How does The Awakening speak to the roles of women at the end of the 19th century?
One way that this novel speaks to the roles of women at the end of the nineteenth century is by representing Edna's ambiguous feelings in regard to those roles. Early on, the narrator describes the "mother-women," those women who seem almost divine in their embodiment of perfect maternity; they seem to require nothing else. Edna loves her sons, certainly, but she also doesn't feel the need to be at their beck and call as the mother-women seem to do.
She has a familiar relationship with her husband, but she does not seem to truly love him. The narrator tells us that she really only married him to spite her father; therefore, even her marriage resulted from her discomfort with her role as dutiful daughter. Rather than work hard to please her husband, as Adele Ratignolle does, for example, Edna begins to realize that she has a will of her own that she can exercise, even when it runs in opposition to Leonce's will. She is not a dutiful wife. Edna shirks feminine responsibility after responsibility, ignoring her receiving day, refusing to make calls, and generally embarrassing her husband, and through this, she shows how restrictive, how constrictive, a woman's role in this era really is.
The Awakening speaks directly to the roles of women at the end of the 19th century because it presents prototypes of females whose behaviors are changing as the times change, and whose roles within their families are shifting as the century shifts into more modern times.
The role of Edna, for example, is indicative of a woman who is simply fed up with the demands placed on women earlier in the 19th century: The nurturer, the solid rock, the loving wife, the loving mother, the enthusiastic entertainer. She had an idea that she would have to do all those things, but her awakening taught her that, to her, that whole thing was just not up her league.
In terms of writing conventions, it is noticeable that a female author would expose the reality of the emotion of women at the end of the 19th century.
Certainly it shows a shift in the paradigm of romantic literature, and it is noticeable in the fact that women, as with every romantic/realistic writing, are not portrayed as damsels in distress, nor as attractive princesses, nor the men are shown as chivalrous knights that will save the day.
The roles of women were seen as 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."
Kate Chopin used various characters (especially women) with unique personalities in realistic styles, incorporating effects of emotions.