In The Awakening, what kind of mother is Edna?

Quick answer:

Edna is a good mother, as she is concerned with her children's well being and education. She also encourages them to be independent and strong. She does not allow them to dependent on her for everything, but rather lets them experience things on their own. However, she insists that they learn how to be sociable and get along with others, which is not a trait of the other mothers in the story.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I would describe Edna as a good mother, through the lens of 21st-century motherhood, though she is an atypical one; she's not the overly-nurturing and abundantly maternal type. She insists on having and retaining her own identity, despite her status as a mother, something which was rather unusual for a...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

woman in the time and place when the novel is set. Each of her boys, unlike the other kids, would not "rush crying to his mother's arms for comfort" if he falls down; instead, "he would more likely pick himself up, wipe the water out of his eyes and the sand out of his mouth, and go on playing." The narrator says that the boys pull

together and [stand] their ground in childish battles with doubled fists and uplifted voices, which usually prevailed against the other mother-tots.

In other words, Edna's style of mothering is actually preparing her children more for the world than the mother-women's. Her kids can take care of themselves and don't need her to soothe them or mediate their disputes with other children. Edna refuses to "efface [herself]" as an individual, and she will not allow her own identity and personhood disappear into her role as mother. When she sends the kids to their grandmother's, the boys are fine! If she needs time for herself, knowing that her children are well cared for, is there harm in that?

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Being a mother didn't come naturally to Edna.  Though she cared both for an about her children, she was not a particularly loving mother--and she knew it.  Our narrator describes her this way:

In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman. The mother-women seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.

The obvious conclusion to draw is that Edna was none of those things, and we discover she rarely regretted it.

The foil (opposite, antithesis) of Edna's rather distant mothering was Adèle Ratignolle.  They became friends, and  Adèle assumed that more mothering role with Edna's children.

Even when they weren't vacationing, Edna was not a particularly good mother.

She made no ineffectual efforts to conduct her household en bonne ménagère, going and coming as it suited her fancy, and, so far as she was able, lending herself to any passing caprice.

When the house was being redone, she did not keep her kids with her.  In short, perhaps Edna was a good mother at one time; at the time we meet her, though, she was a mother who became more self-absorbed and selfish as the novel progressed. The Awakening is Edna's story, and her children seem to be nothing but hindrances which get in her way.

Approved by eNotes Editorial