In The Red Badge of Courage, how does Edna feel about such a marriage as Adele's?

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lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The primary theme of the novel is individuality, and Edna struggles with maintaining (or creating) her individuality in this society and in her marriage.  She realizes very early in her marriage that she isn't likely to have very much individuality because Creole society (towhich she is a newcomer) believes in a concept of "mother-woman" where, as the name implies, the women are not just female, but tied to an ideal where they "idolized their children, worshipped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels."  Adele is the model of this attitude and seems perfectly content in this role.  She dotes on her children, has a baby about every two years, entertains her family and adores her husband.  Edna, on the other hand, is a bit neglectful of her two children, and begins to openly defy her husbands wishes.  She begins with small rebellions such as not going to bed when he wants to, and ultimately ends up moving to her own little house.  She can appreciate Adele's marriage for Adele, but she can never imagine being that wife/mother/woman.  She seeks for fulfillment for her SELF.  She learns to swim, she refuses appointments, she sends the children to stay with relatives, she has an affair, she learns to paint.  These are all attempts to define herself as an individual so that she doesn't lose herself in a marriage and family.  When she witnesses Adele's giving birth she is vividly reminded of the pain of being a woman and mother and is overwhelmed with emotion.  She can't find a balance and realizes in the end that she can never be truly free from the ties of society so she kills herself.  Her death can be considered a failure of her ability to find a way to maintain her sense of identity or a triumph of her taking complete control of her situation, even if that means her death.  She knows she can understand Adele, but she could never be Adele.