Edna does not think of her life as vital to her existence; instead, she conceives of the most vital, the most important, part of her existence as her self-awareness, her autonomous identity, and her absolute freedom from social rules, gender roles, and marital expectations. She tells Adele Ratignolle, her good friend,
she would never sacrifice herself for her children, or for any one . . . Edna tried . . . to explain. "I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself."
This perplexes Adele because she feels that to give one's life for one's children would be the greatest sacrifice a mother could make. However, Edna feels that her life is "unessential" to her sense of self; she could give up her life for her kids for this reason. What she cannot give up is her personal freedom. The paradox lies in her description of her life as being inessential; we would likely think of actually being alive as being fairly essential, but Edna does not. How can her life be inessential to her existence? Because, in her eyes, it is far more important to be free, even if she can only achieve that freedom in death.