The novelThe Awakeningtreats the topic of self-realization and self-awareness through the point of view of a woman who, after marriage and children, is just now realizing her actual physical needs as well as the deficiencies in her relationship with her husband. The difference with Edna, as a character that epitomizes her time, is that rather than deny herself such knowledge she yields to it, and welcomes the exploration of her new-found sexuality. Edna has compartmentalized every new information that she gets about who she is and what she is about. When the time comes to reconcile all of those realities into one, Edna realizes that they simply cannot co-exist; she would have to start anew, in a new place and under a new reality. This reality would see her empowered, independent, and self-reliable. Yet, it was not to be. As a result, Edna gives herself "back to the ocean", and commits suicide.
One of the most clear examples of how her sexuality is awakened is the relationship between Edna and the well-known womanizer Alcee Arobin. A notorious man, Alcee represents everything that Edna cannot be: he is a libertine, enjoys life, comes and goes, sleeps around, and has no social limits placed upon him because he is a man and a bachelor. His control of women is also another quality that must seem attractive to Edna, given that she obviously had no hold on her true love interest, Robert, whose lack of formal commitment to Edna drives her to mood changes and depression.
Therefore, Alcee actually empowers Edna rather than diminish her to the ranks of a cheater. He gives her that extra exposure to masculinity that she does not get from her husband and, frankly, she does not get it from Robert either. Moreover, Alcee might actually have more true chemistry with Edna than Robert himself!
Her talk grew familiar and confidential. It was no labor to become intimate with Arobin. His manner invited easy confidence. The preliminary stage of becoming acquainted was one which he always endeavored to ignore when a pretty and engaging woman was concerned
Most importantly still, notice Edna's reactions toward Alcee. It is not just a "crush" she develops, but a sexual connection that touches on what Margaret Culley's article "Edna Pontellier: 'A Solitary Soul'" defines as a "deliverance of the flesh". Culley speaks of the way that Arobin helps Edna to liberate the many hidden desires that she had to keep to herself.
It was getting to be more than a passing whim with Arobin to see her and be with her. He had detected the latent sensuality, which unfolded under his delicate sense of her nature's requirements like a torpid, torrid, sensitive blossom
After they got together, she continued this fixation, this "deliverance",
his presence, his manners, the warmth of his glances, and above all the touch of his lips upon her hand had acted like a narcotic upon her...
Therefore, Arobin is not a love interest for Edna; he represents the real man, not an idealization of one such as Robert and his ultra-conservative self. Arobin even understands Edna's repression and perhaps this is the reason why he favors married women; he knows they are all in need of real romance. However, this did not play a negative in Edna's life. If anything she and Arobin complimented each other and served each other with what each needed. None of them resulted with a broken heart; it was the best physical relationship Edna would ever have.