I hope all of you East Coast readers weathered the storm all right; I live in Brooklyn relatively close to the water, but I was lucky enough not to experience any damage or lose power. So while the wind rattled against my windows, I curled up by my reading lamp with this wonderful novel.
Kate Chopin is poetic without being pretentious, which is difficult to achieve, so I admire her a lot. And the language is so tightly knit that each paragraph, though short, is dense with imagery and meaning. There is a lot to discuss, but since the novel, at least so far, is driven primarily by characters rather than plot, I’d like to use this post to explore some of the leading figures. I’m excited to learn your opinions of them!
Knowing the general storyline, I was expecting Edna Pontellier to be like another famous “adulteress” (for lack of a better word), Emma Bovary, whom I found selfish, superficial, and basically insufferable. But Edna isn’t like that at all. She’s modest, proper, romantic, a bit unsure of herself, and exceptionally thoughtful and imaginative. Do you like her as much as I do? It makes sense that the image of water is so closely associated with her—she seems to be always in the water, looking at it, or thinking about it—since water is such a potent symbol of depth, feelings, and the unconscious. Right now, Edna is at the mercy of mysterious emotions bubbling up in her (as well as what I think is a mild depression), brought on by her interactions with the sensual, sexually open-minded Creoles on Grand Isle. Remember her story about fleeing rebelliously from church while a little girl? That free spirit is coming back to her unexpectedly and suddenly—she does, of course, flee from church again with Robert shortly after recalling that episode. As a result, her head is spinning, and I’m guessing her next actions will be directed more by impulse than by thought.
As for Robert, what do you think of him? I’m torn. He’s a good person but also childish and overly flirtatious, shifting his attention among various (conveniently unavailable) women. But when Adele Ratignolle—in one of the few moments I found her strong and interesting—advises him to stay away from her friend, he seems to expose a genuine affection for Edna. I wonder if she will be the first woman he truly falls for.
If nothing else, though, Robert is an antidote to Edna’s stifling marriage to Léonce Pontellier, or what she is beginning to perceive as a stifling marriage. Her husband is conventional and stiff, yes, but the only real point of contention between him and Edna is that he wants her to be a more attentive mother than she wants to be. I, for one, wouldn’t mind being married to him. Would you?
Then again, if Edna is in the process of desiring more freedom, and if she’s going to let her repressed romantic nature fly free, I imagine that he will put up a lot of righteous resistance. Two scenes are particularly telling: when, at the book’s opening, he is annoyed by the squawking parrot (a symbol of Edna rattling in her cage?) and when he is annoyed, even baffled, that Edna would want to spend the evening in the hammock. Although he sits with her by the hammock for several hours, the tension between them is palpable—very unlike when she lay peacefully by Robert, steadily becoming enraptured by him.
I will stop now, or I could go on forever. Let me know what you think about these and other characters; I feel like I know them so well, it will be like discussing friends. And if you’re in the mood, offer some thoughts on the recurring symbols in the book, which I’m mulling over now: water, birds, and those two lovers with the “lady in black” always following closely behind them. Of course, anything else you want to discuss is more than welcome!
Next week we’ll go over chapters 14 to 26.
Until next time.—Jenny