We learn from the narrator that Mrs. Pontellier has always been very private, and has always been aware of the distinction between the inner and the outer life: the inner life is free, the outer life is confined by custom. Under Adèle’s influence, she has been growing less reserved.
Edna’s mannerly upbringing—her genteel reserve– has allowed her to betray, even forget about, her convictions and her impulses. She has taken it for granted that action does not come from feeling, but from external rules.
Adèle and Mrs. Pontellier walk to the beach one morning. Mrs. Pontellier is slim, poised, and modest, while Madame Ratignolle is plump and frilly. They sit in the shade and talk, glancing at the widow counting her beads and two lovers talking in blissful ignorance of their surroundings. Edna remembers walking as a child through a meadow in Kentucky, which seemed endless; she still feels like that child today, confused and aimless. Madame Ratignolle touches her arm consolingly.
In this chapter, the narrator begins to call the heroine not Mrs. Pontellier but Edna—a narrative technique that marks Edna’s changing relationship to herself. She begins to see herself not as the wife of Pontellier, or as the society woman on her calling cards, but rather as a private person, a simple but profound first name.
Edna remembers that she had never had any affectionate friendships; she and her sister often fought, and her one close friend had been reserved just like her. She remembers that as a young girl she was in love with a cavalry officer, then later she fell in love with a young man who was engaged, and finally she loved a famous tragedian (an actor). At around that time she met her future husband, who fell in love with her and convinced her to marry him. She doesn’t love him, and she loves her children only intermittently. Edna confesses most of this to Madame Ratignolle. Robert and the children approach them; Madame Ratignolle leaves the beach with Robert.
Edna had felt the touch of romance as a girl and a young woman, but something about her upbringing and the social customs of the time convinced her that romance is both too low and too high for a respectable woman like her—both too frivolous and too magical. She accepted as a very young woman that her marriage would not include romantic love: married life would bring her respect and stability, but not freedom and happiness. Suddenly, in retrospect, her choices become strange to her.