A charming house on a fashionable street in New Orleans, with furnishings "after the conventional type" and a yard kept "scrupulously neat" (931). An island paradise where the gulf melts "hazily into the blue of the horizon" (882) and acres of yellow chamomile reach out to plantations fragrant with lemon and orange trees. These two settings, which Kate Chopin uses in The Awakening, reflect two different ways of life. The first is structured and refined, the second is more natural. Life in New Orleans is lived according to a "programme" (932). Every Tuesday afternoon Edna Pontellier receives female callers, and every Tuesday evening she and her husband Leonce entertain his business friends and their wives. One evening of the week is spent at the opera, another at the theatre. Time is carefully measured: Leonce leaves home each morning between nine and ten and returns each evening between half-past six and seven so that he can dine promptly at half-past seven. In contrast, time means little on Grand Isle and even less on the remote island Cheniere Caminada. Unfettered by a schedule while vacationing on Grand Isle, Edna acts according to desire, not convention. She eats when she wants, sleeps when she wants, sees her children when she wants and summons Robert Lebrun, an admirer, when she wants. In this setting where gratifying the senses is more important than satisfying notions of a well-regulated household, the emphasis is on food, drink, sleep, and sexuality. in contrast to the soirees musicales and the Dante readings in New Orleans, the activities on Grand Isle are more sensual than cultural--evening dances and moonlight swim. Even Mademoiselle Reisz's piano recital is valued for the passions she arouses in her listeners rather than for her own technical accomplishments.

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Copyright © 1987 The University of Southern Mississippi. This article first appeared in The Southern Quarterly 25:2 (1987), 108-119.

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