When Edna learns to swim, her perception of its significance and import alerts her to the contrast between the way she conceives of her own experiences and the way she is seen by others. While she feels that she swims quite far out, experiencing a kind of independence she never has before, her husband, Leonce, says that she wasn't really so far away from shore. She sees herself as brave and rather daring, even perceiving some danger, while her husband continues to see her in the same way he always has, even though she is changing so much internally; it is a symbolic moment.
Edna also feels so discontented when Robert leaves for Mexico and she and her family return to New Orleans. She refuses to keep her visiting day at home and doesn't leave a socially appropriate excuse for her absence. Leonce cannot understand why she is suddenly behaving so differently, suddenly taking issue with expectations she has always fulfilled, and she throws her ring and smashes a vase in her room.
Edna realizes that all throughout her life, she has merely conformed to others' expectations of her: she has done what she ought when she ought since her childhood. She has failed to question these expectations and merely gone along with them, but now that her eyes have been opened by her feelings for Robert—now that she has awakened—she cannot close her eyes to them again.