Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 558
Edna Pontellier: the protagonist of the novel; a 28-year-old married woman with children who yearns for more out of life; the novel is about her journey of discovery
Leonce Pontellier: Edna’s husband; by all accounts, a good man, but treats Edna like a possession rather than an equal
Madame Lebrun: the owner of the resort at Grand Isle where the Pontellier family spends their summers
Robert Lebrun: the 26-year-old son of Madame Lebrun; falls in love with Edna
The Farival Twins: two young guests at Grand Isle who play the piano for the entertainment of the other guests
Raoul and Etienne: the Pontellier’s two young children
Leonce Pontellier is seated in the main building (known as the “House”) of a resort on Grand Isle. He is attempting to read a newspaper but is interrupted by the noise of a green and yellow parrot that speaks French and Spanish. He leaves the House and proceeds to his own cottage, where he again picks up his newspaper. He hears lots of noise from the House, including the Farival twins playing the piano, and Mrs. Lebrun, the owner of the resort. He sees his two children, ages four and five, with their quadroon nurse.
Leonce lights up a cigar and sees his wife Edna walking up to the cottage with Robert Lebrun. He reprimands them for bathing in the heat, and gives back her wedding rings, which she had taken off prior to going to the beach. Edna and Robert begin laughing about some adventure they had at the beach and try to relate it to Leonce, but he is obviously bored. Finally, he gets up and leaves for Klein’s Hotel to play billiards. He invites Robert, but Robert says he would rather stay with Edna.
Edna inquires whether Leonce will be home for dinner, but he does not answer because it depends on what he finds at Klein’s. Edna understands and says good-bye. Leonce promises to bring home bonbons and peanuts for the children.
Discussion and Analysis
Chopin begins with an image that is very strong in women’s fiction: that of a caged bird, which is “tamed for the amusement of the household.” Leonce Pontellier “had the privilege of quitting their society when they ceased to be entertaining.” He also exercises this privilege with his wife, whom he leaves when he is bored.
The bird’s speech is also symbolic here. It imitates very well, repeating phrases it has heard but also speaks a language that nobody understands. Edna fights against being forced simply to mimic the life every other woman leads, but it is questionable whether anybody will understand her if she stops that mimicking. Still Chopin is preparing us for Edna’s journey of self-discovery.
Chopin uses a bit of foreshadowing, although very few people today would pick it up. It is in the Farival twins’ duet from Zampa. Zampa is an opera that records a romantic death at sea.
Chopin makes the relationship between Edna and Leonce quite clear from the beginning. After reprimanding her for bathing in the heat, Leonce looks at Edna “as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage.” In contrast, Edna and Robert’s relationship seems to be based on mutual affection; they have adventures and laugh together.
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