There is nothing that Edna Pontellier wants more than to be unbounded and free from society’s expectation of women. In “The Awakening”, Kate Chopin clearly exhibits her personal stance on women’s roles through the main character. The characterization of Edna allows her personal passion to alter her personality and make several prominent changes to her lifestyle. To start things off, it is unmistakable that Edna was not a conventional woman. Even from early on in the novel, Chopin clearly states that “Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother woman.” Mother women were abundant at Grand Isle and were described as women who idolized their children and worshipped their husbands. One of the mother women, Adele Ratagnolle, was the epitome of the term and served as the foil to Edna. Adele was described as “the embodiment of every womanly grace and charm whereas Edna was “rather handsome than beautiful.” By introducing Madam Ratagnolle, Chopin successfully emphasizes the contrast between Edna and the ideal of a perfect woman at the time.
Moreover, by meeting new people and going through various experiences, Edna awakened her inner desires and urges. “At a very early period she had apprehended the dual life—that outward existence and the inward life” Chopin implies that Edna has always had a curious and rebellious nature to her. Edna leads one life, but deep within her she seeks something entirely different. An indication of Edna’s increasing self-awareness was when Edna broke down after an altercation with her husband. After that incident, Edna described that “a certain light was beginning to dawn within her.” That “light” was the realization of her buried aspirations. “Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being.” This marked the beginning of Edna’s awakening. Another instance of Edna advancing self-awareness was when realized she can swim. “How easy it is! Think of the time I have lost splashing about like a baby.” Before, Edna was afraid to swim but after realizing the ease of it, she acts on it and swims out to where no woman has swum before. This can symbolize Edna’s rebirth because she begins to see the world around her with a new point of view and forgets about everything in the past. By going through a series of events, Edna unravels her dormant desire to be unrestrained.
Furthermore, Edna’s longing for freedom creates tension between her and her husband, Leonce. Mr. Pontellier is a 40 year old, businessman from New Orleans so naturally, he follows the traditional way of living. When Leonce noticed Edna coming from the beach, his materialistic personality was revealed. “’You’re burnt beyond recognition,’ he said while looking at his wife as one looks a valuable possession.” Chopin clearly establishes that Mr. Pontellier views Edna as a piece of property rather than a person; nevertheless his wife. In spite the fact that Edna and Leonce were fairly comfortable in their marriage, tensions between them were apparent. An issue that constantly arose was Mr. Pontellier’s need for a wife to cater to him at all times. “He thought it discouraging that his wife valued so little his conversation.” Leonce was upset that Edna answered all of his questions half-heartedly even though she was asleep when he came into the room. This hinted that Edna was not the ideal wife that her husband requires. As time progress, Edna went through a series of changes and became defiant towards her husband’s wishes. In one case, she exerts her will on Leonce by staying on the hammock as he ordered her to go inside. Edna’s rebellious nature escalated as she further experienced independency. Edna’s defiant personality and will to be independent placed strain on her marriage and caused many conflicts.
Comparatively, her personal passion also interfered with her responsibility of being a mother. Edna’s two sons were described as being self-sufficient and tough little boys. “If one of the boys were to tumble whilst at play, he would pick himself up.” It can be interpreted that the boys are so independent due to the lack of attention from their parents. Mr. Pontellier was rarely ever at home while his wife was neglectful of them. It wasn’t that Edna didn’t love her children, but rather her personality is the type to look after herself and no one else. One year, the boys spent part of the summer with their grandmother which left them out of Mrs. Pontellier’s care. “She would sometimes forget them... their absence was a sort of relief.” Without the children to look after, Edna became relaxed and at ease. This supports the idea that she was not a mother woman. Further proof that Edna was negligent mother was that she saw her children as “a responsibility which she had blindly assumed and for which Fate had not fitted her.” Chopin explicitly states that Edna sees herself as unfit for motherhood and from that, it can be assumed that she would rather not be a mother. Although fond of them, Edna inclination towards being independent causes her to view her children as burdens.
Consequently, Edna succeeded in gaining independence. After growing defiant, Edna realized that her marriage with Leonce was unfulfilling and doesn’t achieve anything besides gaining society’s acceptance. “Her marriage to Leonce Pontellier was purely an accident.” Chopin states this to illustrate the idea that their marriage is hollow and does not contain much meaning. After acquiring a passion for painting, Edna drops all of her responsibilities. "I feel like painting, perhaps I shan't always feel like it." By prioritizing her painting, Edna broke the the social norm of women being housekeepers. " When Edna eventually decided to move away from her family and live on her own, Mr. Pontellier begged her to reconsider to no avail. “When he learned of his wife’s intention to abandon her home, he immediately wrote her a letter of disapproval.” He then did renovations to their house to use as an excuse as to why Edna is at a different house. This gives the reader the indication that Leonce cares only about his reputation. Edna freed herself from society’s boundaries resulted in her abandoning her family.
Additionally, Edna newfound independence caused her to seek fulfillment in other men. She desires emotional and sexual bonding. Early on in the novel, Adele states to Robert that, “She [Edna] is not like us; she might make the unfortunate blunder of taking you seriously.” Chopin states this to suggest that Mrs. Pontellier easily fell for men. It could also be used to foreshadow the intimate relationship Edna and Robert. After Robert leaves to Mexico, Edna pursues a relationship with Alcee Arobin to satisfy her sexual desire. Even though she found sexual fulfilment, Edna realized that she does not love him like she loves Robert. “Alcee Arobin was absolutely nothing to her.” After Robert returns and reveals his mutual affection Edna attempts to be with him. "We shall love each other, my Robert. We shall be everything to each other. Nothing else in the world is of any consequence." The emotional bond that Edna had been looking for was with Robert. After gaining the freedom she had been seeking, Edna turned to other men to complete her. To conclude, Edna’s passion to be free and unstrained by society’s standards had huge effects on her and those around her. Mrs. Pontellier transitioned from a semi-conscious reality to a state of complete self-awareness. Her rebellious personality resulted in a falling out with her husband and the neglect of her children. To fulfil her desire of an emotional connection and sexual urges, Edna seeks the companionship of other man.