What is the function of Edna's flashbacks in The Awakening?
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,
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The flashbacks to Edna Pontellier's past primarily function as character development. We come to understand Edna's nature, her inclination to get lost in dream, in fantasy. Also, these flashbacks function to drive the plot forward, to understand more the present moment happenings and why she may be making the choices she does. Her history is established in these flashbacks, further clarifying for the reader Edna's relationship to other characters and how the past affects the present.