By Frank Miller
Mr. Pontellier is the first (human) character introduced in The Awakening, fittingly, his traditional masculine persona is “forces itself” into the text with his introduction. After a parrot (or a mockingbird) hanging in a cage blurts out “Allez vous-en! Allez vous-en! Sapristi!” (1), Mr. Pontellier is “unable to read his newspaper with any degree of comfort [and] arose with an expression and an exclamation of disgust” (1). This is an act of dominance. He “arose (a word that contains a sense of regality and elegance to it) with an expression and an exclamation of disgust” as if to perceive that the noise an animal makes is intentionally directed toward him or as if his decision (as the human who can recognize the animals) to sit in that location was not made consciously, thus portraying his “out-of-touch” persona.
Before he “arose” from his place, it mentions that “he had been seated before the door of the main house,” an emphasis on the phrase, “main house” hints at centrality, and being seated before it may be synonymous with a king being seated at the head of the court in a kingdom, a clear assertion of male dominance. As the passage continues, it mentions that the parrot (or mockingbird) making the noise belonged to Madame Lebrun and that the two had “the right to make the noise all the noise they wished” (2). The following sentence reads “Mr. Pontellier had the privilege of quitting their society when they ceased to be entertaining” (2). Based on the narrator’s tone, it seems as the noise of the birds must be justified, suggesting that if their noise doesn’t serve a purpose, it is definitively wrong. However, does this have anything to do with noise in the presence of Mr. Pontellier? The language in the next sentences appears to indirectly answers this question. “Mr. Pontellier had the privilege of quitting their society when they ceased to be entertaining.” The word “privilege” is used mockingly, while the phrase “quitting their society when they ceased to be entertaining” or perhaps simply just “ceased to be entertaining” alludes to Pontellier’s dominance, reducing the roles of the animals as tools of his amusement.
Pontellier’s physical description is appropriately “concise” (readers later learn he is a businessman), and interestingly enough, so is the literal language used to describe his physical features. “Mr. Pontellier wore eye-glasses. He was a man of forty, of medium height and rather slender build; he stooped a little. His hair was brown and straight, parted on one side. His beard was neatly and closely trimmed” (2).
This description of Pontellier sets The Awakening up to unsurprisingly be dictated by a male figure, and one who is suitably unresponsive to anything outside of his gender role. If Pontellier struggles to keep up with news, “he once more applied himself to the task of reading the newspaper. The day was Sunday; the paper was a day old. The Sunday papers had not yet reached Grand Isle” (2), an activity that one would assume fits his gender role, what can we expect of his relationship with his wife? Or with anyone for that matter?