The first image readers encounter in The Awakening is a bird in a cage: a colorful ("green and yellow") parrot who is repeatedly screeching, in French, "Go away, for heaven's sake!" We learn that the bird can also speak Spanish, as well as "a language which nobody understood . . . ." Thus, from its first sentences, the novel prepares us for a story of a self who is "caged," calling out to others in a "language" nobody understands, and which most will dismiss as nonsense or madness.
Mr. Leonce Pontellier has no use for the parrot's squawking. The bird is disturbing his quiet Sunday at the cottages of Madame Lebrun at the Gulf Coast resort of Grand Isle. Mr. Pontellier does not go to the main house to read his paper in peace, however, for it proves noisier than the cottage. Some of the commotion there is being caused by Mr. Pontellier's own two sons, trailed by their quadroon (one-quarter black) nurse. Mr. Pontellier also sees his wife, Edna-although note that he does not think of her at this point by name; judging from the narrator's report, he thinks of her as "Mrs. Pontellier"-and Robert Lebrun, son of the Pontelliers' hostess, returning from a swim in the Gulf of Mexico. Mr. Pontellier judges "bath[ing] at such an hour in such heat" as "folly." He tells his wife she is burned "beyond recognition," evaluating her as one evaluates an item of property. Bored by their recitation of "some utter nonsense" that happened to them during their swim, Mr. Pontellier suggests to Robert that the two men play a game of billiards. Robert declines, saying he wishes to remain in Mrs. Pontellier's company. Mr. Pontellier leaves alone and does not commit to returning in time for dinner. His children want to follow him; he dismisses them with a kiss and a promise to bring them bonbons and peanuts.