The Importance of Setting in The Awakening

Powerful Essays
The Importance of Setting in The Awakening

Setting is a key element in Chopin's novel, The Awakening To the novel's main character, Edna Pontellier, house is not home. Edna was not herself when enclosed behind the walls of the Pontellier mansion. Instead, she was another person entirely-- someone she would like to forget. Similarly, Edna takes on a different identity in her vacation setting in Grand Isle, in her independent home in New Orleans, and in just about every other environment that she inhabits. In fact, Edna seems to drift from setting to setting in the novel, never really finding her true self - until the end of the novel.

Chopin seems highly concerned with this question throughout her narrative. On a larger scale, the author seems to be probing even more deeply into the essence of the female experience: Do women in general have a place in the world, and is the life of a woman the cumbersome pursuit to find that very place? The Awakening struggles with this question, raising it to multiple levels of complexity. Edna finds liberation and happiness in various places throughout the novel, yet this is almost immediately countered by unhappiness and misery. Even at the end, the reader is still left with the question of whether Edna has truly found a setting in which she can finally be herself.

Many readers would argue that Edna finds this niche in her seaside vacation home on Grand Isle. To Edna, the sea is a wide expanse of opportunity and liberation from the constricting socialite world of French Quarter New Orleans. Chopin's lavish descriptions of the sea give us an insight into its powerful effect on Edna:

The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whis...

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...e Awakening." 1899. The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Ed. Per Seyersted. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969. 881-1000.

Delbanco, Andrew. "The Half-Life of Edna Pontellier." New Essays on The Awakening. Ed. Wendy Martin. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988. 89-106.

Gilmore, Michael T. "Revolt Against Nature: The Problematic Modernism of The Awakening." Martin 59-84.

Giorcelli, Cristina. "Edna's Wisdom: A Transitional and Numinous Merging." Martin 109-39.

Martin, Wendy, ed. New Essays on the Awakening. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.

Papke, Mary E. Verging on the Abyss: The Social Fiction of Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1990.

Seyersted, Per. Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969.

Showalter, Elaine. "Tradition and the Female Talent: The Awakening as a Solitary Book." Martin 33-55.
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