Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
Edna Pontellier is an upper-middle class white woman who has married into the Creole elite of New Orleans. She (and sometimes her husband) and her two boys are vacationing in Grand Isle when she begins to realize that there must be more to life. She is brought to this idea by a desire to live more fully, to love as she has never loved, and to solve her nagging dissatisfaction with material things and marriage. She forms a bond with a young man, Robert Lebrun, whose mother runs the resort. He has the habit of forming these bonds with women at the resort, but this one is bound to be different, partly because Edna is not Creole and does not understand the social codes of adult male-female flirtation within that society.
Edna leans more and more on Robert, until it is very obvious that something must be done, and Robert "decides" to go away to Mexico. He leaves, and Edna is lonesome. When she returns to New Orleans and her life with her husband, she begins immediately to do things differently: she will not make social calls or receive guests; she starts drawing and painting; and she visits whomever she likes, whenever she likes, including the notoriously disagreeable Mademoiselle Reisz, who plays piano for Edna and lets Edna read letters from Robert. Edna's husband is distressed, but their doctor advises him to leave her alone to work it out. Her father comes to visit, and Edna refuses to go to her sister's wedding because she cannot imagine celebrating marriage. Her father leaves in a huff.
Her husband then leaves on an extended business trip to New York, and although she briefly feels something for him, she is mostly relieved at her new freedom. She soon decides that she must move out of his house and start living on her own, according to her own estimation of life. She throws herself a fancy going- away dinner, locks up the old house, and proceeds to her "pigeon- house," for her new life. She starts spending time with a known womanizer, Alcée Arobin, although she does not fall in love with him. She does respond to the sensual enjoyment of his caresses. But emotionally, she still thinks only of Robert.
One day at Mademoiselle Reisz's, Edna learns that Robert is returning. A while later, she runs into him at Mademoiselle Reisz's apartment. It is immediately obvious that they are still very much attracted to each other. After a few awkward meetings, they make avowals of their love. But Edna is called to her friend Adèle's house, to help with the delivery of Adèle's latest child. Witnessing the birth is terrible to Edna; motherhood is not easy for her in any of its forms. When Edna returns home, Robert has not waited for her as she had requested, but has left her for good, with only a note to say that he did so because he loved her. She is wide awake by now. She goes immediately to Grand Isle, although it is not the season for visitors, and she goes for a quick swim, naked, but strikes out far into the ocean and gives herself over to memories of her past life, and to drowning.