Summary and Analysis Chapter 16



After Robert's departure, Edna tries to assuage her longing for him by spending more time with Madame Lebrun and inducing others, including Léonce, into conversation about Robert. She experiences no guilt about her feelings for Robert — or about getting her husband to talk about him — because she feels she is entitled to a private emotional life, a hidden self. Edna reveals her idea of the self in a conversation with Madame Ratignolle, insisting that although she would give her life for her children, she would not sacrifice her self, a distinction that Madame Ratignolle fails to grasp.

On her way to the beach for a swim, Edna encounters Mademoiselle Reisz, who tells her that within the last couple of years Robert had beaten Victor for being overly jealous of an apparently innocent relationship with Mariequita. Mademoiselle Reisz also invites Edna to visit her in the city after they have all returned for the winter.


Not only is Edna's emerging sense of self revealed in this chapter, but also revealed is her unwillingness to give up this self that is becoming better known to her during this summer of awakening. Her sense of self is based on the sum of her private thoughts and unspoken emotions. Such thoughts constitute a self apart from her identity as a mother, an identity based on externals: certain behaviors, attitudes, and activities constitute motherhood for Edna, rather than an innate sense of connection with or responsibility for her children. Trying to convey this idea to Madame Ratignolle, she says "I would give up the unessential . . . my money . . . my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself." Of course, in the end she will give her life, but that is no tragedy for her because she designates it "unessential."

Interestingly, when relaying the discussion, Chopin shows the two women's fundamental opposition by saying that they "did not appear . . . to be talking the same language." Contrast this phrase with the novel's opening description of the parrot and mockingbird that represent Edna and Mademoiselle Reisz, both very different birds who seem nonetheless to have a language in common. Mademoiselle Reisz and Edna do share an approach to life that Edna will never share with Madame Ratignolle: Both Mademoiselle Reisz and Edna in their own ways tell the truth about others and themselves. Mademoiselle Reisz tells the truth about Madame Lebrun's relationship with her sons, revealing Victor as the favorite, and offers blunt, acerbic appraisals of everyone else. Edna's means of telling the truth is to disregard the social conventions that do not correspond with her true wants and needs, as she will do after returning to New Orleans.

The theme of children as models for or reflections of a thoughtless devotion to pleasure continues in this chapter with Edna's irritation with the children for spending too much time in the sun. She "wondered why the children persisted in playing in the sun when they might be under the trees." The obvious answer is that the children were enjoying themselves where they were, living in the pleasure of the moment rather than considering the consequences. This same desire to keep playing in the sun when sunburn will inevitably result underlies Edna's later affair with Alcée Arobin. The same irritation she feels with the children now is doubtless felt by those who are left behind when she has seemingly sacrificed herself for her romantic caprices. Married to the successful, generous Léonce, Edna was securely "under the trees," safe from the elements in her upper-class society. Nevertheless, being too long "in the sun" held a much stronger appeal for her, regardless of the consequences.


compass here, amount.

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