Summary and Analysis
After a brief and fitful sleep, Edna awakens with an impulsive desire to attend church. She summons Robert to accompany her. On the ferry ride to the Chênière, Robert chats briefly with a Spanish girl named Mariequita, who relays gossip about a local Spanish man who runs away with another man's wife. Robert shushes her with some emotion, then becomes thoroughly involved in Edna's presence. They make plans to go to a small nearby island by themselves the next day for sightseeing. Having reached Chênière, they go to church.
Once in church, Edna feels stifled and drowsy. She leaves during the service, accompanied by Robert. He takes her to his friend Tonie's house, where Tonie's mother, Madame Antoine, puts Edna in the guestroom. Edna sleeps for several hours, till late afternoon. Robert fixes a meal for her while Madame Antoine is out. When Madame Antoine returns, they listen to her tell stories until after nightfall. Robert borrows Tonie's boat so that he and Edna can return to Grande Isle.
Upon returning to her cottage, Edna finds that her youngest child is too cranky to sleep. She rocks him to sleep and Robert helps her put the boy to bed before heading for the beach. Edna sits alone and considers her changing perspective on life. Missing Robert, she sings the song he sang to her on the trip back "si tu savais" ("if you knew").
The morning after her swim, Edna is still haunted by a sense of the "delicious, grotesque, impossible dream" of the previous night. During her brief sleep, she had dreams that she cannot remember after awakening, leaving her with the feeling of pursuing the unattainable. This morning she is a changed person, "blindly following whatever impulse moved her, as if she had . . . freed her soul of responsibility" during the heady events of the previous night.
Her first impulsive act of the day is to send for Robert so that he can accompany her to Chênière. This impulse is significant, because she had never requested his presence before. When he meets her, "his face was suffused with a quiet glow," indicating that he is aware of and pleased by the new tone their relationship has assumed.
His brief conversation with Mariequita is telling of his honed sensitivity to the situation. When he assures Mariequita that Edna cannot be his "sweetheart" because she is married with children, Mariequita responds matter-of-factly with local gossip about a man who ran off with another man's wife and child. Her tale indicates that such things are possible, which causes him to reply "Shut up!" with uncharacteristic rudeness, as if he is suddenly uncomfortable with the potential turn his relationship with Edna may take.
Mariequita represents an open sexuality, with her tales of forbidden love and her flirting with Robert and Beaudelet. When Robert begins ignoring her in favor of Edna, she regards him with "childish ill humor and reproach," again connecting childishness and sensuality.
Note that when Mariequita inquires whether the young lovers are married, Robert laughs when he replies, "Of course not." For such passion to occur within the stable (and adult) institution of marriage seems unthinkable to him. This attitude echoes Edna's own feeling: Chapter 7 reveals that Edna took "some unaccountable satisfaction that no trace of passion" was found in her marriage, "threatening its dissolution" with passion's instability or whimsy.
Whimsy underlies the growing connection between Edna and Robert. They plan to steal away by themselves to Grande Terre and find pirate treasure with the help of the Gulf spirit captivated by Edna — a distinctly romantic venture as evidenced by Robert's blushing face. Edna's insistence that they take the pirate gold and "throw it to the four winds, for the fun of seeing the golden specks fly" represents the ultimate devotion to capricious pleasure. Their conversation reveals that Edna has found a willing partner to indulge her love of sensuality.
Edna's overwhelming need in Chapter 8 to "quit the stifling atmosphere of the church and reach the open air" is symbolic of her increasing disinterest in meeting the demands of convention.
Note that as Edna and Robert make their way to Madame Antoine's, the text has a marked increase in visual and kinesthetic language, as if to contrast their day together away from their families with the soporific church or with the subculture left on Grand Isle. Chopin uses imagery more strongly now than previously in the novel to convey a sense of the Chênière's sensual appeal: "little gray, weather-beaten houses nestled peacefully among the orange trees," a fence "made of sea-drift," the "big four-posted bed, snow white" and holding the "sweet country odor of laurel."
As if inspired by the sensual island, after Edna has taken off most of her clothing for her nap, she runs her fingers through her hair and rubs her bare arms thoughtfully as if "for the first time" she realizes "the fine, firm quality and texture of her flesh." This new appreciation for her body follows the events of the previous night: the music that stirred wild passions in her heart, the liberation of swimming, the palpable desire experienced in Robert's presence.
Again childishness is linked with sensuality as Robert is "childishly gratified to discover her appetite" when she lustily devours the meal he prepared. Unlike Léonce, Robert appeals to Edna's imagination, her hunger for fantasy. He plays along with her suggestion that she had slept a hundred years and introduces her to Madame Antoine, who spins stories of adventure and treasure.
Edna is captivated by the environment that Robert introduces to her and fosters with his own stories. On the return trip to Grand Isle, she "could hear the whispering voices of dead men and the click of muffled gold" — the novel's most vividly descriptive language yet. Chopin thus depicts the growing appeal of all Robert represents to Edna.
Note, also, that twice in Chapter 8 Robert touches her clothing, such as when he plays with her skirt hem during the storytelling or "familiarly adjusted a ruffle upon her shoulder." While the contact alone is significant, also key is the air of familiarity — that quality being the greatest bond between Edna and her husband. Her relationship with Robert takes on an even more familiar air in Chapter 14, when he assumes a husband's role in helping her put Etienne to bed. And just as the tone of their relationship has changed, so too has Edna changed, although by how much even she does not yet realize.
At the end of their day together, clearly Edna is falling in love, evidenced by her silent evaluation of Robert's voice as "not pretentious" but "musical and true" — as if she is comparing his voice to Léonce's more formal, pretentious personality.
Note that Etienne could not be soothed by Madame Ratignolle, the epitome of mother-women, but needed his mother's presence before he could be soothed to sleep. While Edna may not be the model mother in her husband's eyes, still her children have a necessary attachment that is unique to her. When at the end of the novel she considers the impact that her behavior will have on her children, this strong bond is uppermost in her mind.
Grande Terre a nearby island.
pirogue a dugout canoe.
sea-drift driftwood, wood drifting in the water, or that has been washed ashore.
Acadian descendant of the French Canadians who in 1755 left Acadia, a former French colony (1604-1713) on the northeast coast of North America.
dispose to arrange (matters); settle or regulate (affairs).
cover a tablecloth and setting for a meal, especially for one person.
Vespers the sixth of the seventh canonical hours; evening prayer.
Baratarians natives of the Baratarian Islands, located off the Louisiana coast east of Caminada Bay and Grand Isle.