The contrast between an urban and a tropical setting represents the awakening that the protagonist experiences in Kate Chopin's classic novel, The Awakening. At Grand Isle Edna becomes conscious of her restrictive marriage in a male dominated society. Her awakening originates with her experiences at Grand Isle but fully develops upon her return to the city, where she completes her transformation from her roles as wife and mother to an independent woman.
The setting at the beginning of the novel is the Grand Isle, a popular Creole island resort. The reader first sees Edna returning from the beach, with the sea disappearing on the horizon, and the mood of a lazy summer day permeating the scene. This idyllic environment is soon interrupted by her husband Leonce's characteristically stuffy and disapproving reaction to his wife’s activities: "You are burnt beyond recognition". Leonce views his wife as a "valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage". Swimming at mid-day, Edna has endangered her respectability in a society where women may be judged by the color of their complexion. Yet Edna does not seem ruffled by society’s expectations or by her husband's callous remark. Instead she focuses on the summer warmth, her companion, Robert Lebrun, and swimming, where she is free both physically and emotionally. Edna’s habit of removing her wedding rings before entering the water underscores and symbolizes her temporary escape from the ties of matrimony and the bonds of convention.
While vacationing at Grand Isle, Edna is surrounded by mother-women "who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels". Unlike these women, Edna does not wish to submerge her own identity and freedom in her role as a wife and mother. At one point, her husband claims that she is a negligent and irresponsible mother and orders Edna to tend to their sick child, believing this duty to be a "mother's place." Uncharacteristically, Edna appears bewildered and distraught after her husband's outburst. "An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish". She begins to suspect that a deeper relationship is possible between a man and a woman, more fulfilling than what she has known. Her dissatisfaction with her own marriage hits her with full force.
Edna's self-discovery is driven by the "voice of the sea" which is "seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude". When she is swimming in the sea, Edna is aware of an intense cleansing and renewing which allows her to find the vast solitude that is within her. When at last she learns to swim on her own, Edna yearns to "swim far out, where no woman had swum before". She yearns for greater freedom in...