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Chapters XXVI - XXXII
Edna admires Léonce's skill in covering up. She seems to go along with it. She likes her pigeon house, and feels that although she has dropped on the social scale, she has risen spiritually. As she relieves herself of superficial obligations, she begins to become more of an individual, her own self, seeing with no one's eyes but her own. She has her own soul.
She goes to visit her children and has a delightful time. She is glad to see them, to feel them, and to hear all about their wonderful adventures. They are having the time of their lives, playing in the woods, fishing, and "helping" the black servants in the orchards and the fields. Edna goes with them to do some of these things; for a week she gives them all of herself. The children are surprised about the house on Esplanade Street, curious about the pigeon house, and worried where they and their father will fit in the new house. Edna assures them that the fairies will make sure all is well. Old Madame Pontellier is pleased because it looks as though she will be able to keep the boys for a while. Edna leaves feeling some remorse. She carries the sound of her boys' voices with her on the trip back to New Orleans, but by the time she arrives, they are gone, and she is alone again.
When Alcée Arobin writes Edna the apology note, and when she responds, it seems that she will not be able to resist his brand of manipulation. She "grows accustomed to him," and something very real, her awakened "animalism," responds to him.
Meanwhile, Mademoiselle Reisz plays a slightly sinister role in Edna's awakening. There is something not quite sincere in her praise of Edna, yet she provides the attention that Edna craves. It is fitting that Edna announces her plans to move to the pigeon house while sitting in Mademoiselle Reisz's dingy flat.
Their conversations are marked by Mademoiselle Reisz's insistence that Edna has not told her the real reason for her move and Edna's insistence that she loves Robert for who he is. Both are stubborn, and they find each other maddening, yet refreshingly honest. But Mademoiselle Reisz has the upper hand in that she is Edna's connection to Robert, and Mademoiselle plays with Edna's feelings. She even criticizes Edna's affection for Robert for her own entertainment. However, Mademoiselle Reisz is one of the few people who seems to understand what task Edna is undertaking, thus she feels for Edna's symbolic "wings" to see if she really has the strength to fly. She tells Edna that a weakened, failing bird, falling to the earth, is a very sad sight indeed.
When Edna knows that Robert is returning, she becomes generous with her children, sending them candies, just as Léonce sends her little presents. Her "happy" letter to Léonce, regretting his absence at her planned dinner, is a desperate, painful gesture. Edna is by this time fully cut loose and grasping at whatever emotion momentarily stirs her.
This is especially clear in her continued acquaintance with Alcée. After he has made his way into her life, he makes his way into her sexual awakening. His kiss "kindled desire" and although she has some perspective on the situation (it is, unfortunately, not love which brings her this gift), she is also aroused and unrepentant. Edna is becoming a complex human being.
She forges ahead with her move and keeps a certain distance between herself and Alcée, whom she uses when he seems agreeable. Considering everyone else's worry about Edna's falling prey to Alcée, her indifference is rather ironic. But Edna's psychic drama is much larger and more complicated than anyone who simply accepts patriarchal influence can imagine. Throughout her move from the house on the Esplanade, it is clear that Edna wants no part of her husband's patriarchy to come with her: she merely leaves him the bill for her good-bye dinner, which may signal that she believes he owes her that much, at least.
The dinner is a bizarre affair. Not all of the guests come, and excuses are made. Significantly, Madame Ratignolle and Madame Lebrun, her respectable lady friends from the Grand Isle, are absent. Some of the guests are not even very important to Edna. People leave early. The gaiety is somewhat forced, and Edna's "reign" over the whole affair seems like a game of make-believe. When Victor starts singing, Edna's wild protest signals the end of the evening. By this time the reader sees that Edna is living outside of social convention, but that the power structure Edna strives to replace is still very much alive in a rather ugly new form. Edna leaves and goes to the pigeon house in a depressed mood. The flowers that Alcée has placed there to greet her merely seem like another male attempt to take over her space. But he does not stop there. Alcée knows he can awaken her "animal" desire, which he stays to do.
Léonce is perfect as the upper-middle class man of business. He does exactly the "right" thing in response to his wife's letter: he forms a ruse for the sake of public appearance, and to save his business. In this act, he also shows himself to be Edna's opposite. She wants no more "appearances," yet she admires his skill. She feels herself to be her own woman by now, and so she goes to visit her children.
She actually "gives" herself to them, and she feels momentarily fulfilled by this. But she makes fantastic promises and hides the reality of their family's problems, and her passion for them dies soon thereafter. The memory of her boys is at first a "delicious song," which reminds one of her fantasies about Robert, the object of desire which never leaves her consciousness.
Chopin's understanding of human nature, of self-absorption, and of the human capacity for denial and fantasy are superb. One sees each of Edna's calculated moves as tension-building plot devices and is forced to wonder if Edna will be strong enough for what comes next.