As the crowd makes its way from the party down to the beach, Edna wonders why Robert has distanced himself from her. He no longer accompanies her constantly as he did before, although he doubles his devotion upon his return from an entire day spent away from her. It is as though he feels obligated to spend a certain number of hours with Edna.
Most of the beach-goers enter the water without a second thought, but Edna is hesitant. Despite the attempts of the other guests to teach her, she is still unable to swim. Suddenly, she feels empowered and steps into the water, earning surprised applause from her onlookers. She swims out alone, for the first time truly feeling a sense of control over her body and soul. She becomes reckless and wants to swim out “where no woman had swum before,” and she scolds herself for discovering the simplicity of this act after so much time spent “splashing about like a baby!” When she looks back to the shore, however, she realizes how far she has gone and worries that she will perish from not having the strength to make it back on her own. When she arrives back on shore, she immediately dresses in the bathhouse and starts to walk home alone, despite the attempts of her husband and the other guests to retain her.
Robert runs after Edna as she makes her way home, and she asks if he thought she was afraid to walk home alone. He assures her that he knew she wasn’t afraid, but he is unable to explain why he ran after her. Overwhelmed, Edna tries but fails to articulate the flood of new emotions and experiences the night has inspired in her. When Robert tells her a story of a spirit seeking a mortal worthy of visiting the semi-celestials, and of how that spirit selected Edna as his companion this night, she dismisses the tale as mere banter, not realizing that Robert is trying to express that he understands how she feels. Edna collapses into her porch hammock and Robert decides to stay with her until her husband returns. Neither speaks. The narrator comments, “No multitude of words could have been more significant than these moments of silence, or more pregnant with the first-felt throbbings of desire.” When they hear the swimmers returning, Robert says good-bye and leaves.
[Edna] perceived that her will had blazed up, stubborn and resistant . . . she could not realize why or how she should have [ever] yielded [to her husband], feeling as she then did.See Important Quotations Explained
Léonce returns and urges Edna to go to bed, but she tells him not to wait for her—she will stay outside in the hammock. She can tell that her stubbornness irritates him, and she realizes that up to this point she has always submitted to her husband’s requests unthinkingly, out of habit. Edna feels so altered by her newfound defiance and resistance that she fails to understand how she could have ever yielded to his commands before. Léonce sits on the porch smoking cigars and drinking wine until just before dawn. Several times he offers wine to Edna, but each time she refuses. Sleep finally defeats Edna’s exuberant mood and forces her inside. She asks Léonce if he is coming as well, and he replies that he will follow her once he finishes his cigar.
Edna wakes up after a few hours of restless sleep. Almost everyone on Grand Isle is still in bed, but several people, including the two lovers and the lady in black, are on their way to the wharf to take the boat to the isle of Chênière Caminada for Sunday mass. For the first time all summer, Edna actively requests Robert’s company by asking one of Mrs. Lebrun’s servants to wake him. However, neither Edna nor Robert thinks her request an extraordinary turn of events. They join the other guests on the boat, and Robert speaks in Spanish to Mariequita, a young, flirtatious Spanish girl who is brimming with questions. Robert soon returns his attention to Edna and suggests they explore other islands together in the upcoming days. They laugh about the treasure they will find and then squander together. Edna feels as though the chains that had held her to Grand Isle have finally snapped over the course of the previous night, leaving her unanchored and free to drift wherever she chooses.
“How many years have I slept?” she inquired. “. . . A new race of beings must have sprung up, leaving only you and me as past relics.”See Important Quotations Explained
In the middle of the church service, Edna feels drowsy and troubled. She stumbles outside, with Robert following closely behind. He takes her to rest at the cottage of Madame Antoine, a native of the Chênière. Once she is alone in the small bedroom, Edna removes most of her clothing and washes up at a basin. Stretching out in bed she observes with a new affection the firmness and fineness of her arms, and she drifts off to sleep. When she awakens, glowing and full of energy, she finds Robert outside in the garden, alone. She feels as if she has slept for years and jokes that they are the only remaining members of their race. Edna eats the dinner that Robert has prepared, and when Madame Antoine returns, they rest together under a tree, listening to the woman’s stories until the sun has set and they must return home.