How does Edna transform throughout the course of The Awakening?
Kate Chopin’s The Awakening follows Edna Pontellier’s transformation from a dependent, repressed woman mired in a conventional, loveless marriage to an independent, sexually active woman who values her own self worth. However, there is a limit to that awakening, as Edna comes to believe that society will not accept her and that her newfound love is not a solution to the deeper problems both within and all around her. Despondent, she ends her life by swimming out into the ocean.
As the novel begins, Edna, age twenty-eight, and her husband, Léonce, have two children, Raoul and Etienne. Léonce has come to regard her primarily as a mother and homemaker. Increasingly unhappy, Edna resents his criticisms but also questions her attachment to the children. Wondering that she often does not feel emotionally close to them, she suspects that something is wrong with her and begins to question her capacity for love. That questioning leads to her involvement with Robert Lebrun, a man she meets while the family is on vacation.
The steps in her transformation include an affair with Robert, but the physical aspect is just one part of the awakening. Edna also learns to value her friendships with women, especially the single, artistic Mademoiselle Reisz. Edna pursues her own passion for painting, of which Léonce disapproves, and moves out of their house, leaving her children and husband. These measures of independence do not feel like true liberty, however, and she decides that liberty is something she can never have.