How is the Ratignolle marriage a contrast to the Pontellier marriage in "Awakening"?

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There are several contrasts between the two relationships. These are partly due to the personalities of all persons involved, the goals of both relationships, and the way they treat one another.

Adele Ratignolle is a traditional Victorian wife. She is compliant with the expectations bestowed upon the women of her time. She was the “angel in the household,” which is a nineteenth century term commonly applied to the “role” of women in life. As such, Adele was a nurturer whose duties were to admire her husband, tend to her household, nurture, and love her children. This is evident throughout the novel, and she and Edna even get in an argument on whether a woman should ever sacrifice herself for her children. Therefore, since the Ratignolles adhere firmly to the social expectations of the families of their time, we can conclude that their marriage is harmonious, mutually respectful, and, perhaps, it may even be a happy one.

On the other hand, there are a couple of unique situations pertaining Edna that directly affect her marriage in a negative way.

First, she is not Creole, like the rest of the people around her. Her values and personal views are different from those of Adele and her family.

The second situation in Edna’s life is that unlike Adele, or anyone else in Edna’s “set,” Edna is going through a great personality and existential crisis. Her awakening is hitting hard. As a result, she starts to question everything that surrounds her, as well as her past, her present, and her future. Surely, this affects her marriage, which is a result of the past that she is just now starting to analyze and reflect upon.

Mrs. Pontellier is beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her. This may seem like a ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon the soul of a young woman of twenty-eight—perhaps more wisdom than the Holy Ghost is usually pleased to vouchsafe to any woman.

The result of Edna’s crisis reflects upon her marriage. She moves out of her family home to live independently in the “pigeon hole”. She also starts an affair with Alcée Arobin, bets on horses, gives her husband the responsibility of their children, and does all of this in the public eye, which is a blatant show of “insubordination” by the standards of her time. It would be a huge sign of disrespect towards her husband.

Therefore, we can conclude that the Pontelliers were pretty chaotic and dysfunctional, compared to the Ratignolles. After all, the issues with Edna were partly caused by her husband’s lack of candor, which could not match Edna’s need for passion and adventure. The stagnant role of the women of her time was simply not for Edna. Tragically, Edna’s awakening came a little too late in her life.

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The Ratignolles appear to have the perfect, Creole marriage. He is the bread-winner and the decision-maker, while she is like a "faultless Madonna." Adele is the epitome of the "mother-woman," and Edna Pontellier is not, and this causes problems within her own marriage. The narrator tells us

It would have been a difficult matter for Mr. Pontellier to define to his own satisfaction or any one else's wherein his wife failed in her duty toward their children. It was something which he felt rather than perceived . . . .

However, Leonce not only perceives Edna's (relative) inattention toward their children (compared to other mothers in their social circle), but he also perceives her lack of attention to him. One night, when he arrives home late from the club, Edna is already asleep. Leonce awakens her with his noise and chatter, and he becomes a little sullen and petulant by her apparent lack of interest in him (nevermind that he woke her up). The narrator says,

He thought it very discouraging that his wife, who was the sole object of his existence, evinced so little interest in things which concerned him, and valued so little his conversation.

We never hear of or suspect that the Ratignolles have such issues in their marriage. The narrator says of Adele, "If her husband did not adore her, he was a brute, deserving of death by slow torture." And he does seem to adore her, and their marriage seems quite loving, especially because she is once again pregnant.

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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.

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