Monsieur and Madam Ratignolle have a "traditional" Southern marriage, and Adele Ratignolle exemplifies the "ideal" Southern woman. She is beautiful, helpless, submissive, and completely domestic, and she relies "on her husband's direction and approval" to give her fulfillment in life. Adele Ratignolle's whole identity is dependent upon her family. She lives "for...and through" her husband and children, and she wants for nothing else.
On the surface, Leonce and Edna Pontellier have a traditional Southern marriage as well. Leonce is a successful businessman who provides well for his family, and he expects the same kind of love and devotion that Adele Ratignolle shows for her family from his own wife Edna. Edna, however, intelligent and talented in her own right, wants more out of life and is not happy. Although she has long and dutifully seen to the needs of her husband and children, she is tormented by conflicting desires of her own.
Unable to continue in the mold of the "ideal" Southern wife, Edna asserts her individuality, refusing to sleep with her husband, ignoring her household responsibilities, and eventually moving out of the house to pursue her own interests. While she relishes her newfound liberation, Edna also needs the love and approval of those around her. Knowing that her choices will never be accepted by society, but unwilling to give up her freedom, she has no choice but to kill herself.