Kate Chopin's controversial novel, The Awakening, tells the story of Edna Pontellier, a young housewife and mother who discovers her need for independence and self-expression in the midst of her "awakening". One of the novel's minor characters, Adele Ratignolle, serves as a foil to Edna, illustrating all the qualities of the ideal nineteenth century housewife which Edna refuses to adopt. The novel's theme of rebellion against feminine ideals of the Victorian era becomes most clear when certain facets of the two women's characters are compared. .
The degree of loyalty that each woman bestows upon her husband serves as one example of their contrasting interests. Adele idolizes her husband, and would do anything to please him. On one occasion, she even declines Edna's invitation to stay, because "Monsieur Ratignolle was alone, and he detested above all things to be left alone" (40). In comparison, Edna, though admitting Mr. Pontellier is a good husband, does not worship him in the way Adele worships Mr. Ratignolle. In fact, Edna defies her husband's demand that she come inside on a cold night, by stating, "I mean to stay out here. I don't wish to go in, and I don't intend to. Don't speak to me like that again; I shall not answer you" (31). This is one way in which Edna strays from the perfect housewife image that Adele embodies.
The women's devotion to their children demonstrates another way in which Adele and Edna differ. Adele lavishes her children with affection, as provides the perfect example of a "mother-woman". " fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood" (8). As the author points out, Edna is not a mother-woman. Though she loves her children, she refuses to let them dominate her life in the way Adele's children dominate hers. Edna declares, "I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself" (47).