I've read somewhere that The Awakening is one of the first books about women's lib. I'd have to agree with that, though it doesn't have the positive connotations that later works would have. I do think that it is a very realistic portrayal of what you might call a mid-life crisis, though Edna, the main character, is only 29. I feel like I'm having one of those crises right now and I'm 40, but I've justified the similarities by saying to myself that people didn't live as long back then (1890's) so 29 might have been mid-life, and also that I'm hopelessly delayed in all things in general so this would be no exception.
Edna is, as I said above, 29 years old, married to a man that adores her and has two sons aged 5 and 7. Edna doesn't adore her husband, she just married him because he came along at the right time and was the right man to marry. They live in New Orleans but are on vacation on Grand Isle when the story opens. They are comfortably well off, with a nanny and servants. During the vacation Edna has an "awakening"-she suddenly feels the shackles of her life and wants to throw them off. This coincides with her relationship with a young man, Robert. They fall in love on the island but do not act upon it.
When Edna returns to New Orleans with her family she can't stand her existence anymore. She takes up painting and drawing again, old hobbies that she hadn't indulged in for years. Her husband leaves for an extended business trip to New York and while he is gone, she suddenly finds herself free. Her children visit her mother-in-law and her obligations are only to herself.
I'm sure this book has been analyzed to death and I know many people probably won't agree with me on my interpretation of it, but I thought the book was very good, even the ending. I won't give it away, just that it is true to the time and true to the character. It can't be put in the context of our current social situation--so much has changed in our world in just 120 years. I can empathize with Edna's ennui. I admire her ability to pull herself out of it, even if the struggle exhausts her.