Summary and Analysis
Edna still cannot work on her art on gloomy days, so she spends rainy days either at home moping or seeking solace by visiting friends. She spends more time at the racetrack with Arobin and Mrs. Highcamp. Her increasingly bold, vivacious personality attracts Arobin.
One afternoon he picks her up to again attend the races but this time Mrs. Highcamp is not with him. They go the races and then to dinner at Edna's house. After dinner he shows her a dueling scar on his wrist and she impulsively grabs his hand, then withdraws in confusion and alarm, claiming to be upset by the sight of the scar. She responds with hostility when he too-warmly kisses her hand while apologizing, feeling as though she is being unfaithful to Robert (but not to Léonce).
In Chapter 23, Edna sketches out her perfect scene of two lovers in a boat disappearing in the night — a scene without end or resolution. This chapter reveals Edna has the same focus on process over goal with regard to her art: "being devoid of ambition, and striving not toward accomplishment, she drew satisfaction from the work in itself." Her inability to work when the weather is less than sunny prevents her from becoming a great artist. She is far more interested in doing what feels good rather than producing something of worth, an attitude that dominates her life and underlies her imminent affair with Arobin.
Edna is primed for a meaningless tryst after her success at the racetrack. Intoxicated by the excitement and adrenaline, she "wanted something to happen — something, anything, she did not know what." She is not explicitly interested in having an affair with anyone other than Robert; Arobin is simply in the right place at the right time.
While she has no romantic feelings for Arobin, when he shows her the scar on his wrist she experiences a strong, "spasmodic" impulse compelling "her fingers to close in a sort of clutch upon his hand." Such a description of her movement, so mechanical and purely physical, is indicative of Arobin's physical appeal to Edna, although he holds no emotional appeal for her.
Arobin's seduction of married women invites them to a sort of rebellion — making Edna a prime target at this point in her life. She finds that "the effrontery in his eyes repelled the old, vanishing self in her, yet drew all her awakening sensuousness." That sensuousness is greatly appealing to Arobin, and he has the experience to exploit it for his own ends. When she is with Arobin, Edna is under the influence of another intoxicant; although he has no emotional or romantic hold on her, "his lips upon her hand had acted like a narcotic upon her."
Although intrigued at some level by Arobin's overtures, she can't help but feel as though she is being unfaithful to Robert, who currently has her heart, although Léonce's feelings, who has her hand in marriage, are not a concern. The evening's physical stimulation, a sensual awakening, is followed by "a languorous sleep" in which the narcotic of excitement provided by the gambling at the track and the dicey involvement with Arobin causes "vanishing dreams" — as if Edna's innocence about her own sexual desires is also vanishing.
drag a type of private stagecoach of the nineteenth century, with seats inside and on top, drawn by four horses.
Jockey Club a luxurious social club limited to a select group of the New Orleans upper class.
gelding a gelded animal; especially, a castrated male horse.
Dante Dante Alighieri (1265-1321); Italian poet: wrote The Divine Comedy.
Grieg Edvard Grieg (1843-1907); Norwegian composer.
car here, streetcar.