Summary: Chapter XXV
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.
Summary: Chapter XXVI
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.
Summary: Chapter XXVII
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.”
Summary: Chapter XXVIII
After Alcée leaves, Edna weeps. She feels guilty when she considers the material possessions surrounding her, all of which her husband has provided. She understands the irresponsible nature of her actions, yet she feels no shame or regret. Instead, it is the thought of Robert and of her love for him, growing ever “quicker, fiercer” and “more overpowering,” that affects her. She suddenly feels that she at last understands the world around her, “as if a mist had been lifted from her eyes, enabling her to look upon and comprehend the significance of life. . . .” Her only regret is that her kiss with Alcée was not motivated by love.
Summary: Chapter XXIX
Without waiting for Léonce’s reply to her letter, Edna prepares to move to the house around the block, which one of Edna’s servants dubs the “pigeon house,” likening it in size and appearance to the dovecotes in which the upper classes would keep domesticated pigeons for show or sport. When Alcée arrives, he finds Edna dressed in an old dress and kerchief, packing only the possessions that Léonce did not buy for her. She is neither rude to her friend nor is she particularly attentive. Rather, Edna is totally absorbed in her work. Alcée reminds her of the dinner celebration she had planned, and she tells him it is set for the night before her move. He begs to see her sooner, and she scolds him but laughs as she does so, looking at him “with eyes that at once gave him the courage to wait and made it torture to wait.”
Analysis: Chapters XXV–XXIX
Edna’s rebellion involves her need to satisfy her physical as well as artistic desires. Alcée presents an outlet for her animalism, which gains strength as the two spend more and more time together, until finally Edna finds she can longer fight against it. When Alcée first presses his lips to Edna’s hand, she attempts to impress upon him her fidelity and disinterest. While her eyes still display her “old, vanishing self,” the sexual desires within Edna are pressing on her from the inside, seeking expression. Edna finally succumbs to Alcée’s seductions after she confesses to Mademoiselle Reisz—aloud for the first time—her love for Robert. It may seem ironic that she gives herself to one man just after declaring her devotion to another, but, in terms of Edna’s development, the two acts are joined. Both are part of the same process of passionate release: Edna’s verbal admission to love in one corner of her life gives her the strength to pursue it further in another.
During her conversation with Alcée, Edna directly voices her desire for self-realization. She wants to become more acquainted with herself, but she cannot do so within the constraints of social conventions. By those standards, she is “wicked”—subverting order, descending into selfishness and hedonism—yet she herself cannot interpret her desire for an independent identity as a “wicked” endeavor. Alcée becomes peevish at her philosophical tarrying; he wants her to play the role of the typical, infatuated adulteress. Clearly, Alcée is used to having the upper hand in his romantic relationships and views women as pleasurable conquests.
Edna refuses to be treated or behave as a stereotype. In her growing independence, she has declared that she will never again be the possession of another, and she abides by this statement in her affair with Alcée. She expects him to make allowances for her own needs. When Alcée finds her in a frenzy of preparation for her move, Edna will not agree to see him at his convenience. Moreover, he does not find her “languishing, reproachful, or indulging in sentimental tears” as he most likely expected. Edna is unwilling to let her affair, the first sexual relationship she has had that is not one of possession, consume her life. Her relationship with Alcée does not keep her from pursuing any other aspects of her awakening. It simply quells the sexual desire that had consumed her days, and even her dreams.
Edna’s move to the “pigeon house” also allows her to move away from her husband’s possessive hold over her. Edna no longer has to look at the material objects that Léonce has purchased, and which remind her of his ownership of her. The objects have also served as a sort of reproach to Edna, making her feel guilty for her infidelity toward the man who has provided her with her livelihood. Once distanced from these reminders and alone in a new space of her own, Edna can enjoy a temporary escape from convention. She can behave as she likes, without regard to how others will view her actions. Moreover, she believes the move may constitute a first, practical step in consummating her relationship with Robert. Knowing that Robert has gone to Mexico in order to avoid having an affair with a woman who is already the possession of another man, Edna believes that by freeing herself of the financial chains that bind her to Léonce, she can clear the path for a relationship with the man she loves.
The house’s nickname foreshadows Edna’s tragic fate. While it does provide Edna with independence and isolation, allowing her to progress in her sexual awakening and to throw off Léonce’s authority, Edna will soon find that it offers less liberty than it initially seemed to promise. Edna escapes the gilded cage that Léonce’s house constituted, but she confines herself within a new sort of cage. Social convention—and Robert’s concession to it—continues to keep Edna trapped and domesticated. Indeed, not only may Edna’s move have failed to improve her lot, the text’s symbolism suggests that the change of house may threaten actual damage to the vibrancy of her spirit. Whereas Edna was initially associated, in Chapter I, with a brightly colored and multilingual caged parrot, she is now likened to a dull gray pigeon, a comparatively languid and inarticulate creature.
Mademoiselle Reisz recognizes in Edna the same desire for escape and independence with which she has lived her own life. Knowing the hardships that Edna will face in her struggle to live outside convention, the older woman warns her protégé of the strength she will need, much in the same manner of her earlier advice on the “brave” and “courageous” artistic soul. Mademoiselle Reisz’s counsel about the bird fluttering back to earth continues the novel’s extended metaphorical association of Edna to a bird. It is also an obvious foreshadowing of Edna’s death; the image returns just before Edna’s suicide.
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