Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 433
The guests walk in little groups down to the beach, but Robert lingers behind with the lovers. Edna wonders why he is not coming; she misses him when he is not around her. The sea is quiet and the moon is bright.
Edna had been trying all summer to learn to swim, but tonight she finally is able to swim. She is so happy she shouts for joy and swims out by herself as far as she can go. While out there, she feels a momentary twinge of panic, but manages to swim safely back in. After that she changes into dry clothes and leaves, despite protestations from the other guests.
Robert overtakes her as she is walking home, and they chat about spirits and the dreamlike quality of the night. At one point Edna becomes offended, thinking Robert is mocking her feelings. When they reach her cottage, Edna stretches out in the hammock to wait for Leonce. Robert waits until he thinks she is asleep and then leaves. She watches him walk away.
Discussion and Analysis
Edna is beginning to realize how much she misses Robert when he is not around. The imagery continues to get more romantic, erotic, and poetic as her feelings get stronger. At the beach she smells “a tangle of the sea smell and of weeds and damp, new-plowed earth, mingled with the heavy perfume of a field of white blossoms.”
Edna swims for the first time tonight and revels in the power she suddenly has over her body and soul. This is another awakening. She wants to swim far out, “where no woman had ever swum before.” She feels intoxicated, as she did in Chapter VII when she opened up to Adele. This feeling of intoxication is repeated throughout the novel, whenever Edna feels a surge of personal power. It is contrasted with the numerous periods of languor or stupor, which come over her when she feels powerless or hopeless.
Edna feels a moment of panic and sees a quick vision of death when she sees how far out she has swum, but she rallies her strength and swims back. She is still unsure of and frightened by her new sense of freedom and power, despite the joy she feels.
The story about spirits that Robert tells Edna as he walks her home is important because, although he does not know it, a new spirit has truly entered into Edna; she has had her first real taste of freedom. This sense of magic also sets the stage for Edna’s “first-felt throbbings of desire” for Robert.
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