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The initial restfulness and ease Edna feels after the departure of her family quickly dissipates. At times, Edna is optimistic about her future and places her trust in the promise of youth. On other days, she stays indoors and broods, feeling that life is passing her by. On days when she is feeling sociable, Edna visits the friends she made at Grand Isle or goes to the races. One day, Alcée Arobin and Mrs. Highcamp, whom Edna had run into recently while at the races with her father, call on her to accompany them to the track. Alcée had met Edna before, but on the day he ran into Edna with her father, Alcée found Edna’s knowledge of racehorses exciting and magnetic and became enamored with her. Alcée escorts Edna home after dinner with the Highcamps, persuading her to attend the races with him again. Edna is restless after he leaves and regrets not having asked him to stay for a while. She sleeps restlessly, waking in the middle of the night, and, remembering that she has forgotten to write her regular letter to Léonce, begins to compose in her head the words she will write him the next day.
A few days later Alcée and Edna attend the races alone. Alcée behaves as he is known to with attractive young women—without inhibition. He stays for dinner with Edna after the races and discovers, through casual conversation and interaction, the sexuality latent within her. His boldness makes Edna nervous, for, despite her attraction to Alcée, she feels that she is being led toward an act of infidelity. She firmly sends Alcée away and, when alone again, stares at the hand he has kissed, feeling as though she has been somehow unchaste. It is not her husband whom she fears she has betrayed, however: her thoughts are of Robert only.
Alcée writes Edna an elaborate letter of apology. She is embarrassed that she took him so seriously before, and she responds with light banter. Alcée takes Edna’s response as a license for further flirtation and soon resumes a level of familiarity that first astonishes Edna and then pleases her, as it appeals to her animalistic sexual urges.
Edna continues to visit Mademoiselle Reisz, who is helpful at times of emotional turmoil. During one visit, Edna announces that she is moving out of her house because she has grown tired of looking after it and feels no real connection to it as her own. She plans to rent a small house around the corner, which she will pay for with her winnings from the racetrack and the profits from her sketches. Mademoiselle Reisz knows that Edna’s motivation to move is more complicated than she claims. She gets Edna to admit that she wants to move to the smaller house because it will enable her to be independent and free. Yet even after this confession, neither Mademoiselle Reisz nor Edna herself can explain completely the reason for Edna’s sudden decision.
As usual, Mademoiselle Reisz gives Edna Robert’s latest letter. She does not tell Robert that Edna sees his letters because Robert is trying to forget the woman whom he recognizes is “not free to listen to him or belong to him.” Edna is shocked to read that Robert will soon be returning to New Orleans. During the heated discussion that follows, Mademoiselle Reisz tests Edna’s devotion to Robert by making false claims about the nature of love. She ultimately realizes that Edna’s feelings are pure and laughs at the way Edna blushes when she finally confesses aloud her love for Robert. Edna returns home full of excitement. She sends bonbons to her sons and writes Léonce a cheerful letter in which she states her intent to move into the smaller house.
Later that evening, Alcée finds Edna in fine although contemplative spirits. She notes to him that she sometimes feels “devilishly wicked” by conventional standards but cannot think of herself that way. Alcée caresses Edna’s face and listens to her talk about her visit to Mademoiselle Reisz earlier in the day. Mademoiselle Reisz placed her hand on Edna’s shoulder blades and warned her that the bird that attempts to fly above tradition and prejudice must have strong wings, or it will “fall back to earth, battered and bruised.” Alcée asks Edna where she will fly, and she replies that she is not contemplating any “extraordinary flights.” In fact, Edna claims, she only “half comprehend[s]” the older woman. Alcée kisses Edna, and she responds by “clasping his head.” Alcée’s kiss is “the first . . . of her life to which her nature had really responded. It was a flaming torch that kindled desire.”
I chose this one for American Literature, and I will support French New Orleans literature.
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