of her childhood in Kentucky, and of standing in a field as big as an ocean. Adèle asks what Edna was doing that day. Edna does not know if she was frightened or pleased or just entertained. Maybe she was running away from Sunday prayers. Then she remembers that later, after she was twelve, she underwent a religious fervor of sorts. Finally, she states that this summer, she feels a bit like the little girl in the big field--idle, aimless, unguided. Adèle consoles her and pats Edna's hand.

This confuses Edna, but she likes the caress. She is not used to such familiarity. Edna realizes that even as a child, she had friends who were reserved types. Neither of her sisters were very expressive, either. When she was young, she experienced some feelings of romantic longing: for a "sad-eyed" cavalry officer, a friend of her father's; for a young man who was to be married to a neighbor girl; later, to an actor, a tragedian, whose picture she kept on her desk. In private she sometimes kissed the picture.

Her marriage to Léonce was "purely an accident." Léonce appeared during the period when Edna had fallen for the actor. Léonce fell in love with her, and his devotion enflamed Edna. She "fancied there was a sympathy of thought and taste between them," although she was wrong about that. Her father and older sister opposed her marriage to Léonce, a Catholic, and this opposition naturally spurred her to marry him. She knew that her love for the tragedian was not of this world, and so she might as well be practical and dignified as the wife of a devoted husband. She put romance away. Then she grew fond of her husband, and she was pleased that theirs was not a passionate, volatile love, which could dissolve as easily as it had appeared.

She was fond of her children, but she could forget about them. When they stayed with their grandmother, she did not miss them. Chopin notes that "Fate had not fitted her (Edna)" for motherhood. Sitting on the beach, Edna knows that she cannot confide all of this to Adèle, but she does express some of her feelings, especially those which have just developed this summer. She becomes flushed with their intimacy, the sea, and the sound of her own voice. She feels free.

Robert appears with the children and the unhappy nursemaids. The women shake themselves free, relax from their intense conversation, and Edna goes off with the children to the play tent. The lovers have left. Adèle asks Robert to accompany her to the house and claims she is feeling unwell.

On their walk Adèle asks Robert to leave Mrs. Pontellier alone. He thinks Adèle is jealous, but Adèle explains that Edna is not "one of them" and will misunderstand Robert's attentions. As she says, Edna might take him seriously. Robert is offended at the insinuation that his summer courting of married women is just a trivial amusement. Adèle reminds him that he is acting like a child, and not a gentleman. She feels she has spoken the truth. But Robert's ego is wounded. He tells stories of the conquests of another young man, Alcée Arobin, until the two of them are laughing and gossiping and have forgotten all about Mrs. Pontellier. When Adèle goes back to her cottage, Robert apologizes for taking her well-intentioned warning so poorly. But he feels the warning is off-target: perhaps he should not take himself so seriously.

The lovers return to the resort, and since Robert does not see Edna around, he goes up to his mother's room and finds her sewing. He reads intently while his mother sews. They see Victor, Robert's younger brother, leave the house. Madame Lebrun calls after him, but he ignores her, and she is furious. She feels that if only her husband had not died, the universe would be in better order. Robert asks after Montel, one of his mother's suitors. He has sent a letter from Mexico, it appears, and is waiting for Robert to come and join him in his business.

A few weeks later the resort is decorated for a festive evening, and all of the families are there with visitors. After dinner, everyone sits around relaxing and talking. There is dancing, music, and recitations, all in no particular order. The Farival twins play the piano, the parrot shrieks, a child performs a bewildering dance, and Madame Ratignolle agrees to play waltzes. (She studies music for her children's sake.) Ice cream and cake are served.

After dancing, Edna goes to sit on a low windowsill. Robert comes by and asks if she would like to hear Mademoiselle Reisz play the piano. But Mademoiselle Reisz does not like to play: she finds most of the company disagreeable, although Robert says that she likes Edna and will play for her.

Mademoiselle Reisz agrees to play. She is small and homely and unfashionably dressed. She always wears artificial violets pinned to the side of her hair. She tells Robert to ask Mrs. Pontellier what she would like to hear. Everyone is glad and surprised to see the pianist, and Edna is embarrassed at being singled out for her attention. So, she asks that Mademoiselle Reisz choose the music.

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