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How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult!
Edna cannot determine why she initially declined Robert’s offer of a swim when she did wish to go with him to the beach. She begins to feel a strange light within her that shows her the way to “dreams,” to “thoughtfulness,” and to the “shadowy anguish” that brought her to tears the evening Léonce returned from the club. She is slowly beginning to think of herself as an individual with a relationship to the outer world, and the sound of the sea draws her soul to “inward contemplation” and wisdom that are disturbing in their newness and depth.
Edna rarely discusses her feelings and private matters with others. Since childhood, she has been aware of a “dual life—the outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions.” Throughout the summer at Grand Isle, her reserve gradually erodes because of her increasingly close friendship with the candid Adèle. Walking toward the beach arm in arm, the women form a tall, stately pair. Edna, lean and mysteriously charming, wears a simple muslin and a straw hat, while Adèle, typically beautiful in the fashion of the time, protects her skin from the sun with more elaborate dress. The two women sit down on the porch of Edna’s bathhouse, and Edna removes her collar and unbuttons her dress at the throat. The lady in black reads religious literature on an adjacent porch, while two lovers cuddle beneath the vacant children’s tent.
Noting Edna’s thoughtful silence, Adèle wants to know what Edna is thinking, and Edna searches her train of thought to reply accurately. She answers that the sea reminds her of a day when she walked through a large meadow near her childhood home in Kentucky, spreading out her arms as if swimming through the waist-high grass. Edna surmises that on that day, she had been escaping a dreary session of Sunday prayers. Although she insists that she has since adhered to religion out of a firm force of habit, Edna notes that “sometimes I feel this summer as if I were walking through the green meadow again; idly, aimlessly, unthinking and unguided.”
Edna is confused when Adèle caresses her hand gently. The Creoles’ open expression of affection still surprises her. Edna thinks back to the few relationships she had with other females as an adolescent. She was never close with her younger sister, Janet, and her older sister Margaret was always occupied with the household duties after their mother died. Edna’s girlhood friends tended to be self-contained, much like herself, and her closest friend was a girl whose intellectual gifts Edna admired and imitated.
The relationships that most absorbed Edna were her intense, unrequited crushes on men. Her chain of infatuations was abruptly ended by her marriage to Léonce, who had courted her earnestly. She was pleased by his devotion, and when her Protestant father and sister raised objections to Léonce’s Catholicism, Edna found the marriage even more appealing. But Edna also had other, more serious motivations for the marriage. Still hopelessly passionate about a well-known tragedian of the time, Edna believed that matrimony would end her unrealistic fantasies and anchor her to the conventional standards of society. Thus, she later felt a certain satisfaction in her marriage’s lack of passion and excitement.
Edna’s thoughts turn to her relationship with her children. She considers herself “uneven and impulsive” in her affections for them. She always feels relief when they are sent away to visit family, finding that she has “blindly assumed” the responsibilities of motherhood—responsibilities for which “[f]ate had not fitted her.” She puts her head on Adèle’s shoulder and finds herself expressing some of these thoughts out loud, enjoying the freshness and honesty of her own voice. Robert, followed by the two women’s children, interrupts the moment of intimacy between Edna and Adèle. Edna joins the children, who have now displaced the cooing young lovers under the nearby awning, and Adèle asks Robert to walk her back to the house.
I chose this one for American Literature, and I will support French New Orleans literature.
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