The tone in The Awakening is generally interpreted as hopelessness because the protagonist, Edna Pontellier, has no control over her life and fails to fulfill expectations. The novel opens with Edna gathering children’s clothes for charity (a traditional act), but then she talks about how society should be run by women instead of men.
The tone changes throughout the novel because The Awakening is over Edna’s discovery that she doesn’t have to be a part of society or do things the way they are supposed to be done. The book ends with Edna killing herself, but her voice remains strong throughout The Awakening.
The first and most important thing to consider in The Awakening is the tone. The tone of The Awakening, which is set mostly at Grand Isle, a fictional island off the coast of New Orleans, is quiet and calm. The overall feeling that one gets from reading The Awakening is pleasantness and happiness as seen through Edna Pontellier’s eyes as she begins to realize her own desires and needs as an individual rather than simply those of her husband or children. A perfect example of how the tone changes throughout The Awakening would be when Mademoiselle Reisz comes over for their traditional Sunday afternoon musical:
“At four o’clock punctually Edna heard Mademoiselle Rieuz’s peculiar knock on the front door. ( The reader will please remember that this is not a real knock; it is merely a rattle of the window-knob. The authoress is sorry to confess that she knows nothing about playing on the piano.) Edna ran to open the door, and in the entrance saw her friend dressed for the rigors of an autumn afternoon out of doors” (Chopin, The Awakening 115).
This passage illustrates how Chopin uses language with specific word choice – “punctually,” “peculiar,” and “rigors” – just to describe Mademoiselle Reisz arriving for what would be considered an extremely casual event: Sunday tea. The tone switches again once Edna and Mademoiselle Reisz begin playing music together. The calm, pleasant tone of The Awakening becomes tense and intimidating as Chopin describes the two women’s audience:
“A room in Madame Lebrun’s house joined the large parlor… The numerous bands of the piano were spread out like an immense fan; and with her small, deft hands, ( The authoress is very little of a pianist; therefore she does not wish to be considered one) Edna struck the notes one after another until she found the chords of The Invitation to the Dance. She began to play, while close by her side moved Mademoiselle Reisz ( The reader will please remember that this is not a real name. There being so many Emmas, Ettes, Frederics, Theodores, etc., in the world, it was thought proper to select a name at random and put it to one of these imaginary personages).
The little woman’s fingers fairly flew over the keys. The other players bent their taut figures down low over their instruments. The movement grew quicker and quicker; the notes were like sharp steel points coming rapidly from a grating. The gayety of an Americanized French quadrille was interpreted for those who listened” (Chopin, The Awakening 114-115).
This passage is interesting because Kate Chopin uses many sound devices – alliteration (“The numerous bands of the piano were spread out like an immense fan”), onomatopoeia (“The notes were like sharp steel points coming rapidly from a grating”), and assonance (” The little woman’s fingers fairly flew over the keys”), just to name a few – to create an almost violent atmosphere as Edna and Mademoiselle Reisz play The Invitation to The Dance.
The tone of The Awakening again switches when Robert Lebrun comes over for dinner, and he tells Madame Ratignolle that he has been ordered back to New Orleans to be with his father who is very ill (Chopin, The Awakening 125). The next chapter describes Edna taking care of Adèle’s children while she tends her garden: “She knelt by the box and dug around the plants carefully, loosening the soil about them, and feeling them to see if they were growing lopsided” (Chopin The Awakening 133).
The garden scene reads like a traditional domestic scene where the woman is doing work typically reserved for women. The change in tone reflects Edna’s decision to escape her family responsibilities and experience life on her own terms. The final chapter of The Awakening describes Edna’s suicide by drowning. As has been mentioned before, The Awakening was extremely controversial when it was first published, which resulted in Chopin never achieving literary fame during her lifetime.
The language that Chopin uses throughout The Awakening builds up the reader’s expectation for some kind of dramatic change – most likely physical – as Edna realizes herself as an individual apart from those around her. The tone throughout The Awakening is subtle, but builds up the reader for what happens at the end of The Awakening as Edna drowns herself in The Gulf of Mexico.
“Edna Pontellier was not one to take things lying down” (Chopin The Awakening xx).
The opening line of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening sets a tone that reflects a true motherhood role – women are supposed to be strong and capable even if they have to fight against society to show it. The beginning of The Awakening portrays a woman who is not fully committed to being a wife and mother – she entertains notions that could potentially shatter the sacred American ideals surrounding marriage, family, and femininity.
This causes an interesting conflict in The Awakening because Edna is not a perfect mother to her children, which causes the reader to question what it means to be a good mother. The tone throughout The Awakening is dramatic and builds up for what happens at the end of The Awakening as Edna drowns herself in The Gulf of Mexico.
– The opening line establishes that Edna has agency – she has ideas and isn’t afraid to act on them (Chopin The Awakening xx).
– The conflict between what society expects from women vs. individualism could cause readers who are overly religious or traditionalists to almost feel personally attacked by this book (Kazin 27).
– The tone throughout The Awakening is subtle but builds up the reader for what happens at the end of The Awakening as Edna drowns herself in The Gulf of Mexico.
– The tone is dramatic – The ending reinforces the foreshadowing language throughout The Awakening so that readers know this was building up to something rather than being a random ending (Hicks).
– Chopin’s choice to have a woman commit suicide lends itself to The Awakening being an almost feminist work, because it reflects the feelings of women during The Awakening who were unable to live up to society’s expectations for them (Chopin The Awakening xx).