Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
Edna wants to know when dinner is, and she wants to go swimming, even though the two young people protest that it is too cold. She asks for towels and requests fish for dinner, although she adds that she does not want them to go to extra work. After Edna leaves for the beach, Victor complains that Edna should have warned them she was coming.
Edna walks down to the beach in a daze. After receiving Robert's note, she realized that Léonce and Alcée did not matter... but the children! She now knew what she meant when she said to Adèle that she would not give herself up for them. She also realized that Robert would one day melt out of her consciousness, but that the children would overpower her and drag her soul into slavery. But she could elude them.
The gulf gleams before her, and the sea appears as a seductive abyss of solitude. There is no living thing in sight except a bird with a broken wing, wheeling and disabled, fluttering to the water. Edna finds her old bathing suit in the bathhouse and puts it on, but then she takes it off and stands naked on the shore in the open air for the first time. She feels like a new creature, opening its eyes to a new world.
The waves curl like serpents at her feet. The water is cold, but she goes in and swims in the sensuous sea. She swims on and on. She does not look back but thinks of the endless meadow of her childhood. She grows tired. She thinks of Léonce and the children and wished that they had not tried to possess her. Mademoiselle Reisz would laugh at her now, because an artist is supposed to have a courageous soul. Edna is exhausted. She thinks of Robert's note. He did not understand and never would. Doctor Mandelet might have, but it was too late. She is too far out from the shore. Terror flames for an instant and then sinks. Her final thoughts concern her family members and certain moments from her childhood.
Chopin's dialogues are masterful in this section of the novel. She has set up all the plot's complications, and now they play themselves out. In each of the chapters, there is a central conversation, which reveals the hopes, fantasies, and fears of the players involved, with Edna at the center.
When Edna and Robert sit down to dinner and return to formality, another painful detail is introduced concerning the woman who gave Robert the embroidered pouch. Edna's jealousy is barely veiled. And when Arobin comes in, it is Robert who becomes jealous. When Arobin mentions that he never knew that Edna knew Robert, the reader is given a full view of the silences that are involved in Edna's new way of living. It is nearly a comedy of manners. One thing is clear: Robert and Alcée are allowed a level of freedom in matters of sexuality that Edna somehow cannot attain.
Edna is, of course, totally overwhelmed by Robert's return, but she is forced to admit that it is not quite what she had hoped for or expected. She is trapped by her own fantasies. In fact, her life goes on much as it was before: she communicates with her husband and children in the role of wife and mother, her charade with Alcée continues, and Robert remains at the level of a fantasy lover, even after his return.
The garden scene in the suburbs is an interesting sort of reversal of the "Garden of Eden" scenario. It reunites Edna and Robert. All the promises of coolness that Edna made to herself are dropped. Robert is taken by surprise. They do not enjoy a tranquil meal: instead, they fight as Edna complains frankly to Robert about his attitude and behavior. In the end, he goes home with her.
Back at her house, the two engage in a full confession of love and an intimate physical encounter. Interestingly, Edna is not happy at Robert's wanting to "possess" her as a wife, and Robert is horrified that Edna thinks of herself as radically outside of traditional patriarchy. They are interrupted when Edna is called away to Adèle's bedside. Their last directions to each other (to stay, and not to leave) are charged with desperation and foreboding.
Real disaster sets in when Edna must go through the violence of childbirth with Adèle. For someone so alert to the larger picture of human tragedy, this ordeal is too much for Edna: she suddenly realizes how immense maternal responsibility is, and the thought devastates her. Doctor Mandelet seems to understand, and it is intriguing for Chopin to suggest that the doctor might have been able to help Edna. Edna, however, refuses this possibility (and Chopin is perhaps rejecting the idea that "psychoanalysis" is helpful to women in trouble). Adèle herself is especially striking when she is in labor: this is the only time that the reader sees her angrily demanding that other people meet her needs for a change. Because labor is the prelude to motherhood, Adèle's "specialty," her angry mood is ironic and very telling.
Chopin also presents one of the few forthright portrayals of the violence and danger of child-bearing in nineteenth-century literature. Adèle's pain, her foul mood, and the attitude of the people around her at such a time offers a realistic view of a topic usually avoided. Edna emerges from this episode concerned for her children, but in a confused state of mind.
When Robert abandons her, the blow is shattering. Edna stays awake both literally and figuratively; the awakening he has begun in her consumes her, and she comes to some harsh realizations. When she turns up at Grand Isle, it is undeniable that she needs rest. But the solution she arrives at is total rest, and Chopin leaves it up to the reader to figure out how premeditated Edna's suicide really is. The writing of this last chapter, especially concerning Edna's poetic last swim, is masterful.