The focal point of The Awakening by Kate Chopin is the story of Mrs. Pontellier, a woman with various emotional needs. These needs encompass material, sexual, intimacy, and the desire to be wanted or needed. Throughout the book, Mrs. Pontellier seeks out and satisfies her needs through interactions with Léonce Pontellier, Alcée Arobin, and Robert Lebrun.
Although Léonce Pontellier did not appear to have a role in her life, he fulfilled her materialistic needs and was recognized as her husband in society. It is evident that Edna despises the institution of marriage based on the quote, “Her marriage to Léonce Pontellier was merely accidental, similar to many other marriages disguised as the will of Fate… The ultimate bliss, a union with a tragedian, was not attainable for her in this existence. As the devoted wife of a man… she believed she had sealed off access to the realm of romance and dreams.” (p18) Thus, the question arises of who brought love and aspiration into the world that Edna appears to have missed.
Alcée Arobin was a smooth, charming man who possessed an appetite for desire, albeit within socially acceptable boundaries. As a result, when he began spending time with Mrs. Pontellier at events like the races, it did not appear suspicious. ‘At first, he occasionally spoke in a manner that surprised her and caused her face to turn red; eventually, however, she found it pleasing as it appealed to her inner instincts of sexuality.’ (p78) By interpreting ‘animalism’ as the natural inclination to be sexually gratifying or engage in sexual activities, we can understand that Arobin fulfilled Edna Pontellier’s sexual cravings.
It is evident from Mrs. Pontellier’s thoughts that she does not truly have romantic feelings for Arobin. After spending time together, she reflects that “there was a dull pang of regret because it was not the kiss of love which had inflamed her, because it was not love which had held this cup of life to her lips.” (p84) It is clear that lust, rather than love, is what kept them together.
The Awakening revolves around the transformations of Mrs. Edna Pontellier. Initially, she relied solely on her spouse for fulfillment. However, as the story progresses, she disregards her marital commitments and societal norms to achieve greater emotional equilibrium.