The Awakening, Edna Pontellier is caught by the contradictions between the way others see her and the way she sees herself. The novella is a story narrating her awakening and discovery of self. “In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her. … How few of us ever emerge from the beginning! ” The narrator is remarking at Edna’s boldness and uniqueness as an independent woman on a quest for self-discovery.
And the narrator also points out “How many souls perish in [the beginning’s] tumult! ” which serves to predict the chaos that comes about as Edna’s awareness grows – and can also be read as a remark foreshadowing her death. The female role that involves bearing children and being a “perfect” wife is also an important aspect of the society represented in The Awakening. While this lifestyle suits someone like Adele Ratignolle, Edna finds it unbearable and oppressive.
She loves Robert and he inspires her, but her awakening at Grand Isle was complex — She does not simply find a new love interest, she finds a new way of appreciating and living life. Robert is more of an excuse and an occupation rather than a full explanation for her transformation. Even though Edna’s awakening means she suffers from the resulting self-awareness, the year of joy and understanding that accompanies this suffering is worth more to her than a lifetime of the semi-conscious submission that defined her former existence. The years that are gone seem like dreams—if one might go on sleeping and dreaming—but to wake up and find—oh! well! Perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life. ” According to Edna, to live with self-awareness offers an existence far richer than a life lived according to the restricting “illusions” that are imposed by the expectations of others.