In The Awakening, what kind of mother is Edna?
I would describe Edna as a good mother, through the lens of 21st-century motherhood, though she is an atypical one; she's not the overly-nurturing and abundantly maternal type. She insists on having and retaining her own identity, despite her status as a mother, something which was rather unusual for a woman in the time and place when the novel is set. Each of her boys, unlike the other kids, would not "rush crying to his mother's arms for comfort" if he falls down; instead, "he would more likely pick himself up, wipe the water out of his eyes and the sand out of his mouth, and go on playing." The narrator says that the boys pull
together and [stand] their ground in childish battles with doubled fists and uplifted voices, which usually prevailed against the other mother-tots.
In other words, Edna's style of mothering is actually preparing her children more for the world than the mother-women's. Her kids can take care of themselves...
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Edna can best be described as an unconventional mother. Much of what defines her character in The Awakening has to do with her rebuking of social norms. The novel is set at the end of the 19th century, which was a time when women were held to very specific social standards. The ways in which they mothered were included in these expectations. Much like we have certain expectations of mothers today which differ from those of our mothers and their mothers, Edna was expected to treat her children in the same ways that other late 19th century mothers treated their children. She was expected to always put her childrens’ needs first, to put her needs last, and to be constantly attentive and appreciative of her children. Edna’s unconventionality is best seen when comparing her to other mothers in the novel like Adele Ratignolle who represents the feminine and motherly ideal of the time. Unfortunately for Edna, her failure to meet late 19th century mothering norms also positions her as an uncaring and perhaps even unfit mother. As Chopin, herself, writes: “In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman. The motherwomen seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.” Clearly, Kate Chopin, the novel’s author, did not intend Edna to be conventional; her unusual approaches to mothering are one of the primary ways this is enacted in the novel.