As the book begins, Mr. Pontellier is reading a day-old newspaper next to a group of summer cottages at Grand Isle, a vacation spot near New Orleans. Madame Lebrun’s noisy parrot begins to annoy him, so he relocates to a chair outside his own cottage. There, other noises distract him: children playing the piano, others playing croquet, Madame Lebrun shouting orders to her servants.
Pontellier’s character is introduced and dismissed in almost one stroke. We gather right away that he is a cranky, unsettled, slightly ill-tempered man who does not look kindly on the disorder of animals, women, and children. He prefers order and quiet.
As he smokes a cigar, Pontellier watches his wife and Robert Lebrun walking towards him from the beach. When they reach him, he reproaches his wife for going to the beach in the middle of the afternoon, and for her unsightly sunburn. She quietly retrieves the wedding rings she had given to him for safekeeping. She and Robert laugh to each other knowingly about some small incident they witnessed at the beach; Pontellier asks them to explain, but the joke loses its appeal in the retelling.
Pontellier treats his wife as a possession he does not like to see damaged. He is affectionate and intolerably condescending all at once. Here we see, for almost the last time, the sort of wife Edna had been until now: docile, obedient, and uncomplaining. Her friendship with Robert, which is happy and comfortable, stands in stark contrast to her marriage.
Pontellier decides to go to Klein’s, a nearby hotel, to play billiards and perhaps to eat dinner. He invites Robert, but the young man declines in favor of Mrs. Pontellier’s company.
It does not occur to Pontellier to spend the evening enjoying his wife’s company, as Robert does. Edna and Pontellier are not friends.