"The Awakening" opens with the Pontellier family vacationing on Grand Isle at a resort on the Gulf of Mexico managed by Madame Lebrun and her two sons, Robert and Victor. The Pontellier family is composed of Léonce Pontellier (a businessman of Louisiana Creole heritage) and Edna (his twenty-eight year old wife). They have two sons, Etienne and Raoul who do not feature prominently in the plot and who are largely symbols of Edna's proscribed existence.
Edna spends most of her time with her close friend Adèle Ratignolle. In a boisterious and cheery manner, Adèle reminds Edna of her duties as a wife and mother. At Grand Isle, Edna eventually forms a connection with Robert Lebrun, a charming and earnest young man who actively seeks Edna's attention (and affections). They start to fall deeply in love, but Robert, sensing the doomed nature of any relationship that would develop between them, flees to Mexico under the guise of pursuing a nameless business venture.