The Awakening: Novel Summary: Part 4

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Chapter 4

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The narrator begins this chapter with a reflection on Mr. Pontellier's stated dissatisfaction with Edna, from his point of view. While he cannot precisely define the deficiency, it boils down to this: "Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman." In other words, she is not among the women-abundant that summer at Grand Isle- who "idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels." The narrator may be alluding to the image of the caged bird in Chapter I; certainly, we have here a direct statement that Edna does not define herself solely or even primarily in terms of her family. As readers will see, Edna will discover within herself a desire to "grow wings"-that is, to experience freedom-in other ways.
The narrator proceeds to contrast Edna with Ad�le Ratignolle, "the embodiment of every womanly grace and charm." Readers learn that Ad�le must be perpetually pregnant, for "[a]bout every two years she had a baby." Madame Ratignolle spends her afternoons sitting with Edna.
On the afternoon in which Mr. Pontellier's package arrives, Ad�le has enlisted Edna to cut out the pattern for winter garments designed to protect Ad�le's children from "treacherous drafts . . . and insidious currents of deadly cold"-a hyperbole which perfectly captures the "mother hen"-like attitude Edna does not herself share. Nor does she share the "entire absence of prudery" that she notes among the Creoles with whom she is spending time, including Robert Lebrun. Edna, for example, reads in private a book which the others at Grand Isle read and discuss openly. The Creole freedom of expression will, by the book's end, affect Edna in much more dramatic ways.

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