The end of Chapter 17 in Chopin’s THE AWAKENING offers a richly compressed portrait of a woman desperate to break through the bonds of domesticity and embark into the unknown. The passages (pages 74 and 75) immediately follow the dinner scene in which Edna first announces to Léonce that she will longer observe the ritual of Tuesday reception day. After Léonce departs for the club, Edna eats her dinner alone and retires to her room:
“It was a large, beautiful room, rich and picturesque in the soft, dim light which the maid had turned low. She went and stood at an open window and looked out upon the deep tangle of the garden below. All the mystery and witchery of the night seemed to have gathered there amid the perfumes and the dusky and tortuous outlines of flowers and foliage. She was seeking herself and finding herself in just such sweet half-darkness which met her moods. But the voices were not soothing that came to her from the darkness and the sky above and the stars. They jeered and sounded mourning notes without promise, devoid even of hope. She turned back into the room and began to walk to and fro, down its whole length, without stopping, without resting. She carried in her hands a thin handkerchief, which she tore into ribbons, rolled into a ball, and flung from her. Once she stopped, and taking off her wedding ring, flung it upon the carpet. When she saw it lying there she stamped her heel upon it, striving to crush it. But her small boot heel did not make an indenture, not a mark upon the glittering circlet.
“In a sweeping passion she seized a glass vase from the table and flung it upon the tiles of the hearth. She wanted to destroy something. The crash and clatter were what she wanted to hear.”
The scene neatly encapsulates Edna’s rage at being confined in the domestic sphere and foreshadows her increasingly bold attempts, in subsequent chapters of the novel, to break through its boundaries. At first glance, the room appears to be the model...