The Awakening: Novel Summary: Part 17

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Chapter 17

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One Tuesday night a few weeks after returning to New Orleans from Grand Isle, the Pontelliers are at home, where Mr. Pontellier asks Edna about the visitors he assumes she has received that day, Tuesday having been her day to welcome callers, a "programme . . . [she] had religiously followed since her marriage, six years before." To her husband's surprise, Edna was out for the day and did not receive anyone. He is upset at this change of routine, and is further upset when he learns that she left no explanation for those who visited: "[P]eople don't do such things," he tells her, "we've got to observe les convenances [the "suitabilities," or conventions] if we ever expect to get on and keep up with the procession." Here we have an explicit statement of Mr. Pontellier's desire for conformity, at odds with his wife's increasing desire for self-expression and self-actualization. He reviews the visitors' calling cards and, noting his business and social contacts (or lack thereof) with each one, he tries to impress upon Edna that "such things count." When he proceeds to complain about the meal their cook has prepared, he tells Edna that cooks "need looking after, like any other class of persons that you employ." Readers cannot help but wonder if Mr. Pontellier, even subconsciously, includes Edna in such a category (e.g., his evaluation of her as a damaged piece of property in Chapter I). Mr. Pontellier leaves to eat dinner at his social club.
Unhappy and angry, Edna forces herself to finish her dinner, then paces the dining room, listening to the night sounds outside and their "mournful notes without promise, devoid even of hope." She takes off her wedding ring, throwing it to the carpet and trampling on it. She breaks a glass vase in her rage. The maid who cleans up the broken glass finds Edna's ring and returns it to her. Edna puts her ring back on. The scene thus represents this stage of Edna's "awakening": she seems to know she does not belong in a world of les convenances, including her all-too conventional marriage, but she does not yet know how to leave that world for another.

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