When she published The Awakening in 1899, Kate Chopin startled her public with a frank portrayal of a woman's social, sexual, and spiritual awakening. Her public disapproved of the novel because it told a particular truth without judgment or censure. The idea of a true autonomy for women, or more astoundingly yet, a single sexual standard for men and women, was too much to imagine. Kate Chopin's presentation of the awakening of her heroine, Edna Pontellier, her unblinking recognition that respectable women did indeed have sexual feelings proved too strong for many who read her novel. The Awakening would mark the end of Chopin's career: "The reading public was shocked by such a sympathetic view towards the actions and emotions of the sexually aware and independent female protagonist- (Burris 2).
The Awakening is as much a portrait of society's values as it is the protagonist, Edna. The first look we have at Edna's life is her existence at Madame Lebrun's summer home in Grand Isle. This setting is filled with those tangible items that we typically associate with family and traditional values. On the literary website "Symbols in The Awakening,"" the setting is described as portraying a "women's sphere-: .
"Porches and pianos, mothers and children, skirts and sunshades - all these are the props and properties of domesticity, the key elements of what in the nineteenth century was called "women's sphere,"" and it is in this sphere, on the edge of a blue gulf, that Edna Pontellier is securely caged when she first appears She is confined in what is not only literally a "women's sphere- but, symbolically speaking, the Woman's House Every object and figure has not only a literal domestic function and a dreamlike symbolic radiance but a distinctively female symbolic significance- (Burris 1).
Chopin has masterfully tucked other physical symbols into The Awakening: .