The Awakening By Kate Chopin Summary and Analysis Chapter 17

Summary

A few weeks after their return to New Orleans for the winter, Edna decides to be out of the house on her reception day — the one day of the week when custom demands that she stay at home to receive social callers. Léonce is incensed, insisting that her snub to the other ladies could hurt his business with their husbands. Also angry that the cook prepared a poor meal, asserting that she has grown lazy under Edna's lackadaisical employment, Léonce leaves to dine at his social club. In contrast to similar incidences in the past, Edna does not lose her appetite but finishes her dinner deliberately. Then she goes to her room, where she throws her wedding band on the floor and stamps on it and smashes a vase on the hearth.

Analysis

Léonce's materialism and devotion to convention are highlighted in this chapter. When Chopin indicates that Léonce "greatly valued his possessions, chiefly because they were his," the implication is that Edna, too, is valued for that same reason rather than for her own qualities. He warns Edna that abandoning her callers on her reception day is potentially damaging to his business and by extension, their lifestyle, explaining that "it's just such seeming trifles that we've got to take seriously; such things count." His goals are strictly financial and superficial; he wants to "keep up with the procession" that is the upper-class life. Edna's priorities are no longer compatible with Léonce's — perhaps she never shared his goals but never felt strongly enough to assert her opinions through her actions.

Léonce's lack of interest in or respect for Edna's point of view is depicted in this scene, as he chastises her for her behavior without inquiring its cause. He treats Edna as if she were one of his employees, like the cook or one of the clerks in his office. In a sense she is an employee: acting as hostess and nanny in exchange for room and board and the sumptuous furnishings of their house. When Edna acts on her desire to be out and about on her reception day; she behaves like a woman of some independence, not one seeking her husband/employer's approval.

Rather than accepting any callers that evening, she spends a gloomy time in her room looking out over the garden where "[a]ll the mystery and witchery of the night seemed to have gathered." Edna's connection to the fabled dark side of the feminine spirit is indicated here: "She was seeking herself and finding herself in just such sweet, half-darkness" — an image in marked contrast to the lack of mystery and darkness in Madame Ratignolle's character or moods. This passage instead links Edna to the non-domestic women of history, the witches, saints, and mystics who cause trouble with their independent thinking in cultures that demand passivity from women.

Note, however, that while she may fling her wedding ring to the ground, "her small boot heel did not make . . . a mark upon the little glittering circlet," which she puts back on her finger when the maid finds it on the floor. Her powers are not enough to bring about an end or real change to the society which has such exacting expectations; she can and will, however, change her own responses to those demands and change her one, small life.

Glossary

Esplanade Street a mansion-lined street in New Orleans, populated primarily by upper-class Creoles.

appointments furniture; equipment.

reception day one day each week, an upper-class woman was expected to stay home and receive visitors. The day of the week was established when a woman married, and custom demanded she entertain on that day from then on.

mulatto a person who has one black parent and one white parent.

les convenances social conventions; protocol.

futures a contract for a specific commodity bought or sold for delivery at a later date.

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Despite their differences, Madame Ratignolle enjoys Edna's company. Why?




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