Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 639
The Lovers: a young, unmarried couple who are oblivious to all but themselves
Edna, usually a woman of outward reserve, is beginning to loosen up a bit at Grand Isle, mostly under the influence of Adele’s beauty and candor.
One morning the women go together to the beach, and although the children are left behind, Adele brings her needlework. Both women are described as tall, with Adele having a feminine and matronly figure, while Edna’s is “long, clean and symmetrical.” Similarly Adele is dressed in white ruffles while Edna is wearing white and brown linen.
At the beach, the Pontelliers and Ratignolles share adjoining compartments, and Edna pulls a rug and pillows out so the women can sit down in the shade against the front of the building. There are few people about; they see the lovers, the lady in black, and a few others further away.
Edna is gazing at the sea in such an absorbed way that Adele asks her what she is thinking. Edna begins to talk of her childhood in Kentucky and a particular day when she walked aimlessly through a green meadow. She says she feels the same way sometimes at Grand Isle. Adele takes her hand and begins caressing it, which is difficult at first for Edna who is not used to expressions of affection.
Next Edna begins thinking and talking about past affections she had for certain young men; she had been very passionate about them. In contrast her marriage to Leonce was “purely an accident,” one that closed forever the world of romance for her, although she had grown fond of him. Her feelings for her children were inconsistent; she felt free of unwanted responsibility when they were not around.
Just after these “confessions,” Robert approaches with several children. The women get up; Edna joins the children, and Robert walks Adele back up to her cottage.
Discussion and Analysis
Here we see that Edna has always been “different” and that she perceived early the difference between “the outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions.”
Again we see the physical descriptions of Edna and Adele relating to their personalities. Edna’s figure is noble and symmetrical while Adele’s (from Chapter IV) is plump and matronly. Here Edna is wearing a cool muslin dress with a streak of brown running through it. Adele is dressed in pure white, in a fluffy dress with ruffles. Edna’s physical being is always described in more masculine terms than Adele’s.
Sitting at the beach, Edna, as always, is focused on the sea. She is gazing so intently that Adele asks what she is thinking about. Edna, who is usually very reserved, is drawn into unusual candor by Adele’s beauty and charm. She tells Adele a story about her childhood in Kentucky, walking aimlessly through a green meadow, and adds that she feels that way now sometimes—aimless and unguided. Her awakening is still new to her, and it feels strange. She’s heading into uncharted waters and therefore has no guidance.
When Adele takes Edna’s hand, Edna is shocked at first, not being used to expressions of affection. This is part of her repression, something she longs to break free of. She tells Adele of old passions, of her infatuation with romance. She also tells how she gave it up when she married Leonce. For Edna romance and marriage are mutually exclusive.
Edna also tells Adele something about her feelings for her children. Edna loves her children but feels weighed down with a responsibility that is suited to her nature. She feels relief when they are away.
Sharing with Adele is like “the first breath of freedom” for Edna. She feels “intoxicated.” It is the first letting go of the repression she grew up with.
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