"The primary concern of Kate Chopin' s fiction is the celebration of female sexuality, and the tension between erotic desire and the demands of marriage, the family, and a traditional family."" Because of the explicit treatment of these topics, being taboos at the time, her novels had a problematic position in the canonization-process, and received very harsh critics. Change came with the appearance of feminist criticism.
Her best known novel, The Awakening, was published in 1899. It "traces the psychological and sexual coming to consciousness of a young woman- . It is a frank account of a woman's sexual and spiritual awakening, adultery and suicide. Chopin's concern is not simply what women do to themselves, but also with what society does to them. In many ways, we can make out the allusions to Chopin's life as a child. Her mother was a French Creole, and her father an Irish merchant. After her father's early death, she "grew closer to her maternal grandmother- , who told her stories including "extramarital romance and interracial marriage, which gave the young girl an unusually complex view of the world."" .
Critics compared the novel to Flaubert's Madame Bovary, and Willa Cather "complained that Edna Pontellier and Emma Bovary both belong to a class, not large, but forever glamoring in our ears, that demands more romance out of life than God puts into it."" .
Edna Pontellier is a white, middle-class, married woman, mother of two children; she fits into the traditional role of the Southern lady. But there is something wrong about her in this sense: she is not satisfied with her life, she wants something more, wants to break out from her social limitations. .
At the beginning of the story we may already feel, that her life is full of problems and dissatisfaction. First, she is not gratified with her marriage. She loves her husband, who is considered to be "the best husband in the world-, but he does not appreciate her enough.