The Awakening: Novel Summary: Part 5

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Chapter 5

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The narrator informs readers that young Robert Lebrun has, since he was a boy, devoted his attentions to a different woman each summer at Grand Isle: "Sometimes it was a young girl, again a widow; but as often as not it was some interesting married woman." One of those "interesting married women" had been Ad�le Ratignolle. The trio discusses Robert's affections toward Madame Ratignolle, and Edna cannot tell how serious or frivolous those affections were. She is only relieved that Robert has not acted in similar fashion toward her.
Edna, who is an amateur artist, longs to sketch Ad�le. That afternoon, Madame Ratignolle seems like a particularly "tempting subject," looking as she does as "some sensuous Madonna." The narrator remarks twice in this chapter that Edna envisions Ad�le in this way. At this point in the story, then, Ad�le represents a female ideal to which Edna aspires, and of which her Victorian-era society approves. By the end of the novel, Edna will aspire to a much different feminine ideal, an ideal greeted with far less enthusiasm by her society.
As Edna attempts to sketch Madame Ratignolle, Robert leans his head against her arm. At first, Edna tries to push him away; when Robert persists, Edna relents, assuming that no harm is being done, and that the gesture signifies nothing serious. When she completes the portrait, she discovers, with dismay, that it does not resemble Ad�le. She defaces and destroys the picture-perhaps a symbolic anticipation of her later, explicit rejection of the conventional, acceptable "mother-woman" ideal.
Edna's children enter the room. Edna tries to talk to them, but they are interested only in the bonbons sent by their father. A few moments later, Edna watches with awe and envy as Ad�le's children run to meet her, clinging at her skirts.
Robert asks Edna if she is going swimming again-although, as the narrator states, "[i]t was not so much a question as a reminder." Although Edna at first tries to beg off, she can resist neither Robert's repeated request nor the seductive call of the Gulf. The Sea's voice is described as "a loving but imperative entreaty." Robert urges her on: "The water must be delicious; it will not hurt you." In view of the story's conclusion, his comments will take on an ironic edge.

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