By all indications, Edna revels in her newfound solitude. The text tells us that a "radiant peace"...
In chapter 24, Edna is left alone after Mr. Pontellier leaves for New York and their children leave for Old Madame Pontellier's countryside home. (Old Madame Pontellier is the children's paternal grandmother.)
By all indications, Edna revels in her newfound solitude. The text tells us that a "radiant peace" settles upon her. She begins to see her surroundings in a new light. Meanwhile, Old Madame Pontellier does not express her own fears about the children being neglected during "Leonce's absence." Here, the fears left unspoken point to an age-old conflict: which parent is primarily responsible for the emotional, physical, and mental welfare of the children? Do both parents share equal responsibility? If so, how do we apportion responsibility fairly?
As Edna mulls over her aloneness, she begins to make provisions for enjoying her temporary solitude. She is, for the moment, not "Mrs. Pontellier" or "Mother." Instead, she is simply "Edna." But who is Edna exactly, and how does her identity as wife and mother preclude her enjoyment of life? More importantly, should domestic obligations and personal happiness represent a zero-sum dichotomy in a woman's life?
In this chapter, Edna makes her preferences known to the cook. She will need less meat and only half the usual quantity of bread, milk, and groceries. In fact, she turns her usual responsibilities over to the cook, informing the latter that she "would be greatly occupied during Mr. Pontellier's absence."
Despite the provisions she makes for a time of solitude apart from her husband and children, Edna cannot help thinking about Leonce, Raoul, and Etienne. She even talks to the family dog about Raoul and Etienne, while she feeds the happy pooch some table scraps.
Here, we see that Edna's identity as a wife and mother is an important one to her. Despite her reservations about these roles, she is still defined by them. The subject of domestic responsibilities is highlighted by both Edna and Old Madame Pontellier's perspectives in the chapter.
Old Madame Pontellier holds conventional views about wifehood and motherhood. She, however, does not voice her opinions to her daughter-in-law. Herself an affectionate grandmother, she relishes the privilege of having Raoul and Etienne with her in the countryside. There, she imagines that she can give her grandsons a little taste of the life their father had known during his childhood.
Old Madame Pontellier fondly believes that she can recreate Leonce's idyllic countryside childhood for her grandsons. Her "hunger" to recreate this fond past is, perhaps, a subconscious effort to soothe childhood pangs precipitated by an indifferent father and preoccupied mother. Meanwhile, Edna's feelings of "restfulness" highlight the importance of contemplative thinking in the lives of women. In her aloneness, Edna's renewed zest for life indicates that intensely personal moments of contemplation and connection to her surroundings are unequivocally necessary to her happiness.
Chopin skillfully uses visual imagery to emphasize the importance of aesthetic contemplation and connection to our surroundings:
The flowers were like new acquaintances; she approached them in a familiar spirit, and made herself at home among them. The garden walks were damp, and Edna called to the maid to bring out her rubber sandals. And there she stayed, and stooped, digging around the plants, trimming, picking dead, dry leaves. The children's little dog came out, interfering, getting in her way. She scolded him, laughed at him, played with him. The garden smelled so good and looked so pretty in the afternoon sunlight. Edna plucked all the bright flowers she could find, and went into the house with them, she and the little dog.
So, in this chapter, Chopin presents the different facets of wifehood and motherhood. In Old Madame Pontellier, she highlights the self-sacrificial aspect of motherhood. However, in focusing on Edna's solitude, Chopin brilliantly emphasizes the role aesthetic contemplation plays in inspiring a woman's sense of personal agency. Perhaps domestic obligations and personal happiness need not represent a zero-sum dichotomy in a woman's life.