How is Edna affected by her setting in The Awakening?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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You are right to ask this question about the setting of this story and the way that it impacts the protagnist. What is notable is the way in which Edna stays in many different houses throughout this novel, and each serves as a kind of indicator of her movement towards her awakening. At the start of the novel, on Grand Isle, Edna is expected to follow the traditional role of mother. In New Orleans, she is similarly expected to be the perfect social hostess. At these locations, Edna is hemmed in by societal pressures to fulfill these roles and does not try to go beyond them. Houses thus become symbols of the kind of pressures Edna feels that are oppressing her. It is notable that in Chapter 13, when she and Robert go to Madame Antoine's house, that she experiences such a sense of liberation. In this strange house there are no roles for her to fulfill, and she feels tremendously released as a result. Note what Edna says when she wakes up after sleeping:

"How many years have I slept?" she inquired. "The whole island seems changed. A new race of beings must have sprung up, leaving only you and me as past relics. How many ages ago did Madame Antoine and Tonie die? and when did our people from Grand Isle disappear from the earth?"

This is an important moment in the novel because it marks the beginning of Edna's "awakening" and the change that she has begun. Edna is able to forget the other characters and the roles that have been forced upon her and experience a world in which she can be her own person.

You might like to now go and trace the other different houses that Edna spends time in and relate them to the theme of her awakening and her growing independence. Unfortunately and tragically, Edna realises that at the end of the novel, she can be ultimately be free from societal pressures only in death.

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