In a work of fiction, a writer uses different characters to evolve a story and convey his idea through their personality. Sometimes they become mouthpieces of writers’ philosophical outlook toward life or society. The Awakening has characters which represent progressive thinking of Kate Chopin. Some of the major characters have been discussed below.
Characters in The Awakening
The main character of the novel, Edna Pontellier, is the young wife of Léonce Pontellier, a successful businessman. She has two children, Raoul Pontellier, and Etienne Pontellier. When the family visits Grande Isle, Enda meets the people who are independent such as Adele Ratignolle and Mademoiselle Reisz. After meeting them, she develops an awakening to live an independent life. She falls in love with Robert Lebrun and then begins an affair with Alcee Arobin in Robert’s absence. Eventually, she abandons her mansion to live in a pigeon-house. She also declares her love for Robert Lebrun openly though he flees to Mexico in the pretense of better prospects. Her interaction with various other characters makes it clear that she is not a traditional woman. By the end of the novel, she breaks all traditions and walks into the sea to be drowned.
A wealthy aristocrat and a busy businessman, Léonce Pontellier is the head of the Pontellier family. He Edna’s husband and takes care of all her desires except Edna’s emotional needs. Although he loads his family with gifts and extra money, he does not meet Edna’s expectations. He thinks that she is impulsively irresponsible. So, he requests Dr. Mandelet to help her come out of her depression. He often travels out of New Orleans and also takes his children to Grande Isles. When he learns about Edna’s decision to move to the pigeon-house, he just stays silent. In the end, his character disappears as Edna commits suicide, or inadvertently enters the deeper part of the sea, and is drowned.
The elder of the Lebrun family, the son of Madame Lebrun, Robert is flirtatious by nature. He loves to be at the service of married ladies who come to Grande Isle. When he sees Edna, he showers the same attention which impresses her very much. She madly falls in love with him. Robert too falls in love with her, but in efforts to forget her, he soon leaves for Mexico on a supposed business trip. He is also notorious to have left Mariequita, a Spanish girl, in the middle. When he returns, he briefly meets Enda and leaves her for good which breaks her heart. Robert may be one of the reasons for Edna’s drowning.
The Ratignolle is another family involved in relations with the Pontellier. Madam Adele Ratignolle is the head of the family with five children and an ideal husband in her own words, Alphonse Ratignolle. Edna becomes her close friend when she visits Grande Isle. She also knows Edna’s love affair but does not reveal it. At the same time, she also takes care of her by sending her the final words about her children when she does not attend her farewell party. In other words, she is very caring and knows the place of a woman in society and her primary responsibility.
Mademoiselle Reisz, a single and cheery woman, is perhaps the most impactful character who influences Edna Pontellier and leads to her awakening. She loves music, plays the piano, and mesmerizes her best audience, Edna Pontellier. She represents freedom, independence, and individuality. When Edna becomes obsessed with her independence, she becomes enamored of her and visits her quite often. Edna takes cues from Mademoiselle Reisz on becoming independent and promoting artistic skills. Despite her previous dislike for her, Enda falls into her artistic trap and moves toward independence which eventually takes her life.
The charming young man from New Orleans, Alcee Arobin meets Edna when Robert Lebrun leaves Mexico. He is not only a charming playboy but also a successful seducer who succeeds in trapping Edna. As a womanizer and gambler, he knows how to exploit situations to fulfill his desires. Quiet manners, good humor, and a little insolence make him famous among women. In fact, his real significance in the novel lies only in the physical appeal that attracts Enda.
As a family physician, Dr. Mandelet helps LéoncePontellier in medical matters. Not only is he a good doctor but also a great physician. Although he suggests Léonceto give her time that she needs, he silently understands that Edna is breaking social conventions. It seems that he understands Edna more than Léonce and knows that little restrictions may force her to revolt openly. However, his evaluation may be wrong, as she drowns herself in the end.
It may be true to say that Edna has inherited her defiant behavior from her father, the Colonel. Having fought the Civil War on the side of the Confederates, the Colonel has been a living example for Edna. He follows the old rule of managing wives with an iron hand. Although not at good terms, Edna seems to get along with her father very well when they are together. The Colonel has also been loving to his daughters but to the point of treating them as daughters, and not grownups.
The younger brother of Robert Lebrun, Victor Lebrun is similar to his brother. He loves to flirt with women and chases after them. Though he becomes a temporary source of emotional satisfaction for Enda Pontellier in the absence of Robert, he does not replace him. His character doesn’t show much impact on the story.
Although a minor character, Mariequita is significant as she is associated with Lebrun brothers. She has been in relations with Robert, turning him into a flirtatious person at Grande Isle. She stands in contrast to Edna on account of her seductive nature.