Why did Edna marry Leonce in The Awakening and is he a model husband?

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When we first meet Edna and Leonce Pontellier, they seem to have a typical marriage of the late nineteenth century. He goes to work and to the club, while Edna spends her time mostly with other women and with her children. Edna is surprised to find herself upset one night when Leonce wakes her to take care of the children, one of whom he insists is sick, after he's returned home from the club. She recognizes that the scene is not out of the ordinary but for some reason, she feels devastated about it this time. Her awakening has begun, and she slowly becomes conscious of her unhappiness in her marriage and in her position as a woman in this society.

As far as classifying Leonce as the ideal husband, it seems that he is considered so by the community in which the Pontelliers live. When he sends some chocolates to his wife, "the ladies. . . . all declared that Mr. Pontellier was the best husband in the world. Mrs. Pontellier was forced to admit that she knew of none better." The word "forced" in this quote is important in showing us how Edna's perspective differs from that of the community. It also suggests that she isn't necessarily dissatisfied with Leonce as a husband but is dissatisfied with the state of marriage in general. He may be playing the role of husband as well as can be expected, but she doesn't want to live according to these roles any more.

Later in the novel, we learn how Edna and Leonce met and why she married him. She was actually in love with another man (the tragedian). Edna's marriage to Leonce is described as "an accident," and one of "the decrees of Fate." Leonce fell in love with Edna and "pressed his suit with an earnestness and an ardor which left nothing to be desired." She feels "flattered" by "his absolute devotion." At the time, she thought they shared "a sympathy of thought and taste," but she ends up being wrong about that. Edna likes the idea of rebelling against her father, who is against the marriage. Because she couldn't marry the tragedian, Edna feels she has missed out on her chance to have a blissful, romantic life. Once she "awakens" over the course of the novella, she realizes she doesn't want anyone else bending her will or controlling her. She wants to be free and independent. Even though she loves Robert, she does not want to marry him, which is the definitive proof that it is marriage as an institution that oppresses her rather than Leonce in particular.

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In chapter 7 of the novel it is revealed that Edna marries Leonce on "accident."  That seems like a rather strange idea, but as the paragraph follows, the situation becomes more clear.  Edna was actually interested in another man but Leonce was deeply in love and "presssed his suit with an earnestness and ardor which left nothing to be desired.  He pleased her; his absolute devotion flattered her."  Edna was pleased by the attention of this man partly because she didn't have the attention of the other man.  She also thought they perhaps they had some things in common.

The most forebdoing comment in the paragraph though is what follows.  It is revealed that Edna's father and sister where very opposed to Edna marrying Leonce, who is a Catholic.  Edna seems to take great delight in doing exactly the opposite of what they expect, so she marries Leonce. 

Another reason for marrying Leonce is that Edna thought then that by marrying a man who worshipped her she would "take her place with a certain dignity in the world of reality, closing the portals forever behind her upon the realm of romance and dreams."  She thought this marriage would suit her and that she could maintain an emotional distance, but still have her place in the world. 

These revelations are important to an understanding of Edna's character.  She didn't one day decide she wanted out of the marriage and her responsiblities.  She has had the seeds of discontent and a unique sense of herself since her childhood, and that explains much of her current attitude and behavior.

Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The answer is pretty simple here.  Even though Edna says she married Leonce on "accident," she actually marries him because she is influenced by his flattery.  We find this out in chapter seven:

[Leonce] presssed his suit with an earnestness and ardor which left nothing to be desired.  He pleased her; his absolute devotion flattered her.

Edna has a wish of another suitor, but only has Leonce pursuing her.  Edna hopes the two of them have at least a few things in common.  Further, even though she has family directly opposed to the marriage due to Leonce's Catholicism, Edna wants the dream to cease to be a dream and become reality.

[Edna wished for a] certain dignity in the world of reality, closing the portals forever behind her upon the realm of romance and dreams.

I am going to add another idea here that isn't often mentioned.  Edna is also influenced by the security of marrying Leonce.  In short, Leonce has money!  This is enough to keep Edna safe and happy (at least in some way) for the rest of her life. Despite the affairs she ends up having and her "awakening" to the world of sexuality, the security of marrying the Catholic Leonce continues for Edna as long as she stays married.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Edna married Leonce for several reasons, although she considers that they were all "an accident". First, she did have a slight connection with him as far as sympathy and animosity. Second, the man had a lot of money and a tendency to spoil her. Third, she wanted to make her father, the Colonel, angry especially because Leonce was of a different faith. Fourth, she was really thinking that she would eventually fall in love with him, and that she will find satisfaction in a lavish life. Unfortunately for Edna, she married being way too immature, and knew very little to nothing about life, herself, her sexuality, nor her nature. For this reason, she began a series of sexual affairs.

Was Leonce the model husband? Perhaps. He loved Edna, he lavished her with gifts, attended her every whim, and felt very proud of her. I would call that a keeper.