The catalyst for Edna's awakening is her relationship with the handsome Robert Lebrun. Robert is besotted with Edna, and she falls in love with him in turn. However, Robert leaves Grand Isle before anything physical can come of their mutual attraction because he is uncomfortable at the thought of being with a married woman.
Robert's sudden desertion does not halt Edna's radical inner change. Instead, Edna realizes the depth of her unhappiness and decides to do something about it. When she and her family return to New Orleans at the end of the summer, Edna begins to neglect her social duties and the household. After her husband, Léonce, goes to New York for a business trip and arranges to have the children put into their grandmother's care for the time being, Edna moves out of the house, has an affair with Alcée Arobin, and begins painting in earnest.
While her encounter with Robert allowed her awakening to first come into being, her solitude after her husband's departure allows Edna to finally explore her previously neglected interests. She is an artistic and sensual being, far more fit for an artist's studio than a traditional household. Being alone allows Edna to finally awaken to her true self.