Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
Chapters XIII - XVI
Robert comes by later, with his bag. He is to leave in twenty minutes. He sits on the steps and smokes and complains of the heat. Edna asks how long he will be gone, but he does not know. Edna thinks the whole thing is preposterous and that he is being too secretive. He says nothing but asks her to not part with him on bad terms. She says she does not want that either, but she has grown accustomed to having him around, and she feels his behavior has turned unkind. She was looking forward to seeing him in the city in the winter. He starts to say that he, too, has had such thoughts, and then he hints that that could be the reason for his departure.
It is all very unlike him, Edna thinks. Robert goes off to the boat, and Edna bites her handkerchief, trying not to cry. She realizes that this is like her childhood infatuations, but she still feels horrible. She has been denied the one thing her awakening soul most wanted.
One morning at the beach Mademoiselle Reisz asks Edna if she misses Robert. Edna has been swimming often because she knows that her vacation (and this particular pleasure) is coming to an end. Mademoiselle Reisz, however, has echoed her constant feeling.
Her whole life has been dulled by Robert's absence. She has spent time talking about him, visiting with his mother, and looking at pictures on the walls of the main house. She especially likes the childhood pictures. There are no recent ones. Madame Lebrun has had a letter from Robert and tells Edna where to find it. Edna is fascinated by every detail of the envelope, but he mentions her only briefly in the letter, in relation to a loaned book. She is jealous of his mother's having receiving the letter.
Everyone assumes Edna must miss Robert, even her husband. Edna impatiently talks to her husband about Robert because he saw Robert in town before he left for Mexico on the train. She wants all the details. She stops to scold the nurse for leaving the boys in the sun. Edna does not find it odd to question her husband so heatedly, because she has always lived by her emotions, and now she is experiencing new feelings. These emotions, she believes, are her own and she has a right to them.
Edna had once told Adèle that she would never sacrifice herself for anyone, not even her children. This idea horrified Adèle. Edna tried to explain: she would give up comfort, money, and even her life, but never her core being. She tells Adèle that she is just beginning to understand this. Adèle asserts that if Edna would give up her life, then God would ask no more of her --she herself could do no more than that. Edna disagrees, implying that there is something more that many women give away: their own identities.
Mademoiselle Reisz also speaks to Edna about Robert. Edna wonders if Madame Lebrun misses her oldest and favorite son. Mademoiselle Reisz says that Victor, not Robert, is the favorite. She dislikes Victor because he is worthless and spoiled. She likes Robert, who comes to see her in the city. The two sons once had a fight over a Spanish girl that Victor thought he had a claim upon. It was Mariequita, and Mademoiselle Reisz says that Mariequita is a "bad one."
Edna is depressed by Mademoiselle Reisz's venom. She goes swimming, hoping Mademoiselle Reisz will not wait for her, but she does. They walk back together, in a more pleasant mood, and discover that they are both leaving soon.
During the church service, and throughout the rest of the day, Edna completely follows her impulses. Robert seems anxious to take care of her, with all the ardor she could hope to receive from a new lover. They even prolong the day, deciding to stay at Madame Antoine's past the necessary hour, to hear stories. Madame Antoine's is a place where Edna would never stay by herself, but she seems won over to new experiences by her new closeness with Robert. They are playful, Edna relaxes, and she feels completely restored after their "day together." But reality intrudes when they return to the resort and Adèle has a fussy child to deliver into Edna's arms. Léonce is gone, and after Edna says goodnight to Robert she is certainly sorry to lose his company. She loses herself in a reverie of her "new" life, hardly suspecting the tumult to come. Robert's little song is very telling: if only you knew.
When Robert suddenly decides to leave for Mexico, it is hardly a surprise for the reader. It is likely that his mother has something to do with the arrangement; everyone has noticed that Robert and Edna are close companions. Edna's perplexity is understandable in that nothing has been said to interrupt the enjoyment she has had with Robert. People both know and want to ignore what this will mean to her.
Chopin has a gallery of characters constantly appearing to comment on the action involving Edna. The lovers are always there to remind the reader of unimpeded, self-absorbed young love. The woman in black represents the other end of the spectrum: widowhood, lovelessness, self-absorbed grief. Monsieur Farival is "wise old age," and he often says precisely what people do not want to hear. Mademoiselle Reisz is some aspect of pesky conscience. And Adèle is the symbol of perfect motherhood, which looks impossible to Edna. All of these characters swim about Edna's periphery and reflect on the events that are Edna's awakening to life.
When everyone is at supper on the night that Robert is to leave, the scene is almost carnivalesque. Everyone shouts, everybody has an opinion, and the loud commentary drives Edna to distraction and away from the table. And when Robert finally takes leave of Edna, it becomes obvious why he is going: he realizes that he is serious about her, and if their liaison were to go any further, it would be too tragic for all concerned. Even though Edna recognizes that she is infatuated with Robert, she has already given her emotions free reign and cannot call them back.
The reader sees this tension between Edna and her emotions start to build after Robert has been away for a few days. Mademoiselle Reisz speaks to Edna about what everyone else knows: she misses him. It is hinted that Mademoiselle Reisz takes some pleasure in the discomfort of others, for she lets Edna know about Mariequita and Robert. But the solace she offers Edna (she will talk about Robert frankly) is too dear for Edna to refuse. Furthermore, because she is a musician, Mademoiselle Reisz has an "artist's soul," and is capable of some degree of empathy. Even Madame Lebrun tries to let Edna down slowly by showing her Robert's letter and talking over the photographs.
Having initially given in to her emotions, Edna feels somewhat powerless at this point in the novel. But she interrogates her husband concerning Robert, and she insists to Adèle that she could never sacrifice herself for anyone. Nevertheless, Edna is slowly coming unglued.