"I would give up the unessentialI would give up my lifebut I wouldn't give myself" (Chopin 89). Edna Pontellier, the protagonist in Kate Chopin's novel The Awakening, undergoes several stages of awakening. Each awakening brings Edna a stronger sense of individual self, in a Victorian patriarchal society wherein women are obligated to marriage and child rearing. After her initial "rebirth" in the ocean, Edna's first stage in her awakening is to finally drop the outward facade of being a "mother-woman" and start to explore her new desires and creative interests (Chopin 13). Another pivotal stage in her awakening comes when she realizes that she cannot live dually awakened and oppressed by gender roles; she needs to choose one path and commit herself fully to it. Thus, she attempts to commit herself fully to her awakening sense of self. This attempt brings with it the realization that the Victorian world in which she lives is not one where a woman can live spiritually awakened, independent, and free from societal oppression. Therefore, in a final assertion of the strength of her independent, awakened self and in repudiation of societal convention and gender roles, she decides to commit suicide and free her soul from the bondage of life in a Victorian patriarchal society. .
Even before Edna's awakening begins, Chopin clearly illustrates the expectations of tradition and women's roles in late 19th century Creole, Victorian society. Chopin uses the term "mother-women" to identify the traditional female role in this society, and immediately sets Edna apart from this identity. She describes the "mother-women" as the Victorian equivalent to modern day helicopter moms, running around to protect their children from any harm, "real or imaginary" (13). She also describes them as being completely content to erase their individuality to, "[idolize] their children, [and] worshiped their husbands" (13).