Key Plot Points

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Edna Shares Her Inner Thoughts with Adéle (Chapter 7): Edna and Adéle are at the beach of Grand Isle, without their children. Adéle, a quintessential mother-woman, is Edna’s best friend on Grand Isle. As Edna gazes at the sea, she slips into a reverie. Charming and beautiful Adéle asks Edna what she is thinking about. Edna, normally reserved and well-aware of the “dual life – that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions,” confides her feelings to her friend. Edna describes the romantic passions she has felt for men in her past. She says that she lost those feelings when she married Léonce. Edna also confides that, while she loves her children, the responsibility of raising them weighs on her. 

Edna Is Deeply Stirred by Music (Chapter 9): Edna attends a party at the Main House on Grand Isle. Mademoiselle Reisz, a guest at the cottages and a gifted pianist, is summoned to play for the group. Edna listens to the music—a piece by French composer Frédéric Chopin—and is overcome with a passion she has not felt in years. The music so affects her that she finds herself shaking and crying. Edna longs for that feeling of intense passion to return to her. 

Edna Masters Swimming (Chapter 10): It is late when the party breaks up, but Robert Lebrun, who has been spending a lot of time with Edna, suggests that the adults go for a swim in the sea. Edna has been trying to master swimming all summer. Tonight is the night when all she has been taught about swimming falls into place. She experiences overwhelming emotions for the second time in the same night: “A feeling of exultation overtook her, as if some power of significant import had been given her to control the working of her body and soul.” This experience marks the first time since the start of the narrative that Edna has had a taste of freedom. She is unsure how to handle her newfound agency and feels “like the little tottering, stumbling, clutching child, who of a sudden realizes its powers, and walks for the first time alone, boldly and with overconfidence.” Edna swims so far out to sea that she is briefly seized with a panic that she will be unable to regain the shore on her own. The fleeting fear leaves her and she returns to the beach on her own. 

Edna Loves Robert Lebrun (Chapter 15): Robert Lebrun is the son of the owner of the cottages on Grand Isle. He is several years younger than Edna. Rather than devoting himself to business pursuits and activities at the men’s club, Robert enjoys spending time with the wives and children who summer on the island. In Creole society, it is not unusual for young men to spend time with wives and children; it is an innocent aspect of human relations. However, Edna, who is not Creole, has fallen for Robert, and he has fallen for her. Robert cannot maintain his status as an upstanding member of society if he pursues a relationship with a married woman, so he chooses to move to Vera Cruz to pursue a business venture. Edna had never thought of Robert leaving the island, and upon his absence comes to the realization that she has passion and feelings for him of the kind she had had in her younger days. Such passion she had never had for Léonce and which she had assumed she would never feel again her life. 

Edna Argues with Léonce (Chapter 17): Summer is over and Edna is back at her luxurious...

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home in New Orleans. Léonce has furnished the home with expensive furnishings as a testament to his wealth and taste. He takes pride in his possessions, one of which is Edna. Edna grows increasingly dissatisfied with her roles. She is expected to host guests on Tuesdays, mother her sons, serve as a wife to Léonce, and run the home to Léonce’s exacting standards. She finds no personal fulfillment in any of these activities and begins to falter in her duties. One evening the situation comes to a head. Edna and Léonce argue over a dinner that is not prepared to Léonce’s liking. Léonce then claims that she is harming his ability to make business contacts through the people whom Edna is obliged to receive on Tuesdays. Unlike in most fights that she and Léonce have, Edna is angry and unafraid of Léonce’s intimidating ways. She is so frustrated with her relationship with Léonce and the life she is expected to lead that she removes her wedding ring and attempts to crush it under the heel of her shoe. She slips the ring back on her finger, however, when the maid presents it to her. Edna is making strides in gaining control of her life, but she knows that her marriage must, for now, remain intact. 

Edna Is Aroused by Alcée Arobin’s Kiss (Chapter 27): Edna has been developing her talent as a painter and has begun to earn income by selling her work. She has also been filling her need for male companionship by spending time with Alcée Arobin, a local man skilled in seducing women. They get to know each other through mutual friends and enjoy spending time together at horse races. Edna has won a tidy sum of money at the track. As she enjoys the financial freedom that having her own money affords, she is also determined to enjoy a fulfilling sex life. Initially, she spurns Alcée’s advances, but when he kisses her, she feels aroused for the first time in her life. Edna gives herself over to this sexual awakening and its attendant passions. Her situation is complicated by the feelings she still holds for Robert Lebrun. She is excited by the news from Mlle. Reisz that Robert is coming back to New Orleans and is in love with Edna. 

Edna Moves to Pigeon House (Chapter 29): Edna has made the decision to leave Léonce and live her life on her own terms. With the money she has earned from selling her paintings and betting at the race track, she purchases a home of her own. It is a small abode and is fittingly dubbed the Pigeon House. She tells Léonce of her decision in a letter. Edna takes with her from her previous home the objects that are hers and hers alone. Her relationship with Alcée has become a full-blown affair and they tryst at Pigeon House. The affair lacks the love that Edna longs for, but she is content to explore her sexual side. She is torn between the love she still feels for Robert and her commitment to herself and the new life she is trying to forge. 

Edna Visits Grand Isle in the Off-Season (Chapter 39): Edna has come to Grand Isle to relax. She spent the previous night pondering hard truths: that she cannot have Robert, that Alcée is one of what could become a string of affairs, that she cannot live as the wife of Léonce and be happy, and that her duty to her children stands in the way of her ever realizing true independence. She walks to the sea to dip her toes in and finds herself disrobing and swimming in the chilly water. Edna swims to the point of exhaustion and ultimately drowns.




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