What is the role culture and the environment play in The Awakening?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Culture and the environment play a massively important role in this novel. The story is about one woman's brave battle against the social restrictions that society has created for women, especially married women with children. Interestingly, in this text, society is described as an antagonist in the way that it has created roles for women that Edna finds so difficult to accept and also to break free from. The concept of what it was to be a married woman, and in particular a mother at that time is something that is shown to be anathema to Edna, and is one of the main reasons she feels the need to break free from these previous constricting roles. Note how, early on in the text, in Chapter Four, Edna is explicitly compared to Adele Ratignolle, who is said to be a "mother-woman" in the way she embodies the kind of role expected by society for mothers and wives to adopt. As a "mother-woman" she is said to be one of the "perfect" mothers that surround the Pontellier family that summer on the coast:

They were women who idolised their children, worshipped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.

The role of society and the environment in this novel is therefore shown to be the way in which they have created expectations of what wives and mothers should be like, which, as the quote suggests, involve no suggestion of self, but actually involve self-effacement as they seek to live their lives for others. Edna realises that she is no longer willing to do this, and thus begins her process of awakening, and her opposition with society and the environment.

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