At the start of The Awakening, Edna is a dissatisfied woman, despite having everything women in her culture are supposed to desire: a husband, children, and a prominent social position. And yet, she is unhappy because it is not the life she really wants. Edna "awakens" to her true self over the course of the story, coming to realize she is unsuited for the usual Victorian roles of wife and mother. She is passionate, independent, and artistic. She moves into her own apartment, paints, and takes on a lover. She also "awakens" to the reality of her old life: she is only married and a mother because society expects her to be and because she adhered to those expectations, not because she ever wanted to take on those roles herself.
Unfortunately for Edna, society's reaction to her behavior scares her away from fully embracing nonconformity. When her lover Robert leaves her—upon seeing that Edna cannot be owned or kept—it becomes clear to her that she cannot go back to her old life, nor can she be accepted by those she has associated with her newfound freedom, and so she drowns herself. Thus, her awakening becomes double edged, since it does not necessarily grant her the mental fortitude to continue living as she wishes.