Only Arobin remains behind after the party disperses, and he helps her lock up the house. Together they leave Esplanade Street and walk to the "pigeon house" arm in arm. Edna seems sad and doesn't feel like speaking much. They enter the small house, which has a front porch opening directly into the pantry. Edna has already decorated a little bit, so the house looks comfortable and inviting. In addition, Arobin has surprised her by ordering the pantry filled with flowers.
Edna admits that she feels tired and unhappy and that she has overextended herself in throwing the dinner party by herself. Caressing her head and neck, Arobin tells her that he will let her rest; however, he does not leave and begins to gently kiss her neck. He tells Edna, who is slightly uneasy, that he will leave after he says good night, but only after they sleep together does he do so.
Mr. Pontellier is displeased when he finds out about his wife's recent decisions, and he writes her a heated letter scolding her for being foolish and irresponsible. He reminds her that she must not neglect her social obligations and that people might think she moved out of the big house because of financial reasons. Primarily concerned with his business prospects, Mr. Pontellier also writes a letter to a local architect and contracts a number of expensive renovations to the house. Soon, the house is under construction and clearly uninhabitable. Finally, he sends a notice to the local newspaper indicating that the Pontelliers will be going on summer holiday and that their house is currently subject to "sumptuous alterations."
Edna takes little notice of her husband's actions and feels content and happy in her new home. She enjoys the feeling of having descended from the social elite and experiences an increased sense of freedom and clairvoyance. In a few days, she goes to visit her children in Iberville and spends a week there playing with them and looking at everything they have to show her. She nearly weeps with joy when she sees them, and their youthful energy and curiosity completely fulfills her for that one week. When she has to leave, she feels pangs of sadness that accompany her all the way back to New Orleans. However, by the time she enters the "pigeon house," she is once more celebrating the solitude and quiet of her life there.
Characteristically, Mr. Pontellier seems to care more about his business prospects than his wife. Rather than discussing with Edna her reasons for leaving their home, he contacts the architect and the local newspaper. However, it may be that such a response is entirely justified. The narrator notes that Mr. Pontellier did not even consider it a possibility that his wife's departure would be a reason for scandal. Apparently, it does not even enter his mind that his wife may want to leave him or that she may have become interested in other men during his absence. He takes it for granted that his wife will always be his wife and that she will always remain faithful to him, and so he cannot even conceive of people gossiping about them or their marriage. Since he assumes that his wife would never even think of leaving him, perhaps it would be logical for him to worry first about his business prospects.
By moving into the pigeon house and thereby descending the social scale, Edna can continue to define herself without regard to social norms and expectations. Moving into the smaller house was an enormous step of originality and independence. Having already led people to expect "radical" behavior from her, there are no longer as many barriers to prevent her from asserting her individuality.
Just as she devotes all her attention to her father when he comes to visit, so does she focus all her energy on her children because she finds them temporarily amusing. She thoroughly enjoys them because she can experience them simply as children, and not specifically as her children that she has to constantly take care of. They entertain her when she visits them, and when she leaves, she is glad that she can again be free of the responsibility of being their mother.
This chapter begins with Edna visiting Mademoiselle Reisz' apartment to talk about Robert, but it soon flashes back to the events of that afternoon. Edna had been trying to paint but was interrupted by Madame Ratignolle, who asked about the dinner party and the new house. After making Edna promise to go to her when she is in labor, she warns her friend that she may want someone to stay with her in the pigeon house. Telling Edna that she acts without adequate reflection, she cautions her that people have begun to talk about Arobin visiting her alone. Edna casually brushes off her warning, and Madame Ratignolle apologizes for even mentioning it.
When Edna seeks out Mademoiselle Reisz for some much-needed relaxation, she finds her friend out but goes inside anyway to wait for her. Idly, she occupies herself with the plants and the piano, until suddenly Robert knocks on the door and walks in. Having stood up, Edna falls back into her seat and unsteadily, begins to speak to her beloved. Wanting him all to herself, she is upset to find out that he arrived the day before yesterday and that he left Mexico because he didn't like the people there.
She studies his face and finds him pretty much the same. For a moment, he looks deep into her eyes, and she recognizes the man she fell in love with at Grand Isle. Having imagined Robert's return many times, she is a little disconcerted to find it somewhat banal and awkward. Instead of waiting for Mademoiselle Reisz to come back, they both go to Edna's house for dinner. Robert finds a photograph of Alcée Arobin that Edna explains she is using to sketch from, and they begin to banter casually with each other.
Madame Ratignolle attempts to remind Edna that she cannot live completely free of social constraints. Even though Edna wants to ignore them, she must realize that people will continue to expect her to follow them. She warns her that her actions will have consequences that she must be aware of. Though Madame Ratignolle is caught up in being the perfect wife and mother, she does have certain insights that Edna could benefit from. Even though she may lack daring and individuality, she does possess a certain wisdom that comes from quietly observing the world around her.
Just as he was when he left her, Robert is very restrained in his emotions and maintains a cool reserve. Although he perhaps overdoes a little of the formality, he is an old-school gentleman and does not want to impose himself where it would be improper to do so. After all, Edna is still a married woman, and Robert does not know that she has started to cheat on her husband.
Robert mentions that he is glad that he didn't know Edna in her old home, and the implication of his words is clear: while she was living on Esplanade Street, she was embedded in her role as wife, mother, and socialite, whereas now he can know her by herself, a whole person. Leónce Pontellier has less of a claim on her now than he did before, and Edna is free of the mundane responsibilities that would lessen the strength of her and Robert's bond.
Summary: Chapter XXXVI
One day Edna bumps into Robert in her favorite garden café, which is nestled in the suburbs of New Orleans. Robert reacts with uneasiness and surprise at the unexpected encounter but consents to stay and dine with Edna. Although Edna had decided to act with reserve if she were to see Robert, she cannot help but be plain and honest with him. She expresses her disappointment at his own seeming indifference, telling him he is selfish and inconsiderate of her emotions. She emphasizes that she is not afraid to share her opinions, however “unwomanly” he may think them. He responds by accusing her of cruelty, of wishing him to “bare a wound for the pleasure of looking at it, without the intention or power of healing it.” Retreating from his display of anger, Edna returns to pleasantries and thoughtless banter.
The two go to the pigeon house, arriving after dark. When she returns to the room after leaving to wash up, Edna leans over Robert as he sits in a chair, and kisses him. In response, he takes her into his arms and holds her, kissing her back. He confesses that his trip to Mexico was an attempt to escape his love for her. In Mexico, he says, he fantasized that she could become his wife, that perhaps Léonce would “set her free.” Edna declares that the fantasy is reality, because she is no longer one of Léonce’s possessions and will give herself to whomever she pleases. Robert is shocked, perhaps even dismayed, by her announcement.
Edna’s servant interrupts to tell Edna that Adèle is in labor and wants Edna to be with her. Edna leaves, assuring Robert that she loves only him and that they shall soon “be everything to each other.” He begs her to stay, able to think only of holding and keeping her, but she tells him to wait because she will return.
Summary: Chapter XXXVII
Adèle is irritable and exhausted as she awaits the arrival of the doctor. Edna begins to feel uneasy as memories of her own childbirth experiences surface but seem removed, vague, and undefined. Although she stays by her friend’s side, she desperately wants to leave. She watches the scene of “torture” with a feeling of “inward agony” and a “flaming, outspoken revolt against the ways of Nature.” When the ordeal is over, Edna kisses Adèle good-bye, as Adèle whispers earnestly, “Think of the children, Edna. Oh think of the children!”
Summary: Chapter XXXVIII
“Perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.”
(See Important Quotations Explained)
Doctor Mandelet, who is also Adèle’s doctor, walks Edna to the pigeon house. He voices his concern that another, less impressionable, woman ought to have stayed with Adèle. He asks Edna if she will go abroad with Léonce, and Edna replies that she will not and that she refuses to be forced into anything anymore. She begins to say that no one has any right to oblige her to do what she does not wish, excepting, perhaps, children. Although Edna trails off incoherently, the doctor grasps her underlying mindset. He notes sympathetically that youth is given to illusions and that he sees sexual passion as Nature’s “decoy” to secure mothers for the propagation of children. Dr. Mandelet adds that the passions given to us by Nature are on a level removed from moral considerations. Before parting, Doctor Mandelet tells Edna that she seems to be in trouble, and that if she would ever like to come to him for help, he would be a most understanding confidant. Edna responds that although she is sometimes upset, she does not like to speak of her despondency. She explains that she simply wants her own way, although she acknowledges the difficulty of this, especially when it means she must “trample upon the lives, the hearts, the prejudices of others.” She asks the doctor not to blame her for anything, and he leaves, replying that he will blame her if she does not come to speak with him but that she should not blame herself, “whatever comes.”
Edna sits on her porch, brooding over Adèle’s final words, and vowing to think of her children the following day, after her rendezvous with Robert. To her dismay, Robert has left, and there is a note that reads, “I love you. Good-by—because I love you,” in his place. Edna stretches out on the parlor sofa and lies awake all night.