Edna Pontellier's awakening to a greater sense of personal freedom seems to take great strides in her encounters with other people who model or demonstrate to her that freedom in their own behavior. The first pivotal moment for Edna is listening to the piano playing of Madame Adèle Ratignolle, which inspires in Edna a sublime sense of freedom. Madame Ratignolle herself lives an independent life that she seems to enjoy, and so Edna begins to form a friendship with her.
Edna’s other friendships, with Robert Lebrun and later Alcée Arobin, also encourage in her a new sense of freedom, particularly as she is stepping outside her role of wife and mother to spend time with these men in what we might call summer flings. Speaking of her feelings for Robert, the narrator comments,
For the first time, she recognized the symptoms of infatuation which she had felt incipiently as a child, as a girl in her early teens, and later as a young woman. The recognition did not lessen the reality, the poignancy of the revelation by any suggestion or promise of instability. The past was nothing to her; offered no lesson which she was willing to heed. The future was a mystery which she never attempted to penetrate. The present alone was significant; was hers, to torture her as it was doing then with the biting conviction that she had lost that which she had held, she had been denied that which her impassioned, newly awakened being demanded.
Robert introduces Edna to the country creole society on a day trip that shows her a more relaxed and down-to-earth culture that she admires; both men encourage her awakening as they react to her as a woman, rather than as a wife or mother, roles she increasingly despises. After she moves to her own apartment, Alcée accompanies her to the racetrack, widening her experience of the world in a similar way to her trip with Robert.