Summary and Analysis
As Edna and Robert continue chatting on the porch of the Pontelliers' cottage, they reveal more of their backgrounds and personalities. Robert has long had youthful intentions of going to Mexico to seek his fortune but has yet to follow through and so remains at his modest job in his native New Orleans. Edna speaks of her family and their homes in Mississippi and Kentucky. Then, while Edna gets ready for dinner, Robert plays with her two young boys.
Edna's physical description seems to provide insight into her character: "Her face was captivating by reason of a certain frankness of expression and a contradictory subtle play of features." Contradiction and frankness underlie her imminent rejection of the society that she comes to feel is imprisoning her.
Chopin describes Edna with the potent phrase "She was an American woman" — an identity that differentiates her from the Creoles around her, who maintain multilingual ties to their French and Spanish heritage. In contrast, Edna's French background was "lost in dilution." The term "American woman" evokes all the qualities that stereotypically characterize Americans: independence, boldness, and a desire to conquer new territory. Yet those qualities were not welcome in American women of the 1890s, when women — particularly those of the leisure class to which Edna belongs — were rewarded for passivity, dependence, and staying at home.
While, as a man, Robert is free to seek his fortune in Mexico, he has not yet followed through on this frequently stated intention. Instead, he has always "held on to his modest position in a mercantile house," seemingly content to keep hold of a safe job within his native city and spend summers with his mother. His youth and inexperience are highlighted in this chapter; Chopin describes him as talking much about himself because "He was very young, and did not know any better." At the same time, Edna "talked a little about herself for the same reason." Their relationship seems based more on harmless mutual entertainment than on an emotional or intellectual connection. Rather than discussing any topic with depth or insight, they instead "chatted incessantly," a phrase that brings to mind a couple of schoolgirls rather than a pair of potential lovers. The lack of depth in their relationship at this point may indicate a falsity at the root of their later passion.
countenance the look on a person's face that shows one's nature or feelings.
"The Poet and the Peasant" an operetta by Franz von Suppé (1819-1895), Austrian conductor and composer of popular operettas.
Quartier Français French Quarter, also known as the Old Quarter; the oldest part of New Orleans and the area in which most New Orleans' Creoles lived.