Summary and Analysis
As Madame Ratignolle sews the children's winter garments, Edna sketches her and chats with Robert. After Edna has completed the sketch, Madame Ratignolle claims to feel a fainting spell coming on; Edna and Robert quickly respond by fanning her and spritzing her with cologne. Recovering speedily, Madame Ratignolle returns to her cottage, and Robert compels Edna to go for their daily swim.
This chapter reveals Robert's history as a sort of harmless womanizer. Although he seems to court a new woman each summer, his courtship is all form and no content. Chopin describes Creole husbands as passionless; Robert's supposed passion as a young single man similarly is without substance. Although he and Edna spend a great deal of time together, no one (not even Edna) is suspicious of their relationship or of Robert's intentions. When he lays his head on her arm while she is sketching, she "could not but believe it to be thoughtlessness on his part; yet that was no reason she should submit to it." So far, his devotion to Edna has not been framed in mock romance, for which she is grateful. "It would have been unacceptable and annoying" to her. At this point, Edna retains her allegiance to the morality of her culture.
At the same time, however, Edna has a susceptibility to sensuality that is inevitably linked to romance, to the soft touch of the warm breeze and the swim that Robert promises to be "delicious." At Robert's insistence that she go for a swim with him, Edna hears the Gulf's "sonorous murmur . . . like a loving but imperative entreaty" — echoing Robert's "murmured" words of spurned love earlier in the chapter. Robert is coming to represent sensuality and passion for her: He invites her to sensual experiences and uses sensual language.
Engaging with the sensuous world partly motivates her enjoyment of drawing, a hobby that gives her "satisfaction of a kind which no other employment afforded her," including motherhood. She can't resist sketching Madame Ratignolle because she appears in the light of sunset as a "sensuous Madonna" — the second reference to Madame Ratignolle as a Madonna in the chapter.
Such a designation possibly indicates the unattainability of all that Madame Ratignolle represents. Further, because Edna was not raised Catholic (a religion that places a great deal of importance on the Virgin Mary), her view of the Madonna is from the perspective of an outsider — one who was not brought up to value a supreme mother figure.
Edna herself is no Madonna: When her children appear on the porch, she "sought to detain them for a little talk and some pleasantry" as if they were social callers rather than her small boys. In contrast, Madame Ratignolle showers her clingy children with "a thousand endearments" while cuddling the smallest in her arms. Note that immediately prior to complaining of feeling faint, she neatly collects her sewing work and supplies, rolls it all together and pins it "securely" — hardly the behavior of someone feeling faint. Madame Ratignolle takes advantage of her society's view of woman as helpless to exert a kind of power over others, power she cannot exert directly while still remaining within her culture's bounds of propriety.
Daudet Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897), a French novelist of the naturalist school.
camaraderie loyalty and warm, friendly feeling among comrades; comradeship.
passez! adieu! allez vous-en! Go on! Good-bye! Go away!
blaguer! farceur! grose bête, va! Comedian! Clown! Silly beast, away with you!
mais ce n'est pas mal! elle s'y connait, elle a de la force, oui But that's not bad at all! She knows what she's doing, she has a talent.
cologne water eau de cologne.