The Awakening

How and why does Edna begin to change?

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Edna Pontellier, twenty-eight years old, is the conventional Southern wife of a successful businessman. She is a handsome woman with light brown hair and eyes to match. With thick eyebrows like her father's, her face is interesting—handsome and honest.

Edna dutifully manages two children and her New Orleans household and maintains her role in high society. While on summer vacation, however, Edna begins to feel that her life is too confining and that there might be more to it than marriage, motherhood, and image. This awareness is brought about in part by the attentions of Robert Lebrun, a younger single man. Edna allows herself to enjoy his company and flirtations and to start to consider some of her own needs and desires. Becoming more assertive, the formerly shy Edna opens up to Adèle Ratignolle, a fellow vacationer. Edna talks to Adèle about her life as well as her feelings related to being a woman and mother. Edna also learns to swim, something she has never before been courageous enough to try.

When the family returns to New Orleans, Edna decides to take charge of her life. Edna feels inspired by her accomplishments on the Grand Isle and by the bold thoughts she has allowed herself. She refuses to sleep with her husband, stops the socially required receiving of guests, ignores household responsibilities, and resumes her painting. In a final act of assertion, she moves out of the house. Edna experiences a feeling of freedom that affirms for her that she has done the right thing.

Edna wants to be liberated, but she also needs love and appreciation. She desires the freedom to make her own choices and to determine her own direction. Unfortunately, she finds that society—not just her marriage—is too restrictive to allow her to do these things. Her new-found freedom is short lived. While she had hoped to find happiness in a sexual relationship with acquaintance Alcée Arobin, she discovers only regret that he is not Robert While she had hoped to be successful as an artist, she finds that she has little talent. Her final discouragement comes when she realizes that she cannot separate action from emotion—that while she will not live for others, she cannot live without others

Edna understands that her desires and her newfound true self will not be accepted by society. Unwilling to go back to being the conforming wife and mother, and really unable to, Edna chooses to commit suicide—a final act of self-determination.