The Awakening is a novel of manners; by that I mean it's a novel more about how things are done and what people are feeling and thinking and the social construct (rules and behaviors) of the time. That being said, there are lots of realistic elements in the entire novel but particularly the beginning, for it sets the external stage for all the internal conflict which is to come. The most realistic element in those chapters is the sensory imagery--the sights and sounds and smells of the people and places.
The setting is a beach community, so we have the sights and sounds and feel and taste of beach--sand and sun and water. In the heat of the day, people are fanning themselves, trying to stay cool. We have "a number of bath-houses along the beach, of rough but solid construction" as well as cottages.
The cottages were all dark. A single faint light gleamed out from the hallway of the house. There was no sound abroad except the hooting of an old owl in the top of a water-oak, and the everlasting voice of the sea, that was not uplifted at that soft hour. It broke like a mournful lullaby upon the night.
Then we have clothing which sometimes rustles and the pipe smoke which has its own scent.
She wore a cool muslin that morning - white, with a waving vertical line of brown running through it; also a white linen collar and the big straw hat which she had taken from the peg outside the door. The hat rested any way on her yellow-brown hair, that waved a little, was heavy, and clung close to her head.
We feel somehow as if we're there when we can experience the story through our senses. It's these sensory images which allow readers to feel as if they're participating in the story.