The Character of Mademoiselle Reisz in The Awakening
"She was a disagreeable little woman, no longer young, who had quarreled with almost everyone, owing to a temper which was self-assertive and a disposition to trample upon the rights of others." (25) This is how Kate Chopin introduces the character of Mademoiselle Reisz into her novel, The Awakening. A character who, because of the similarities she shares with Madame Pontellier, could represent the path Madame Pontellier’s life may have taken, had she survived old age.
Mademoiselle Reisz is first introduced at a party when she plays the piano for Edna Pontellier. Edna is described as being "very fond of music."(25) Music is described as having a way of "evoking pictures in (Edna’s) mind" and causing her to have visions of naked men, the beach, her children, and many other images, which in turn, she attaches various names to. (25) As Mademoiselle plays, a series of physical changes affect Edna. For example, upon the first chord, Chopin describes it as sending "a keen tremor" (26) down (Edna’s) back, and eventually, the piece moves her to tears. Days later, Mademoiselle Reisz and Edna coincidentally meet, and Mademoiselle invites Edna to visit her in the city. This invitation starts the beginning of a great acquaintanceship.
There are many symbolic parallels and occurrences that may contribute to the list of similarities between Madame Pontellier and Mademoiselle Reisz. The first similarity that can be seen between the two women was that of livelihood and talent. Mademoiselle Reisz, being the pianist that she was, based her livelihood solely upon her talent by teaching piano lessons. Edna, on the other hand, after becoming affiliated with Mademoiselle, finds herself painting and sketching more frequently and soon decides to sell her art as a basis for income.
Another similarity between the two women is in regard to their taste in men. At one point in the novel, Mademoiselle Reisz mentions that "If I were young and in love with a man it seems to me he would have to be some grand esprit; it seems to me if I were young and in love I should never deem a man of ordinary caliber worthy of my devotion." (81) This definition of Mademoiselle’s ideal love almost perfectly matches that of Edna’s. For Edna was searching for the same qualities within Robert; a change, something that goes astray from the ordinary. Mr. Pontellier, her husband, was simply that, ordinary, which she did not want.
A third parallel seen through the relationship between Mademoiselle Reisz and Madame Pontellier is their aversion to the water. Although Edna sees the sea as "whispering, clamoring, murmuring (and ) inviting," (13) toward the beginning of the novel, she is hesitant to completely submerge herself in it. This can be logically explained in that she cannot swim. However, she continues to walk along the shore and place her feet in the tide, but other than that, before she learns to swim,...