What is Edna’s relationship with her children in The Awakening?

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In the first few paragraphs of The Awakening, Edna Pontellier 's relationship with her children is presented as distant, but generally positive. The children play under the trees by themselves and display an independence that seem to suit Edna, who, at the start of the novella, is engaged in...

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In the first few paragraphs of The Awakening, Edna Pontellier's relationship with her children is presented as distant, but generally positive. The children play under the trees by themselves and display an independence that seem to suit Edna, who, at the start of the novella, is engaged in her conversations with Robert.

According to Mr. Pontellier, Edna's husband, the relationship between Edna and their children is unsatisfactory. At one point, he perceives their son to have developed a fever, and though Edna explains that the boy had gone to sleep perfectly healthy, Mr. Pontellier does not accept her explanation and scolds her for being neglectful. According to Mr. Pontellier, Edna's relationship with her children is not close enough for his liking.

Later, the narrator explains to the reader that Edna is not a woman who worships her children. Though the narrator maintains a neutral tone towards Edna's style of mothering, Edna's husband is decidedly critical, which contributes to the sense of oppression that characterizes Edna's experience as a wife and mother.

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While it is true that Edna is not a "mother-woman" like her friend, Adele Ratignolle, or most of the other women at Grand Isle for the summer, it does not follow that she is necessarily a bad mother. She is not as attentive, certainly, and she insists on maintaining her own identity and relationships outside of motherhood, but, because of her mothering, her children are actually probably better prepared for the wider world than others. The narrator says,

If one of the little Pontellier boys took a tumble whilst at play, he was not apt to rush crying to his mother's arms for comfort; he would more likely pick himself up, wipe the water out of his eyes and the sand out of his mouth, and go on playing. Tots are they were, they pulled together and stood their ground in childish battles with double fists and uplifted voices, which usually prevailed against the other mother-tots.

So, we see that Edna's sons are not as dependent on her and do not require coddling as most of the other children do. Their relative independence is presented as rather plucky by the narrator rather than as something negative. Edna's mothering has prepared her children, even, to fight their own battles rather than run to and rely on her to mediate conflicts for them.

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Edna's relationship with her children is something that is discussed at length in Chapter IV, when Mr. Pontellier tries to put his finger on why he feels Edna is not the kind of mother she should be. This sense of failing on her part as a mother was something he "felt rather than perceived," and was also highlighted by the way that they were surrounded that summer by women who he describes as being "mother-women." Edna is not one of their number, as the description of these "mother-women" indicates:

It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolised their children, worshipped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.

By contrast, Edna is not one of those women, and their children, when they fall over and hurt themselves, do not rush to her as other women's children do, but they merely pick themselves up and carry on playing. Although Mr. Pontellier is therefore not able to point the finger towards any definite dereliction of duty as a mother, the way that Edna is obviously so different from the other mothers with them that summer highlights that she has a very different kind of relationship with her children, and this foreshadows the way that she is able to leave them as she leaves her husband when she searches for her own independent lifestyle and sense of self.

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