During the 1890's America was characterized by strict social codes, both spoken and unspoken. Nineteenth century American women were expected to find their strength and meaning of self in their submissive state and in their dedication to home and family. The Awakening is a novel about the growth of a woman into her own person; in spite of the pattern society has formed for her. Chopin's novel, which challenged society's concepts of what a wife and mother should be, tells of a young woman in search of her identity and sexual awakening. According to Chopin's view of the human condition, persons cannot arrive at a satisfactory sense of who they are unless they fulfill three basic needs (Skaggs 112): a definable place in social order, the fulfillment of human love, and the sense of independence. Kate Chopin, living in the midst of female oppression, experienced all three of the latter and the personal conflicts these evoked greatly impacted her life and her writing style. The Awakening also suggests that Chopin saw something universal in Edna's experience, making it a general critique of a culture that severely restricted women's opportunities for emotional accomplishment and self-expression (Murfin 16). In the process of writing The Awakening, Chopin uses her life experiences along with the repressive social status of women during the turn of the century to illustrate the sacrifices that Edna Pontellier had to make to overcome the conventional roles of a mother.
Throughout her life, Kate Chopin actively searched for spiritual emancipation, which she found and expressed through her writing. Her poems, short stories and novels permitted her not only to emphasize her beliefs for herself, but also question the ideas of individuality and autonomy during the turn of the century. Chopin shows that to remain within traditional statutes and accept, or possibly embrace, structure is the same as drowning one's individuality and creativity in a sea of predictability (Wheeler 53).