The story of “The Awakening” is the story of the protagonist, Edna Pontellier, ‘awakening’ to a greater sense of personal freedom. Much of this process is cast in terms of the gender roles and sexual mores of the time, which held woman accountable to their husbands and to a very traditional role of near saintliness and motherhood. Edna, however, finds little to enjoy in these traditional roles, and she begins to rebel against them first by challenging the tyranny of her husband’s leading role in the family (by staying out in a hammock most of the night when he demands that she come to bed, for instance), ultimately moving out of his house altogether and setting up an independent household of her own. Then narrator relates, ““but whatever came, she had resolved never again to belong to another than herself.” Effectively, she abandons her role of wife and mother and begins to live for herself, which is the sense in which she “awakens.”
Edna proclaims, “I would give up the unessential; I would give up my money, I would give up my life for my children; but I wouldnt give myself. I can't make it more clear; it's only something I can beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me.” At the end of the story, realizing that her past choices have irrevocably bound her to her children, if to no one else, she walks into the sea in order to make her life her own, if only in the taking of it.