Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 596
Leonce returns from Klein’s at eleven o’clock that evening, in high spirits and very talkative. Edna, who was sleeping when he came in, only half answers him as he talks. Leonce finds her lack of interest very discouraging.
Leonce forgot the bonbons and peanuts for the children, but he goes into their room to check on them. He reports back to Edna that Raoul has a fever and needs looking after. Then he sits down and lights up a cigar. Edna responds that Raoul went to bed perfectly well.
Leonce reprimands Edna for her neglect of the children, reminding her that it is a mother’s place to look after them. He is busy with his business and cannot do both. Edna gets out of bed to check on the children and then refuses to answer Leonce when he questions her upon her return. Leonce finishes his cigar and goes to sleep.
Edna begins to cry and slips outside to rock in the wicker chair. It is past midnight and very quiet, except for the sounds of an old owl and, of course, the sea, which “broke like a mournful lullaby upon the night.” Edna now begins crying very hard, and becomes filled with a sense of oppression and anguish. If not for the mosquitos biting her, she might have sat and cried for half the night.
Leonce is up early the next morning, ready and eager to go back to the city until the following weekend. A few days later a box of delicacies arrives from Leonce, which Edna shares with everyone. The Grand Isle ladies declare that Leonce is the best husband in the world, and Edna “was forced to admit that she knew of none better.”
Discussion and Analysis
We are introduced in this chapter to the assigned gender roles Edna is trying to break free of. When Leonce comes home from Klein’s, he tells Edna that Raoul is sick and needs looking after. Then he sits down and lights a cigar. It is clearly not his role to take care of the children. He makes this even more clear when he reprimands Edna for her inattention and says “If it was not a mother’s place to look after children, whose on earth was it?” This becomes one of the central conflicts of the novel: Edna’s love for her children versus her desire for independence.
Later, when Edna goes outside to cry, the sea as symbol is brought in again. All is quiet except for an owl and “the everlasting voice of the sea … like a mournful lullaby.” The sea is constant and eternal and speaks to Edna. In this case, it is mirroring her sadness, since a “mournful lullaby” is a song that would be sung by a sad mother.
We see the beginning of Edna’s change here because she is surprised by her tears. She says that such experiences, meaning Leonce’s reprimand, were not uncommon yet she was reacting differently. She was filled with “an indescribable oppression” and a “vague anguish.” This is the first sign of her “awakening,” although she does not yet recognize it as such.
When Leonce sends Edna a box of delicacies from the city, she is “forced” to admit to the admiring ladies that she knows of no better husband. This is one of the forces that dooms Edna’s journey. Leonce is just as he should be by society’s standards; thus, Edna’s desired change must confront not only her husband but society as a whole.
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