Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 481
Alcee Arobin: a young man-about-town with whom Edna has an affair
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The Highcamps and the Merrimans: society people who are social friends of Edna’s
The Colonel: Edna’s father
Edna’s father is in the city to purchase a wedding gift for Edna’s sister Janet. He is a retired colonel and still has his military bearing. Edna and her father are not very close but are companionable. He sits still for a sketch, happy to sit rigidly for hours.
Edna takes her father to a party at the Ratignolles’ where Adele flirts with him. Edna notes that she is unable to do that. Leonce does not attend these parties; he prefers to be at the club. Adele expresses disapproval of this, but Edna is happy that they don’t spend much time together. She wonders what they would talk about if they did.
One afternoon Edna and her father go to the racetrack, and win, and that is the main topic of conversation at dinner. At the track, they had met Mrs. Merriman, Mrs. Highcamp, and Alcee Arobin. Leonce, of course, disapproves of gambling. After dinner everyone tells stories. Edna tells one about a woman who had paddled away with a lover one night and never returned.
Dr. Mandelet is at dinner that night observing Edna, and he thinks Edna seems radiant. He notices a subtle change in her, a liveliness he had not seen before.
Discussion and Analysis
The Colonel allows a glimpse into the other male influence on Edna. Her father is stern, rigid, and rugged; he wears padded jackets to make himself look bigger. When Edna is sketching him, he gets angry at the children for interrupting and disturbing his “fixed lines.” In today’s terms he would be called macho. He is certainly not someone who would be sympathetic to Edna’s feelings.
Edna marvels at Adele’s ability to flirt, noting that she cannot do so. This is because flirting is a feminine art, and Edna is consistently described as more masculine than feminine.
The sad truth of the Pontelliers’ relationship is revealed when Adele says that Leonce should stay home more, and Edna is horrified, knowing that they would have nothing to say to one another. This is contrasted with the ease in which she converses with Robert and later Alcee Arobin.
Dr. Mandelet notices the change in Edna and uses very sexual terms to describe her. Although she used to be listless, she now seemed “palpitant with the forces of life” and like “some beautiful, sleek animal waking up in the sun.” He becomes even more convinced that she is having an affair.
When Edna makes up the story about the woman who runs away with her lover, she is so passionate that it seems real to those who hear it; they could actually picture it in their minds.