by Kate Chopin
Tools of Characterization
In The Awakening, clothing is used as a tool of characterization particularly for the female characters. Adele, for instance, is always dressed in white, ruffled, floaty dresses and gauzy veils. The comparison to an angel could not be more explicit. Mademoiselle Reisz, in contrast, is described as having absolutely no taste in dress. She always wears a rusty black lace with a bunch of artificial violets pinned to the side of her hair. This is not a fashionable look in her day. Clearly, Mademoiselle Reisz doesn’t care about fitting in. And do you know who also stops caring? When Edna literally casts off her clothes to go skinny dipping, she also figuratively casts off society and its constricting conventions.
Sex and Love
Edna has a husband who she doesn’t love and doesn’t have sex with. She also has a lover who she loves but doesn’t have sex with. Then she has a third man who she doesn’t love at all, but who she sleeps with. While you could see her as being gratuitously promiscuous, you could also see it as a necessary part of her awakening. She married Leonce when she was very young, although she didn’t loving him. After spending time with Robert, Edna realizes that she has emotional and physical desires that her husband doesn’t meet. And when Robert runs off to Mexico, Edna fulfills at least her physical desires with Alcee Arobin. This assertion of female desire was an absolutely scandalous notion back in the nineteenth century.
Social Status or Societal Position
Did you notice that Edna doesn’t have to do anything for herself? She’s a member of the upper-class, and as such, she has nurses to look after her children, maids to clean her house, and cooks to prepare her meals. It’s very important to note that Edna’s awakening occurs in large part because these considerations are non-existent for Edna. She’s free to focus on love (or lack thereof) and her art. If she had real and imperative household duties to perform, it’s unlikely that she would have the time to "awaken" to the demands of her humanity.
Speech and Dialogue
The wealthy, well-educated characters who dominate The Awakening always use correct grammar and language. For instance, Mademoiselle Reisz says: "I do not know you well enough to say. I do not know your talent or temperament." Notice the lack of contractions in the above quotation – her language is precise and proper. We could go on, but you get the point. The main characters of The Awakening speak with polite restraint that reflects the character of their society: repressed.
Notice also that there is no yelling or swearing in The Awakening, with the notable exception of the parrot, who does both. (See Symbols, Imagery, and Allegory for more information on this topic.)