Although the narrator primarily remains an objective observer, the tone is sympathetic to Edna’s plight, as we first see early in the novel. In Chapter 3, the narrator says that Léonce forgot to get the bonbons and peanuts his children wanted, but we then see him waking Edna from sleep to criticize her for “her inattention, her habitual neglect of the children.” The reader is left to draw their own conclusions about Léonce’s entitled and hypocritical attitude.
The author heightens this impression with subtle shifts to a more ironic tone. Edna, for instance, is “forced to admit that she knew of no [husband] better” when the other women praise Léonce’s generosity in sending her chocolates. It is clear that Léonce is not a great husband, and yet it is also true that Edna at this point doesn’t know to ask for more, making this moment bitterly funny.
The Awakening gains a graver tone as the novel progresses, foreshadowing Edna’s suicide. We first see this change in Chapter 10, during Edna’s first swim. Although at first triumphant, the narrator creates a sense of dread by invoking death. The party in Chapter 30 has an extremely unsettling tone as a night meant to celebrate Edna’s independence quickly spirals out of control. These uncomfortable moments highlight how trapped Edna is by her role as a wife and mother.