Edna leads a very proscribed existence. The rules of behaviour of the society are constructed by men, and women have a very definite role to play, (wives and mothers) they are expected to do this without questioning.
While vacationing with her husband Léonce and her sons Edna forms a connection with Robert Lebrun. He is a charming and earnest young man who actively seeks Edna's attention. Edna’ awakening is to the very circumscribed nature of her life and how men are the dominant force in the world around her.
Though Edna falls for Robert he too is influenced by the social mores of the day andl sensing the doomed nature of any relationship they might form he leaves .
Back at home Edna is different, she is in the process of reassessing her personal priorities. These no longer include the duties of a wife of mother and she determines to make a more fulfilling life. A doctor is called and Léonce decides to leave Edna home as he travels to New York City on business. This gives Edna physical and emotional room to breathe and think over various aspects of her life. While her husband is still in New York, Edna decides to move out of her house and into a small bungalow nearby. During this period of transition she begins an abortive affair with Alcée Arobin,but the affair proves awkward and emotionally fraught.
Eventually Robert returns to New Orleans but on returning home one day Edna finds a note from Robert stating that he has left and will not be returning.
Edna is devastated. She goes immediately back to Grand Isle, where she first met Robert Lebrun. It is also where she learned to swim earlier in the novel, an episode that was both exhilarating and terrifying, and an episode that perfectly encapsulated the conflicting emotions she wrestled with during the course of the novel. The novel ends with Edna allowing herself to be overtaken by the waters.
- Emotionally let down and controlled by the men in the novel
- Her attempts to break free are thwarted by men
- She feels there is no place for her in this society