The Awakening Summary

The Awakening tells the readers a story of Edna Pontellier, the woman who discovered in herself the desire to belong to herself only, so strong and mature that, at her time, it was considered illness.
The story starts in 1890s, Louisiana. Edna is a wife of a rich and educated man Léonce. She goes with her husband and their two children to the summer vacation on Grand Isle. They rent a house in the special rest center where every family has its own place but they all dine together in the common hall. Their neighbors are Ratignolles. Mrs. Adele Ratignolle is Edna’s best friend, despite their worldviews differ drastically. Adele is very kind, tender and maternal, she is ready to sacrifice all her dreams and desires for the happiness of being a good wife and mother. Even now Adele is pregnant again. Edna is, on the contrary, much more confident and independent, though she also loves her family, she also cares for herself and her own wishes very much. Nevertheless, both women have common topics to talk and activities to do.
Another Pontelliers’ neighbor, who is the complete opposite of Adele is Miss Reisz. She is a wonderful pianist, but it seems that she is absolutely disinterested in family values. The sharp edges of her personality repel potential suitors and even people who want to simply befriend her, but Edna manages to do this. Edna is fascinated by her piano plays and it seems that this friendship became the first step of Edna’s “Awakening” - her discovery of her inner self.
The third neighbor is Robert Lebrun, a young and handsome man, who has a hobby of crushing for married women vacationing on Grand Isle, different one each time. It doesn’t mean anything serious and is absolutely platonic, so no one minds, including the husbands of his “victims”. For some reason this is perfectly socially acceptable and is portrayed as just a light flirt and the way to spend the time of vacations. He chooses Edna this year, to the further amusement of all the vacationing company.
But this time things went wrong. Edna is “awakening”, she is no more tied to the role of wife and mother she chose for herself. Robert senses something different within her, something wild and true he has never seen before. This, combined with Léonce’s behaviour (who compares Edna to Adele and doubts that Edna can be such an ideally obedient wife and devoted mother), leads to the fact that Edna once understands that her feelings towards Robert aren’t just a game anymore.
Robert understands the same. Horrified by himself, obsessed by a married woman, he quickly departs to Mexico to try himself there. He used to think about Mexico before, but now he wants just to flee from his forbidden love and forget his uncontrollable feelings.
His absence hits Edna very much. She is on the verge of depression. She almost ceases social activity, dedicating her time to swimming, painting and listening to Miss Reisz’s piano plays. She learns to swim fast and far, not in the “feminine way”. This behavior continues even after the Pontelliers return to their home in New Orleans.
Léonce’s mildly disapproval grows into shock. He seems his wife as an utterly egotistic being who doesn’t care about maintaining a good social image and relationship with other people. She allows herself to do what she wants, painting when she wants to paint even if she has household duties to do, or going to Miss Reisz to listen to another concert, despite it’s utterly undesirable social connection. Finally, Léonce comes to the only logical conclusion in his opinion: his wife is ill.
But he is the only one concerned. Many other men, including his own brother Victor and Alcée Arobin, the local Casanova who seduced countless women, are looking at Mrs. Pontellier with growing fascination: her behaviour makes her more and more attractive and sexual. Moreover, Dr. Mandelet, a family friend, examines Edna and says to Léonce that there is nothing wrong with her. The better treatment for her now is to leave her be and let the woman find her own boundaries. 
The only friends Edna is really glad to socialize with are Mrs. Ratignolle and Miss Reisz. She still misses Robert very much, and sometimes asks Miss Reisz (whom he writes letters to) to read her his letters. Edna is delighted to know that he will return from Mexico soon. 
But her romantic and platonic feelings can’t satisfy her growing sexual desire. So when Léonce departs to the business trip, Edna allows herself to have an affair with Arobin. She doesn’t love him, of course, but the night with him leaves her with a shocking feeling: sex without love and even out of wedlock can be much more satisfying than the socially accepted married sex. 
Edna’s new paintings are much better than her first novice drafts, it seems she really has a talent. She even manages to sell her works and get a steady source of income, as an independent person, not just a housewife. This encourages her to rent a small house, called “pigeon house” for its tiny size. While Léonce is away in his business and children have vacations somewhere, Edna lives and paints in her own house.
The more independent she gets the more distant Edna is from her husband. Once she visits Miss Reisz again and sees Robert here. He has just returned and decided to visit his friend before. Edna is furious: she shall be the first Robert seeks meeting with! They have a passionate talk, but confused Robert retreats and tries to pretend that nothing happened for the whole week. He loves her, indeed with all his heart, and he couldn’t forget her even in Mexico, but she is a married and well-respected woman and he doesn’t want to get Edna by ruining his love. He hopes that her modesty and fear of disgrace (every woman of 19th century should have a lot of them, right?) won’t allow Edna to continue her pursiut.
But Robert is wrong. Not only Edna talks to him first, expressing her feelings, but she kisses him first, almost forcefully. Robert, shocked by such a wild behaviour has no option than to tell the truth: he loves her too and is ready to marry her the next moment she divorces.

Now it’s Edna’s time to think it over. She is surprised to discover that a new marriage isn’t the thing she wants, only love is. She still wants her independency, her small house and painting business, she likes the way her love is. She starts explaining these things to Robert, but suddenly she is called to Mrs. Ratignolle. Her best friend is giving birth right now and Adele really, really needs her nearby to care and help. Edna rushes to help, asking Robert to wait for her and promising him to finish their talk right after she is back.
Adele’s labor goes smooth. The friends even have some time and energy to talk a bit after. Edna tells her what happened between her and Robert and Adele cautiously asks her to think about the impact of the divorce that would hit her two sons and pleas her friend to think not only about herself and her own desires. Discouraged, Edna returns to Robert - but he is gone. He left a letter explaining that he loves her too much and if she is willing to throw away her life and reputation, he doesn’t want his happiness at such a high price. He won’t allow her to hurt herself, no matter how much he wants to be with her. He leaves forever, hoping that they both will recover from that hopeless love.
Edna feels completely destroyed. She wants to find and pursue Robert, but Adele was right - it will break two other little hearts Edna really cares for. She also can’t return to Léonce and pretend to be the same woman as before their vacations - she still respects her husband, and, of course, herself, and doesn’t want her life to be a lie.
Confused and depressed, she travels alone to the place where it all began - to the Grand Isle. She wants to swim as far as she can, as she did before, in summer. But now it’s early spring and water is freezingly cold.
We don’t know if it was Edna’s intention from the very beginning, or her passion and grief just drove her a bit too far, but the cold sea drowns her, ending her suffering once and for all.