The Awakening By Kate Chopin Summary and Analysis Chapter 18

Summary

The next day, feeling as if all elements of her environment have become hostile, Edna retreats into an examination of some of her old sketches. She takes a few of the better ones to show Madame Ratignolle, who encourages her plan to study drawing with a teacher named Laidpore. When Monsieur Ratignolle comes home for lunch, Edna notes the harmony of the Ratignolles' marriage. Upon leaving, however, she pities them, feeling that their abiding contentment prevents them from experiencing extremes of passion.

Analysis

Although Léonce does not exhibit any hostility toward Edna on this day, Edna feels hostility emanating from all she sees — "the children, the fruit vender, the flowers . . . were all part and parcel of an alien world which had suddenly become antagonistic" to her independent spirit. Having made the small but significant break with her old world by disregarding her reception day, all has changed for Edna. She can no longer pretend that a placid domesticity suits her.

Madame Ratignolle provides the image of a wife that Léonce desires Edna to maintain: She is "keenly interested in everything [her husband] said, laying down her fork the better to listen." While the Ratignolles seems to have an ideal union, and Madame Ratignolle seems to be eminently fulfilled in her role as a "mother-woman," Edna pities her "for that colorless existence which never uplifted its possessor beyond the region of blind contentment . . . in which she would never have the taste of life's delirium."

Interestingly, as she thinks this thought, Edna ponders the meaning of the phrase "life's delirium," a phrase that seems to come to her out of nowhere. Delirium is a state of extreme excitement often resulting in hallucinations that seem quite real and may be intensely joyful, as in the phrase "deliriously happy." Yet a delirium can also bring pain, as in the violent hallucinations of delirium tremens. Either way, a delirium induces experiences that are not grounded in reality. Furthering this idea is Chopin's description of Edna as "still under the spell of her infatuation" with Robert — like the Gulf spirit whom Edna supposedly captivated, Robert has captured her.

Perhaps Edna longs for delirium over her actual life because she feels she has no escape from it. In fact, her options are fairly limited, given the socio-economic restrictions on women at that time. Divorce was unthinkable. When she looks at the "domestic harmony" of the Ratignolles, she "could see in it but an appalling and hopeless ennui" — a reflection of her own experience with the enforced domesticity of her lifestyle.

Yet she looks to Madame Ratignolle to help her "put heart into her venture" of studying with an art instructor, knowing that Madame Ratignolle will respond enthusiastically (if not knowledgeably) and with great praise for Edna's work. Contrast Edna's desires for praise, no matter how cheaply won, with Mademoiselle Reisz's refusal to play for most of the vacationers at Grand Isle. Mademoiselle Reisz is confident of her fully developed artistry, a state Edna has not achieved.

Glossary

banquette a raised way; sidewalk.

porte cochère a large entrance gateway into a courtyard.

soirée musicale a party or gathering in the evening.

Better a dinner of herbs Refers to the biblical passage Proverbs 15:17: Better a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fattened ox and hatred therewith.

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




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