What is the function of Edna's flashbacks in The Awakening?

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Edna's flashbacks reveal that she has always, consciously or not, questioned society's rules and the expectations placed on her as a female in the late-nineteenth century . The narrator describes Edna's juvenile crush on a famous tragedian (an actor), and she would kiss the glass on a framed picture...

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Edna's flashbacks reveal that she has always, consciously or not, questioned society's rules and the expectations placed on her as a female in the late-nineteenth century. The narrator describes Edna's juvenile crush on a famous tragedian (an actor), and she would kiss the glass on a framed picture she kept of him. Her marriage to Leonce, however, was "purely an accident, in this respect resembling many other marriages which masquerade as decrees of Fate."

It is telling that the narrator describes her marriage as looking like it has to do with fate, as though Edna has no real choice in the matter—as though she entered into her role without really realizing what she was doing. She is flattered by his devotion, believes that they have some things in common, and feels her father and sister's "violent opposition" to her marriage to a Catholic. This is enough for her because she thinks that her relationship is unique and interesting. At any rate, once she realized her error,

As the devoted wife of a man who worshiped her, she felt she would take her place with a certain dignity in the world of reality, closing the portals forever behind her upon the realm of romance and dreams.

Such a recollection shows us that Edna grew to accept the idea that reality and dignity could not accompany romance and dreams. The Creole wife is supposed to be an angel, self-effacing, luminous and near-divine in her duties to family, but this is something Edna never bought. She wants to be worshiped by her husband, not to worship at her husband's and children's feet.

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Edna's flashbacks illustrate the fact that Edna has always felt different from the people that surround her.  In chapter 7 the narrator says that "even as a child she had lived her own small life within herself."  Edna's feelings and actions in the present time of the novel are not completely new feelings for her.  She is not simply unhappy with her marriage or her role as wife and mother.  She has felt a sense of disconnection between herself and the expectations of society and the traditional roles she was supposed to uphold.  She marries Leonce "on accident" because she was flattered by him and his Catholicism irritated her father and sister.  She has a benevolent disregard for her children.  In the last pages of the novel, as she is wandering out to sea, the rememebers an earlier night of swimming, and that reminds her of a feeling from her childhood.

She went on and on.  She remembered the night she swam far out, and recalled the terror that seized her at the fear of being unable to regain the shore.  She did not look back now, but went on and on, thinking of the blue-grass meadow that she had traversed when a little child, believing that it had no beginning and no end.

The flashbacks provide insights into this woman who leaves what could be seen as a very nice life, and in the end, realizing she can't have everything she wants or that she isn't strong enough to maintain herself in this life, decides to end it all.

 

 

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